Aluminum extrusions are often the best choice for aerospace applications because of the advantages they offer over components made of metals like nickel, steel, or titanium.
“The focal point is how versatile aluminum is and how versatile it can be,” said Jamie Barron, Vice President of New Source Corporation. “If you need a different application or to instill a different property, there are many aluminum alloys out there and they are always evolving and the number keeps growing.”
Aluminum aerospace extrusions also have a greater return on investment (ROI) than components made from other metals. “Once you have a dye, that eliminates the need to do more machining to a part and that’s one of the biggest advantages,” Barron said. “Having that custom shape saves the customer machine work, time, and cost, thereby increasing overall efficiency.”
The advantages of aluminum extrusions for aerospace manufacturing begin with their versatility and ROI but they also go further.
Aerospace manufacturers often prefer aluminum extrusions for the flexibility and affordability that they offer buyers. In terms of flexibility, the versatility for which aluminum extrusions are known is rooted in the multiple uses they can serve. For example, they can be used for strength and structural purposes, for their corrosion resistance, or their weldability, Barron said.
“Also, when you look at extruding a steel or stainless steel extrusion, your minimum buy is much larger than aluminum,” Barron said. A manufacturer may be able to order even a single aluminum extrusion instead of several thousand pounds of steel for the same application, for example, he said. “You would then have to justify the costs of that minimum buy of steel extrusions by spreading them over multiple projects.”
Though New Source Corporation will machine a few steel extrusions at a time as part of the managed processing capabilities that it offers to customers, aluminum extrusions are usually more efficient. “It’s much easier to work with a billet and just extrude out what is needed,” Barron said.
It is also easier to obtain aluminum than other metals. Waits for aerospace-grade titanium have recently ranged from 30 to 40 weeks, while some projects have taken as many as 48 weeks, Barron said.
Though many aerospace manufacturing companies only stock enough aluminum extrusions to fill orders as they are accepted, which causes customers to wait longer, New Source Corporation keeps as much stock as possible so that it can ship parts quickly. New Source Corporation also works with contractors to provide just-in-time shipping through vendor-managed inventory, often shipping supplies on the same day that they are ordered.
As if the buying benefits that aluminum extrusions offer were not enough, the most distinguishing factor could be the technical advantages that aluminum offers as a metal. The design benefits of aluminum extrusions include the following.
- High strength-to-weight ratio
- Corrosion resistance
- Excellent thermal and electrical conductivity
The continuous evolution of aluminum aerospace extrusions also promises future benefits. For example, through the advancement of aluminum-lithium alloys the life of an aircraft could be improved through their increased strength and toughness. High-performance alloys for aerospace and defense deliver greater value through their better performance.
“Something new is constantly being created,” Barron said. “Aluminum is a super product overall and it can be changed and molded to whatever application you need.”