20 August. Thursday 2015. 2:00 PM.
Aluminium vs Steel: What's the Difference?

Stainless Steel and aluminum are the two most popular materials used in both metal spinning and metal stamping. Each material has a defined and distinct set of characteristics that make it the right – or the wrong – material for the job. Widely used for their versatility and corrosion resistance, aluminum and stainless steel are staples in the metals industry. To know when it is better to use aluminum vs stainless steel, we must compare factors like their compositions, mechanical properties, and cost.

Main Characteristics of Stainless-Steel vs Aluminum

Stainless Steel

  • Contains a minimum of 11% chromium
  • Is a ferrous alloy (contains iron)
  • Usually magnetic
  • High tensile strength

Stainless steel comes in a variety of grades. The grades are classified by a series number and assigned a numerical grade. The numbers classify the grades of steel based on their composition, physical properties, and applications. The most popular grades are 304 stainless steel and 316 stainless steel.

Aluminum

  • Non-magnetic
  • Low density
  • Non-ferrous alloy (doesn’t contain iron)

Due to its low tensile strength, aluminum is commonly alloyed with other metals to give it a number of different superior properties. Some of the most common aluminum alloys are 3003 aluminum and 3004 aluminum.

WHAT IS THE COST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALUMINUM VS STEEL?
Cost and price are always an essential factor to consider when making any product. The price of steel and aluminum is continually fluctuating based on global supply and demand, fuel costs and the price and availability of iron and bauxite ore; however steel is generally cheaper (per pound) than aluminum (see galvanized vs stainless for more info on steel). The cost of raw materials has a direct impact on the price of the finished spinning. There are exceptions, but two identical spinnings (one in aluminum and one in steel) the aluminum part will almost always cost more because of the increase in the raw material price.

WHAT IS THE CORROSION RESISTANCE FOR ALUMINUM VS STEEL?
While malleability is very important for manufacturing, aluminum’s greatest attribute is that it is corrosion resistant without any further treatment after it is spun. Aluminum doesn’t rust. With aluminum, there is no paint or coating to wear or scratch off.  Steel or “carbon steel” in the metals world (as opposed to stainless steel) usually need to be painted or treated after spinning to protect it from rust and corrosion, especially if the steel part will be at work in a moist, damp or abrasive environment.

WHAT IS THE STRENGTH OF ALUMINUM VS STEEL?
Aluminum is a very desirable metal because it is more malleable and elastic than steel. Aluminum can go places and create shapes that steel cannot, often forming deeper or more intricate spinnings. Especially for parts with deep and straight walls, aluminum is the material of choice. Steel is a very tough and resilient metal but cannot generally be pushed to the same extreme dimensional limits as aluminum without cracking or ripping during the spinning process.

WHAT IS THE WEIGHT DIFFERENCE OF ALUMINUM VS STEEL?
Even with the possibility of corrosion, steel is harder than aluminum. Most spinnable tempers and alloys of an aluminum dent, ding or scratch more easily as compared to steel. Steel is strong and less likely to warp, deform or bend underweight, force or heat. Nevertheless, the strength of steel’s tradeoff is that steel is much heavier/much denser than aluminum.  Steel is typically 2.5 times denser than aluminum.

The final application of the part will ultimately determine which material the part would be spun from, balancing all the limitations and advantages of each material. On some spinnings, it’s an easy call, while others are a tougher decision. If you or your engineering departments are on the fence with steel vs. aluminum dilemma, please contact the authority on metal spinnings at Wenzel Metal Spinning, Inc. and we will be happy to provide you with our expert opinion and supporting information. Additional information about steel and aluminum can be found on our materials page.

Applications for Aluminum and Steel

When trying to choose between steel and aluminum for your specific project, knowing the common areas of application for each of them could be very helpful. The following table shows the most common uses of these metals in different industries.

Industry Steel Aluminum
Infrastructure • Steel reinforcement in concrete structures, such as bridges and parkade
• Steel supports and girders
• Architectural and finishing applications, such as side paneling
• Window and door frames, gutters, and railing
Mechanical equipment • Tractors, bulldozers, and cranes
• Rolling mills
• Hand tools like hammers and shovels
• Piping
• Some storage tanks
Transportation • Car frames
• Drive trains
• Suspensions
• Aircraft fuselage, wings, and support structure
• Car body and wheels
• Car engines
Appliances • Washers and dryers
• Ovens
• Appliance bodies and frames
• Coffee makers and mixers
Sports Equipment • Rock climbing equipment
• Golf club heads
• Cycling chains, cogs, and cables
• Weightlifting equipment
• Bicycle frames, wheels, and handlebars
• Ski poles
• Baseball bats

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