Regarding industrial metals, aluminium is likely only second to steel in importance. That’s because, besides being one of the most abundant materials on the planet (aluminium is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust), it has several advantages that make it appealing to manufacturers and engineers.
Firstly, aluminium is extremely lightweight and has a high strength-to-weight ratio. It’s also quite malleable, making it one of the more malleable metals. Aluminium is highly corrosion-resistant and easily recyclable, which is becoming increasingly important as we seek more sustainable solutions and applications. It’s also extremely hygienic, making it an excellent choice for industries where cleanliness is critical, such as food and beverage containers and medical supplies.
But, despite all of those positive attributes, we haven’t yet mentioned Durability. The truth is that most people do not consider aluminium to be particularly durable. Certain aluminium alloys can even outperform stainless steel in strength and Durability. Aluminium is more durable than most people realize, particularly when weight is considered.
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How do We Determine Aluminium’s Strength?
Regarding aluminium’s Durability, most people don’t realize how strong it is. This is due to aluminium’s extremely high strength-to-weight ratio when measured pound for pound. Engineers look at several distinct mechanical properties when measuring and testing the strength and Durability of metal. Each of these methods of analyzing strength can be measured independently.
First, compressive strength assesses a metal’s or other material’s ability to withstand downward pressure. Compressive strength is the ability of an object to withstand any force pushing it in on itself, such as a vice or a heavy load weighing it down.
Tensile strength, on the other hand, measures how resistant a material is to being pulled apart. Engineers will attempt to determine how much tension a material can withstand as it is stretched or pulled before it completely breaks apart when measuring tensile strength. This is useful for determining how a material will perform in applications that involve hanging or pulling heavy loads.
A material’s yield strength is a measure of a material’s resistance to being bent or reshaped. The yield point denotes the beginning of nonlinear (elastic + plastic) deformation. Any pressure applied to an object that does not exceed the material’s yield point will cause it to deform elastically and then return to its original shape once the stress is removed. When the yield point is reached, some deformation becomes permanent.
Finally, impact strength describes a material’s ability to withstand a suddenly applied load. The Izod impact strength test or the Charpy impact test determines this,
determines this measurement, which records the amount of impact energy required to fracture an object.
Is Aluminium as Strong as Stainless Steel?
There is no simple answer to whether aluminium is as strong as steel. There are so many alloys for aluminium and steel (with stainless steel being one category of steel alloys) that any two alloys must be compared directly. Steel is usually stronger, but it is also much heavier.
Simply put, a typical steel alloy is harder than a typical aluminium alloy (though there are high-performance aluminium grades that can match or exceed the strength of steel). Because steel is denser, aluminium is the clear winner regarding strength-to-weight ratio.
However, we must emphasize that strength is not the only factor determining a material’s Durability. In its broadest sense, Durability refers to a material’s ability to withstand pressure, wear, and damage. Strength plays a role in Durability, but it is far from the only factor to consider.
Corrosion Resistance is an Important Factor in Durability.
Aluminum has natural corrosion resistance due to the very thin oxide layer that forms on its surface. This oxide aids in the prevention of further oxidation. When the aluminium’s surface is damaged, the oxide layer repairs itself.
Galvanic corrosion is one type of corrosion. This occurs when an electrolytic bridge forms between two different metals. One of the metals becomes an anode, causing corrosion, and under the right conditions, this can happen to aluminium, so it must be prepared for. When metals, including aluminium, are exposed to chloride, such as in marine environments, they become more susceptible to galvanic corrosion. Certain aluminium alloys are more resistant to galvanic corrosion and thus last longer.
Another failure mode to consider is stress corrosion cracking. This occurs when metal is subjected to tensile stress for an extended time in a corrosive environment. Fortunately, the risk of stress corrosion cracking in mildly corrosive environments is reduced due to aluminium’s high level of corrosion resistance.
Finally, crevice corrosion is a cause of concern for aluminium. This occurs at or near narrow crevices in a metal product’s joined surfaces. Again, this is especially important in marine environments; care must be taken to properly design the product and consider selecting the right alloys.