Choosing between aluminum and stainless steel for manufacturing depends on many factors. For example, the product and its intended use.
The two materials are similar in appearance and corrosion resistance when comparing aluminum vs. stainless steel. Nevertheless, the two have some differences in durability, conductivity, cost, machinability, and strength-to-weight ratio, among other factors. Therefore, before concluding on the suitable material for manufacturing, it’s essential to know how they differ to make an appropriate choice.
What has been evident in recent months is that events like COVID can disrupt supply chains and put a lot of strain on businesses and Governments. Manufacturing is getting more attention, especially with startups to be more self-sufficient in producing essential goods.
Aluminum Versus Stainless Steel
In this business article, we delve into a couple of materials, namely aluminum and stainless steel, which are used abundantly in vehicles, machinery, construction, your laptop, and your smartphone.
Aluminum is more affordable compared to stainless steel. This fact is evident based on the natural abundance of the material, market growth, and ease of manufacturing. On the other hand, stainless steel is expensive due to other alloying metals such as copper, manganese, iron, chromium, and nickel.
Budget-conscious manufacturers should go for aluminum since it’s a bit cheaper. This way, it’s easier to save on material costs. Additionally, aluminum products such as railings, beams, and others are lighter, making them easier to install and minimizing costs in the event of product damage. Also, you can purchase aluminum for sale in bulk since it’s cost-friendly, and you can profit from it.
Stainless steel is more robust than aluminum in a similar design, shape, and thickness. The difference in strength can be determined by comparing the tensile of each material.
Tensile strength refers to the resistance of a given material to breaking under tension. Here, the exact strength figures vary depending on the alloy used.
The tensile strength of stainless steel alloys starts at 515 megapascals (MPa) and may reach up to 1300 MPa. Regarding aluminum, its tensile strength begins at around 100 MPa and may increase to 400 MPa. However, both materials’ tensile strength can increase through treatment.
Based on original potential, stainless steel leads when it comes to strength. Therefore, picking stainless steel over aluminum is advisable if you look forward to working with solid materials.
While aluminum may not have the same strength as stainless steel, it’s richer in strength-to-weight ratio. In each aluminum volume, the strength-to-weight ratio stands at 12.5%, while in every steel book, the strength-to-weight ratio stands at 6.25%.
If you’re manufacturing aluminum or steel, it’s important to note that aluminum provides a robust structure compared to stainless steel. For instance, aluminum railings, roofing, shelves, and cladding will provide more robust facilities than steel.
Stainless steel takes the lead due to its high chromium content regarding general strength. Based on the grade of the steel, it can have a chromium content ranging between 10.5% to 18%. This component is responsible for the material’s tensile strength, hardness, and corrosion resistance.
However, while steel is more robust than aluminum, it has a fair share of disadvantages. It’s heavier than aluminum, making it unsuitable for particular manufacturing. For instance, steel isn’t suitable for manufacturing aircraft and automotive components. Since aluminum is about 33% lighter than steel, it’s ideal for industries to reduce the weight of different products.
Stainless steel is a poor heat conductor, hence unsuitable for manufacturing products such as electrical power lines or heat sinks. On the other hand, aluminum has good thermal conductivity and applies to manufacturing heat sinks, electrical products, and motherboards.
Unfortunately, aluminum has a lower melting point than stainless steel. The value stands at 1375 to 1530 degrees Celsius for stainless steel compared to 660 degrees Celsius for aluminum. This makes aluminum the ideal material for manufacturing products requiring high thermal conductivity.
Both aluminum and stainless steel have exceptional corrosion resistance. However, it’s essential to consider other factors such as cost, size, conductivity, and weight when choosing between the two metals.
Though stainless steel doesn’t easily deform or rust after exposure to other elements, it’s expensive. However, if you don’t mind the cost but are looking for a material with high corrosion resistance, then stainless steel is ideal. Nevertheless, you can use aluminum if you want a more robust material. You don’t have to worry about outdoor exposure when aluminum is protected with powder coating. Powder coating increases aluminum shelf life and offers an appealing coating choice.
As mentioned, aluminum is lighter than stainless steel. This makes bending, cutting, modifying, and folding easier, giving it high machinable properties for further processing. When it comes to cutting, it’s much easier to cut aluminum than stainless steel. For instance, aluminum takes the lead when constructing small structures and making alterations to fit the structure’s size.
The safety of aluminum and stainless steel is based on context. Aluminum and stainless steel are both safe to use in construction. However, their safety degrees differ depending on their use. Also, both materials are used to manufacture kitchen utensils, and they are both ideal depending on the use of the knife. Nevertheless, while steel might be assumed to be the safest, aluminum and anodized aluminum aren’t far behind. Therefore, aluminum and steel are almost the same when choosing the ideal material based on safety.
Summary of the Pros And Cons
- Corrosion resistance – highly resistant to rust and corrosion, making it suitable for applications in wet or corrosive environments.
- Strength and durability – a robust material, even at high temperatures, provides excellent strength and durability.
- Hygienic properties – non-porous and easy to clean, making it suitable for food processing, healthcare, and pharmaceutical applications.
- Aesthetic appeal – attractive, sleek appearance, making it popular in architectural and decorative applications
- Cost – more expensive than aluminum, which can affect the overall manufacturing costs
- Weight – heavier than aluminum, which may be a disadvantage in specific applications where weight is a critical factor
- Conductivity – lower thermal and electrical conductivity compared to aluminum, which may not be desirable in some applications
- Machinability – generally more challenging to machine compared to aluminum, which can affect manufacturing processes
- Lightweight – significantly lighter than stainless steel, making it ideal for applications where weight reduction is essential, such as aerospace and automotive industries.
- Excellent thermal conductivity – excellent thermal conductivity allows for efficient heat transfer, which is advantageous in applications like heat sinks and radiators.
- Electrical conductivity – a good conductor of electricity, making it suitable for electrical components and wiring.
- Cost-effective – generally more cost-effective than stainless steel, making it a preferred choice in many industries
- Corrosion susceptibility -Aluminium is prone to corrosion and oxidation, especially in harsh or corrosive environments, unless treated or coated.
- Strength – While aluminum is lightweight, it is generally not as strong as stainless steel, which may limit its use in specific load-bearing applications
- Lower melting point – it has a lower melting point than stainless steel, which may be a limitation in high-temperature applications.
- Aesthetic limitations – does not have the same aesthetic appeal as stainless steel, especially for applications with a premium or polished appearance
When manufacturing and using metals, it’s essential to understand the properties before choosing one based on price or availability. Aluminum and stainless steel. Also, your choice should be determined by what you want to manufacture. For example, if you’re manufacturing products that require high thermal conductivity, you should choose a material that’s a good conductor of heat.
Though stainless steel has proven more robust than aluminum, it falls short on other factors. For example, steel is a bit more expensive than aluminum, hence unsuitable for budget-conscious companies. On the other hand, aluminum is cheaper and is easily modified since it’s lighter.
That’s it. Those are the critical differences between aluminum and steel to help you understand each in detail. This guide will also help you choose which material to use based on what you’ll manufacture.