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Aluminum for Sheet Metal Fabrication

Aluminum is a widely used material for sheet metal parts. The right alloy can be exceptionally easy to form and results in low-cost, high strength, and lightweight components. Aluminum sheet metal parts can be found in the aerospace and transportation industries, among many others. This article will describe the various types of aluminum for sheet metal fabrication.

Sheet Metal

About Aluminum for Sheet Metal Fabrication

Aluminum works well for sheet metal applications as it is lightweight and easy to work with. It must be noted, however, that not all aluminum alloys are well suited for sheet metal construction. Some of the higher-strength grades of aluminum will break or tear before bending. The greater the difference between a material’s yield and tensile strengths, the more difficult it will be to bend. Listed below are some of the more common grades of aluminum used for sheet metal parts.

Sheet Metal Aluminum at a Glance

Aluminum 5052

This aluminum alloy uses magnesium as its primary alloying element. It has excellent corrosion resistance due to the lack of copper in its composition. Though 5052 cannot be heat treated, it has the highest strength of the non-heatable alloys. This alloy also has better formability than series 3 alloys. It is typically used for fuel tanks and highway and road signs.

Aluminum 5052 Properties
Tensile Strength, Yield (MPa)Shear Modulus (GPa)Elongation at Break (%)Hardness (Brinell)Density (g/cm^3)

193

117

18

60

2.68

Aluminum 6061

This is among the most “general-purpose” aluminum alloys. The primary alloying elements are magnesium and silicon and it will accept heat treatment. Bending aluminum 6061 is not recommended after it reaches high tempering levels because at that point it is likely to crack. This aluminum alloy can be used for sheet metal parts but requires some care and preparation.

Aluminum 6061 Properties
Tensile Strength, Yield (MPa)Shear Modulus (GPa)Elongation at Break (%)Hardness (Brinell)Density (g/cm^3)

276

96.5

17

95

2.7

Finishes

Xometry’s aluminum for sheet metal fabrication can be finished in a number of different ways. Some of the available options are listed below.

  • Anodizing: Anodizing is one of the more popular surface finishes available for sheet metal aluminum parts. Choose between normal and hard-coat anodizing. These surface finishes improve the aesthetics of the part while also enhancing its wear resistance.
  • Metal plating: Aluminum can be plated with a wide range of metals to increase its corrosion resistance, increase wear resistance, or improve overall aesthetics. Both electroplating and electroless plating are possible. Some common metals include tin, nickel, electroless nickel, gold, and silver. Learn more about the benefits of each type of coating
  • Powder coating: Powder coating is a robust option for coloring aluminum sheet metal parts while also adding a measure of corrosion resistance.
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Cost-saving Design Tips

To reduce when designing parts with sheet metal aluminum alloys, try these cost-saving design tips:

  • DFM: Follow design-for-manufacturing principles like avoiding the addition of machined features to the part which will require additional operations that negate sheet metal’s cost-effectiveness. Review the Xometry sheet metal design guide to learn how to achieve all the functionality you need using common sheet metal fabrication techniques.
  • Choose the right alloy: As mentioned previously, some sheet metal alloys are better suited to bending than others. While it is possible to bend high-strength alloys, the necessary pre- and post-processing can often drive up costs.
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