What are the Different Grades of Aluminum?

July 9, 2021

What are the different grades of aluminum?

  1. 1100 Aluminum
  2. 2011 Aluminum
  3. 3003 Aluminum
  4. 5052 Aluminum
  5. 6063 Aluminum

Material selection is crucial before starting any project. Different industries make use of specialized materials that enable them to perform complex functions, design intricate machinery, and implement effective solutions. Aluminum in particular has been held in high regard by these same industries, using it for a variety of fabrication and manufacturing processes. Different aluminum grades have given rise to structural building components, automotive parts, energy systems, and other mechanical implements that deliver enhanced performance.

While different aluminum products may exhibit similar properties — i.e. non-corrosiveness, lightweightness, and durability — each aluminum grade possesses qualities making them ideal for specific functions. These grades may be used structurally or for merely decorative purposes. Whatever the case, the aluminum material certainly offers a more practical value compared to other choices.

Typically, aluminum grades are indicators of which elements or metals have been used to form an aluminum alloy. These may include silicone, zinc, copper, manganese, or a combination of these in varying ratios. Some aluminum grades you’ll find in everyday life include the 1100, 2011, 3003, 5052, and 6061 alloys. To date, there are over 400 of these alloys, but these are the most common ones utilized by different industries.

1100 Aluminum

Referred to as commercially pure aluminum — with a minimum of 99% aluminum content — the 1100 aluminum alloy is extremely soft and ductile. This grade is one of the easiest to work and fabricate with, making it deal for complex metal stamping, cutting, or fabrication projects.

1100 aluminum alloy products are often found in food processing and chemical industries in the form of utility carts, food processing equipment, storage systems, mixing devices, packaging, or even plumbing installations.

Among all the other types of aluminum grades, the 1100 is known to have the best thermal and electrical conductivity. It’s also corrosion-resistant and can be machined with little difficulty.

2011 Aluminum
2011 Aluminum

Some alloying elements found in the 2011 aluminum grade include bismuth, copper, and lead, which make up less than 7% of the total composition. Bismuth and lead are two metals that are often alloyed with aluminum due to their low melting point, albeit low electrical conductivity.

This transforms the 2011 into an alloy that can be easily cast or molded into different shapes. These also help reduce the cost of the product as a whole, prevent whisker growth during heat treatment, and improve practicality.

Like the 1100, the 2011 doesn’t require extensive machinery just to manipulate its appearance. This is why the alloy has been dubbed as the “most free-machining aluminum grade” found in automatic screw machine products. This simply means that the aluminum can be machined and cut to size in no time at all, leading to shorter lead times and reducing wear and tear for the cutting equipment.

3003 Aluminum

Most prefinished aluminum products are processed through cold-working, meaning they cannot undergo heat treatment to alter the properties. For this reason, aluminum manufacturers resort to alloying the material with other elements in order to increase formidability, durability, and corrosion-resistance.

Another type of alloyed aluminum is the manganese-alloyed 3003 grade, which is 20% stronger than the 1100 alloy. Hardening for the 3003 can be done through hammering, rolling, and other mechanical distortion procedures that don’t require heat.

Due to the ease by which these processes can be done, the 3003 makes metal forming and fabrication much simpler. With 3003-grade aluminum, increasing the radius of the bend and elasticity during fabrication has significantly reduced the lead times for aluminum-based fabrication projects.
5052 Aluminum

Among the non-heat treatable aluminum grades (1100, 2011, and 3003), the 5052 aluminum is considered to have the best strength rating without sacrificing on formidability, versatility, and ductility. This aluminum has been alloyed with around 2.5% magnesium and less than 0.26% of chromium which improves weldability and reduces tarnishing respectively.

In comparison with the 3003 alloy, 5052 aluminum has a higher tensile strength. Although it is much lower in formidability, it’s still suitable for any manufacturing procedure that requires changes in a material’s physical properties.

Some of the applications of the 50521 aluminum include road signages, boats, ships, fuel tanks, wall cladding, flooring panels, wires, drums, treadplates, shipping containers, and the like. It has consistently proven to be a low-cost and reliable option for a durable, yet high strength material.

6063 Aluminum
6063 Aluminum

Structural aluminum grades are those that have better durability compared to non-heat-treated grades. One of these is the 6061 aluminum alloy which is used for crafting heavy duty sheets, bars, angles, plates, or other extrusions.

Major alloys for the 6063 grade are magnesium and silicon which comprise less than 2% of the material’s metallurgical makeup. Nevertheless, these metals/metalloids make the aluminum corrosion, stress, and crack resistant despite heat treatment.

This aluminum grade is not typically used for custom extrusions or profiling. The 6063 is used instead, which has a better formidability rating than the 6063.

Key Takeaway

When using aluminum for any project, choosing from the different grades of aluminum can be done simpler by understanding each of their unique properties. As discussed, aluminum is one of the widely-used materials for any purpose — be it construction, chemical refinement, manufacturing, or metal fabrication. This is due to the benefits offered by each of these grades, namely improved strength, ductility, increased stress resistance, reduced wear & tear, and sturdy finish.

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