Aerospace technology keeps advancing with new materials available all the time — and aluminum alloys are at the forefront.
As vital components in how aircrafts are built, aluminum alloys are part of the ongoing evolution of aluminum aerospace extrusions. Aluminum alloys perform better than aluminum alone because additional elements are added to improve the metal’s performance.
Parts built with high-performance aluminum alloys are stronger, lighter, and more resistant to corrosion than non-alloyed materials, for example. They can even extend the life of an aircraft.
“High-performance alloys cost more but they deliver value in return. They also work well for specialty purposes, like in the construction of advanced military aircraft or spacecraft,” said Jamie Barron, Vice President of New Source Corporation.
As a leading supplier of high-performance alloys, New Source Corporation’s stock includes stainless steel, nickel alloys, and aircraft alloy steels, titanium, and aluminum. In working with its supply chain partners, New Source Corporation is a single source for all of a manufacturer’s aerospace metal needs. A few examples of our high-performance alloys follow.
Stainless Steel Alloys
Aerospace and defense is a major sector for specialty metals because of their high-temperature strength, toughness, corrosion resistance, and weight.
17-4 is a chromium-nickel-copper metal to which niobium has been added through precipitation hardening, which is a heat treatment that strengthens metals and their alloys. In precipitation hardening, the metal is aged by heating or by storing it at low temperatures so that precipitates form.
Alloy 17-4 has good corrosion resistance as well as high strength and hardness. Manufacturers often use it for parts that require both higher strength and more corrosion resistance, like for structural parts for aircraft.
15-5 combines good corrosion resistance with high strength and hardness as well. It also has appealing mechanical properties like excellent elongation, which means it can be stretched, and tensile strength, which denotes that it will not break when it is stretched. In aerospace, it is often used for structural parts and fasteners.
Like other stainless steel alloys, alloy 13-8 has good corrosion resistance compared with other steels because it has a large amount of chromium. It is an age hardenable, precipitation stainless steel. Aerospace manufacturers use it for shafts and valves, landing gears, structural sections, and other aircraft components.
Though they are expensive per pound, titanium alloys are one of the most highly sought metals because they are much lighter relative to their strength than steel, Barron said.
6AI-4V parts are formed through additive manufacturing, a process in which a manufacturer uses an electron beam to melt them into shape instead of machining them from bulk-rolled or extruded alloy products. Multiple parts are built at once without compromising material properties.
“Ti-6Al-4V is an attractive, lightweight material for spacecraft structures, as it provides an excellent combination of high strength, low density, high modulus, low coefficient of thermal expansion, and higher operational temperature than aluminum alloys,” according to a Tech Briefs article about additive manufacturing of Ti-6AI-4V alloy components for spacecraft applications. “While spacecraft structures are mostly constructed from carbon/polymer matrix composites, titanium alloys are used for several brackets, fittings, propulsion tubing lines, and support tubes.”
Inconel alloys are comparable to stainless steel. Alloys vary in values like corrosion resistance and tensile strength.
Inconel 718 is the most widely used nickel superalloy in aerospace due to its excellent mechanical properties and corrosion resistance. 718 is an age-hardenable alloy that is often used for fasteners, sheet metal parts, and instruments in aircraft.
Formed from molybdenum and columbium, Nickel Alloy 625 is used for its high strength and corrosion resistance. It is also known for its excellent weldability and high-temperature resistance. It is often used in plane engines and aircraft exhaust systems.
Whether they are made from stainless steel, titanium, nickel, or other metals, high-performance alloys are widely used in aerospace and defense manufacturing. Leading suppliers of aluminum aircraft extrusions can help a manufacturer choose the right alloy for a particular application.
Top suppliers also offer add-on capabilities like vendor-managed inventory and secondary processing so that manufacturers can get all of their materials from a single supplier. “We offer manufacturers a one-stop-shop for their kitting needs so that they do not have to break up a kit of materials across different suppliers,” Barron said.