Aluminium has been used to manufacture automobiles for well over a hundred years. In fact the first sports car featuring an aluminium body was premiered at the Berlin International Motor Show in 1899. In 1901 Carl Benz, who went on to co-found Mercedes Benz, constructed the first aluminium car engine. Due to initial difficulties in metalworking with aluminium and its high price at the time, it took over 60 years for aluminium to become widely used in the auto industry. In 1961 Land Rover’s mass produced Buick 215 featured an eight cylinder V8 engine made from aluminium. The lightness of the engine was a revelation and it became an instant hit with race-car drivers. In 1997 Audi started production of aluminium body cars. The use of aluminium reduced the weight of the car bodies by up to 239 kg and paid great dividends in reducing fuel consumption.
What is aluminium?
Aluminium is a metallic element. It’s classified with tin and lead in the “poor metal” category, as it’s extremely malleable. It’s been used by human civilization since ancient times. Aluminium oxides have been discovered in pottery artifacts from Ancient Egypt and Rome. At first, scientists believed aluminium to be rare and extraction was difficult. We now know that it’s the third most common element in the Earth’s crust, and the most common metallic element on Earth. Aluminium blends easily to make lightweight but strong alloys. Aluminium is very light, conducts heat and electricity very well and it’s non-magnetic. These properties make it ideal for a wide variety of uses, from construction to cooking utensils to auto manufacturing.
How is aluminium different from other metals?
Aluminium is light. Its density is one third that of steel.
Aluminium is strong. Aluminium alloys have tensile strengths ranging from 70 to 700 MPa. Unlike steel, aluminium does not become brittle at low temperatures. In fact the strength of aluminium increases when cold.
Aluminium’s strength is combined with flexibility, meaning that it can flex under load and bounce back from the force of impacts.
Aluminium is extremely malleable, and can be extruded into any desired shape by passing it through a die. Aluminium can be extruded either hot or cold. It can be further manipulated through bending and forming operations.
Aluminium is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. An aluminium conductor weighs around half the equivalent copper conductor with the same conductivity.
Aluminium is a good reflector of both light and heat.
Aluminium reacts with the oxygen in the air to form a microscopically thin layer of oxide. This layer is only 4 nanometres thick but provides excellent protection against corrosion. It even repairs itself if damaged.
Why does the auto industry need aluminium? How is it used?
The auto industry uses aluminium for the vehicle frame and body, electrical wiring, wheels, lamps, paint, transmission, air conditioner condenser and pipes, engine parts (pistons, radiator, cylinder head) and magnets (for speedometers, tachometers and air bags).
Using aluminium for automobile manufacture instead of steel gives a number of benefits:
On average, aluminium is 10% to 40% lighter than steel, depending on the product. Vehicles made from aluminium have better acceleration, better braking and better handling. The rigidity of aluminium provides drivers with more immediate and precise control. The malleability of aluminium allows designers to engineer vehicle shapes optimized for maximum performance.
Aluminium can absorb twice as much energy in a crash than the equivalent weight of steel. Aluminium can be used to increase the size and energy absorption capacity of a vehicle’s front and back crumple zones, enhancing safety without increasing weight. Vehicles made from lighter aluminium require shorter stopping distances, helping to prevent collisions.
Nearly 90 percent of automotive aluminium scrap is recovered and recycled. Recycling 1 ton of aluminium saves energy equivalent to 21 barrels of oil. Using aluminium auto manufacturing gives a 20 percent smaller lifecycle CO2 footprint compared to using steel. The Aluminium Association’s report The Element of Sustainability found that replacing a fleet of steel vehicles with aluminium vehicles can save 108 million barrels of crude oil and avoid 44 million tons of CO2 emissions.
Vehicles with aluminium components can be 24 percent lighter than those with steel components. This saves 0.7 gallons of fuel per 100 miles, a saving of 15 percent in fuel consumption over steel vehicles. Similar fuel savings are made when aluminium is used in hybrids, diesels and electric vehicles.
Vehicles with aluminium components benefit from less need for rust repair and they enjoy an increased lifespan. Aluminium components are ideal for vehicles in challenging environments, including off-road and military.
What other metals are typically used in the construction / repair of vehicles?
Steel is still a mainstay of auto manufacture. It’s used in the body and frame, the fuel tank, engine block, axles, gears, brakes and cables. Copper is used in electrical wiring. Brass is used in bushings and the radiator. Other metals used to lesser amounts are: chromium, lead, magnesium, manganese, nickel and zinc.
We supply metals to the auto industry
At Metal Supermarkets we’re proud to be the world’s largest small-quantity metal supplier. We regularly supply metals to leading auto companies. We offer a selection of over 8,000 metal products, shapes and grades. Our stock includes a wide variety of metal types and metal shapes.
You can count on Metal Supermarket to handle all your metal requirements. Just tell us what you need and we will handle the cutting and delivery. To find out more, visit one of our 6 stores in the UK.
Metal Supermarkets UK – Stainless Steel, Aluminium, Bright, Black, Engineering, Bronze, Copper, Brass, Tool, Galvanised
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