Metals provide organizations across every industrial sector with the high tensile strength and durability required of specific parts or components. Aluminum is one of the more popular metals used in parts fabrication.
This means you are highly likely to require aluminum fabrication services to meet your industrial goals. If the weight of the assembly is critical to your design, aluminum is likely your best choice.
What is aluminum fabrication?
Aluminium is mined from raw bauxite – a red, clayish rock. Professional refiners process raw bauxite to extract alumina, dissolve it in molten cryolite which preps alumina for electrolysis, and shape it into usable aluminum sheet metal, plate, tubing, or other forms used across diverse industries. At this stage, what we have is raw aluminum which is sold in every industrialized nation.
With the aluminum in place, the next step is fabricating the material. The aluminum fabrication process involves the use of industrial machinery to bend, weld, or cut the material according to a predetermined shape or design. The predetermined shape is generally designed using computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software.
At The Federal Group USA, our digital manufacturing process also involves the use of:
- Computer-aided manufacturing software – to design and evaluate accurate 3D models to guide the manufacturing process. We utilize your designs and optimize them for the fabrication process.
- CNC machining – We feed your designs into our fabrication machines to develop high-performing aluminum components for your industry or project.
How to fabricate aluminum
The appropriate aluminum fabrication technique is determined by the complexity of the designed part, the end-use plans, and the part dimensions of the end-use item. Although many aluminum fabrication processes are available, a combination of cutting, welding, forming, and hole making is commonly used to manufacture the end-use part. These fabrication techniques involve:
Forming processes involve bending, rolling, or stamping aluminum into predefined shapes. A bending machine is used to bend aluminum and a stamping press machine is used to stamp the material into specific shapes.
Welding involves the use of a welding torch to melt and join pieces of aluminum to a defined shape. There are diverse welding methods that can be applied to fabricate aluminum. These methods include:
- Stick welding – Although not used frequently for aluminum, this popular welding process for other materials involves the use of electrodes to lay the weld. The electrode and the aluminum pieces are melted by the welding torch to form a weld pool. Once cooled, the molten pool forms a durable joint between two or more pieces of metal. The stick welding process is the oldest and easiest welding process, specifically when doing repairs in the field. This is because a stick welder is portable and can be used in windy environments. It is used to fabricate joints or join multiple pieces of aluminum.
- Metal inert gas (MIG) welding – The MIG welding process involves the use of a spool gun to lay the weld. The spool gun extrudes an electrode and emits a shielding gas onto the weld to ensure the welded area is protected from oxidation. Oxidation or other contaminating gases will affect the accuracy or structure of the weld.
- Tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding – The TIG welding process utilizes a non-consumable tungsten electrode, which is where the technique gets its name. Here, tungsten is melted and used alongside a filler material to make the weld. TIG is known for providing the cleanest weld surface area due to the level of control the welder has over the entire process.
The cutting process makes use of a cutting tool attached to a lathe or computer numerical control (CNC) machine to cut through the aluminum piece. In many cases, expert fabricators may choose aluminum-specific cutting processes such as:
- Water jet shearing – This process involves the use of an industrialized shearing tool to cut the aluminum piece. The tool uses high-pressure water jets mixed with an abrasive substance to cut through the aluminum material. The water jet shearing process leaves a cleaner and more precise cut when compared to welding and other heat-related cutting processes.
- Laser cutting – The laser cutting process involves the use of a laser cutting machine to cut through aluminum parts to form the desired shape. Laser machines utilize the design or shapes from CAD models to create the desired patterns when fabricating aluminum. The laser cutting process is popular due to its low energy requirements, clean cuts, and the elimination of contaminating the aluminum piece.
- Plasma cutting – This process involves the use of a plasma cutter machine to cut through aluminum. The cutter utilizes hot jets of plasma to cut through aluminum at high speeds, which reduces the possibility of contamination. The plasma cutting process is highly efficient and quick. The machine also utilizes CAD models to cut patterns into aluminum.
Fabricated parts may require holes of varying diameters and lengths according to their designed features. Diverse processes can be used to implement these holed designs during aluminum fabrication depending on the dimensions of the hole. These hole-making processes include:
- Hole drilling – This process involves the use of a drill bit to create a round hole. In most cases, the drill bit rotates and is pressed against a workpiece. The drilled hole may require further fine-tuning to meet specific dimensions.
- Hole boring – The hole boring process generally comes after a hole has been drilled into the workpiece. The process involves the use of a boring tool. The boring tool is rotated and fed into the workpiece taking very small amounts of metal per revolution. Hole boring is used to create precise or accurate dimensions according to your design specifications.
- Tapping – Tapping is the process of cutting threads inside a hole to fit either a cap screw or bolt which is threaded into the hole. It can be done on the lathe machine, milling machine, tapping machine, or by hand. The process can be used to make a thread on nuts. The cutting tool used to produce the thread is called a tap and has cutting edges that look like threads. The tap removes excess metal and cuts internal thread when it is screwed into the hole.
The soft and durable nature of aluminum makes it one of the more popular metals used across a variety of industries. Its lightweight nature makes it easier to fabricate compared to other metals such as stainless steel. It is less susceptible to corrosion and is a non-toxic metal, which means it can also be used in developing food and material handling equipment.
The major industrial sectors that rely on fabricated aluminum include:
- Aerospace industry – The aerospace industry relies on aluminum to construct or manufacture lightweight metal parts such as cowls, skins, wings, fuselages, electronic enclosures, and junction boxes. The corrosion resistance of aluminum also enables the aerospace industry to develop moisture-resistant components across window seals and windshields.
- Automotive industry – The automotive industry also relies heavily on aluminum to build lightweight parts for automobiles such as car frames, engine parts, transmission parts, etc. Aluminum also plays an important role in the development of spare parts for the repairs and maintenance of automotive vehicles.
- Healthcare – The healthcare industry utilizes aluminum parts to develop the diverse equipment it uses to provide patient care. These aluminum parts are built for use within ventilation devices, stethoscopes, testing devices, cabinets, hospital beds, cylinder storage cabinets, wall-mounted enclosures, etc.
- Power distribution – The energy and power distribution industry utilizes aluminum parts to develop corrosion-resistant parts within control rooms, junction boxes, transformers, electronic enclosures, and utility products.
- Telecommunications – Masts, control rooms, data center storage, instrument enclosures, and many more telecommunications applications rely on aluminum parts to function. The telecommunications industry requires fabricated aluminum to build and maintain its structures.
Fabricate your aluminum parts with the experts
A thorough understanding of aluminum, its alloys, and the best fabrication techniques required for industry-specific applications is required to fabricate high-performing aluminum parts. Our expert fabricators have garnered decades of experience meeting the metal fabrication needs of your industry.
At The Federal Group USA, we utilize computer-aided design manufacturing processes and cutting-edge aluminum fabrication machinery to meet your industry-specific requirements. Our aluminum fabrication services cut across every industrial sector including: electronics, automotive, defense, energy, healthcare, agriculture, and transportation.
We utilize digital manufacturing technologies alongside our cutting-edge machining equipment to take your project from the ideation stage to completion.
Contact us to learn more about how our expert fabricators can help optimize your aluminum fabrication projects.