Aluminum alloys for aerospace have come far since the Wright brothers used aluminum in the engine of the plane for their first manned flight in 1903. Now, alloys are used throughout airplanes, especially in their infrastructure. In fact, aluminum aerospace extrusions form the main structure of today’s planes.
Today’s aerospace metals are vastly superior to the aluminum that the Wright brothers used in terms of performance and properties. Aluminum aerospace extrusions come in countless shapes and sizes and withstand the stress and pressures of flights that are higher, faster, and longer than even the Wright brothers may have imagined.
The future of aerospace aluminum extrusions will be even more dynamic as technology continues to advance and markets keep evolving.
Aerospace Metals Advance
Aluminum’s suitability for aerospace was established in the 19th century when Count Ferdinand Zeppelin used the strong, light, and highly corrosion-resistant metal to frame his airships. Its uses have since expanded as aerospace has advanced.
No longer limited to airplanes, aluminum is used in spacecraft as well, like the Orion spacecraft that NASA is building for deep-space exploration. The Orion spacecraft includes aerospace extrusions formed from an aluminum-lithium alloy. Though aluminum-lithium alloy costs more, aerospace manufacturers are using it more frequently because of the advantages that it offers in terms of performance and properties.
“The biggest thing about Extrusions now are the new alloys coming out. Some can be lighter than others, stronger, have more corrosion resistance, or a plethora of other properties. One of the newer Alloys we’ve seen, for example, is Aluminum-Lithium,” said Jamie Barron, Vice President of New Source Corporation. “This is an alloy, which can improve the life of an aircraft by a substantial amount due to its increased strength and toughness.”
Anticipating using aluminum-lithium alloys even more in the future, aerospace manufacturers are signing multi-year contracts with aluminum processors.
Aerospace Aluminum Extrusions Market Expands
Manufacturers are also using more shapes of aerospace aluminum extrusions, whether they are made with aluminum-lithium or not. They are refining specifications for their aerospace materials as well.
The number of aluminum extrusions providers is expanding along with the demands for new shapes and materials. Lead Times are also always fluctuating and Orders that would have taken over 40 weeks to fill just two years ago can now be delivered by manufacturers in less than 10 weeks, Barron said.
The leading providers of aluminum aerospace extrusions differentiate themselves by offering manufacturers managed processing capabilities like heat treatment, machining, or materials testing. They also provide value-added services like cut-to-size optimization, just-in-time delivery, and risk mitigation.
“It’s not just about the Extrusion anymore,” Barron said. “We want to add as much value as possible.”