Aluminum Tubing: What Is It Used For?

Aluminum is one of the most commonly used metals by weight in the world’s construction and allied engineering industries, second only to steel. It is an extremely versatile material that has some excellent properties concerning strength and durability.

Why use Aluminum tubing?

Thanks to its great strength-to-weight ratio, ductility, and malleability, aluminum can be made into many different shapes, via both traditional rolling processes as well as extruding. This means aluminum tubing can be made for both precision and cost-effectiveness.

When compared to steel, aluminum has two further distinct advantages, strength and corrosion resistance. Whilst steel is stronger per volume, e.g. a bar of steel would be stronger than an identically shaped bar of aluminum, steel has a much lower strength-to-weight ratio.

In real-world terms, if two structures were designed to carry the same load, but one made from aluminum and one from steel, the aluminum one would be larger in size but weigh less than half of the steel one.

How is Aluminum tubing made?

Aluminum is derived from an ore called Alumina, which consists mainly of Aluminum Oxide and some trace contaminants. The smelting process is completed using electric arc furnaces, allowing the oxides to rise to the surface. The pure aluminum is tapped off from the bottom.

Once purified, processes are used to introduce new alloying elements, creating many variations, in grade and temper, depending on the requirement. From here the material is cast into ingots or slugs.

The slugs are transported to the extruding plant, where the material is processed into tubes. The extruding process comprises of:

  • Selecting and loading the correct tube die – this depends on the size and shape required, the dies are oiled and in some cases water-cooled
  • The aluminum slug is preheated – this aids the extrusion process and reduces surface imperfections, damage to the dies, and makes complex shapes easier
  • The heated slug is loaded into the extrusion chamber
  • Hydraulic rams force the slug into the extrusion die – anything from 100 to 1,500 tons of force is used, depending on the material and shape
  • The shaped aluminum is cut to length and allowed to cool to room temperature

Typical Uses of Aluminum Tube

Aluminum’s strength-to-weight ratio makes it great for any industry where lightness is a key factor, such as:

  • Aerospace – almost all commercial airplanes use aluminum for structural components
  • Motorsport – aluminum finds uses in all sorts of bracketry, tanks and heat shielding
  • Rigging – Aluminum towers and structures are commonly used in lighting and rigging to create lightweight, easy-to-carry assemblies

Typical Uses of Aluminum Pipe

Aluminum pipe is generally not as prevalent as steel or stainless steel pipe, but there are a few typical use cases:

  • Air Conditioning – from car AC to industrial units, aluminum pipe is often used due to its lightweight, thermal conductivity and corrosion resistance
  • Process pipework – in settings that use nitrogen or helium, aluminum pipe is often used to handle low – medium pressure systems

The difference between Pipe and Tube

In general, pipe is used to carry liquids and gasses, and tube is used to construct frames and other fabricated components.

One other distinction is that Pipe is measured by its inside or a “nominal” diameter and a pressure rating, and tube is determined by its outer diameter and wall thickness. These two points are further consequences of being used to carry liquids and gasses.

Furthermore, pipe is only round, aluminum tubes can be round, oval, square, rectangular and many other shapes. This is yet another benefit to aluminum; its high ductility allows for complex shapes to be manufactured.

Benefits of Aluminum Tubing

Alternatives to aluminum generally include steel, stainless steel and titanium, aluminum has benefits over all three of these, when in the right conditions.

  • Lighter: Aluminum is lighter than steel, stainless steel and titanium
  • Stronger: Aluminum has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than steel and stainless steel, perfect for lightweight high-stress applications
  • Corrosion resistant: Whilst steel is cheaper than aluminum, any product that sees outdoor use will need secondary finishing by way of painting or galvanizing, Aluminum is corrosion resistant in most applications.
  • Cheaper: Aluminum is considerably cheaper than titanium, another lightweight corrosion-resistant alloy

Types and Grades of Aluminum Pipe and Tube

Aluminum Grades

The two most commonly used grades for aluminum pipe are:

  • Aluminum 6061 – A high-strength alloy, commonly used for walkways, platforms, cover plates, and truck runways
  • Aluminum 6063 – Whilst not as strong as 6061, 6063 is better suited for complex extrusions, meaning it is ideal for air cylinders (thin-walled), furniture and frames

Aluminum Shapes

Thanks to its high malleability, Aluminum can be processed into many different shapes, with more shapes possible when compared to steel or stainless steel

  • Round Pipe – used for carrying fluids and gasses
  • Round tube – used for framework in commercial or cosmetic applications
  • Rectangular tube – often used for lightweight industrial frameworks and bracketry
  • Square tube – also used for industrial frames, as well as motorsports chassis and bracketry
  • Oval tube – commonly used in architectural applications

For more detailed information on what type and shape of aluminum to use, check out our blog page here, from there you can also order your material, with cutting, drilling and more offered across our many locations.

Metal Supermarkets

Metal Supermarkets is the world’s largest small-quantity metal supplier with over 100 brick-and-mortar stores across the US, Canada, and United Kingdom. We are metal experts and have been providing quality customer service and products since 1985.

At Metal Supermarkets, we supply a wide range of metals for a variety of applications. Our stock includes: mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, tool steel, alloy steel, brass, bronze and copper.

We stock a wide range of shapes including: bars, tubes, sheets, plates and more. And we can cut metal to your exact specifications.

Visit one of our 100+ locations across North America today.

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