Understanding Alloys: Advancing Aluminum

Aluminum alloys are used in everything from cars to buildings to airplanes to beverage cans to smartphones.  For more than 60 years, the Aluminum Association has worked with the industry to register new aluminum alloys.  When the current system was developed in 1954, the list included 75 unique chemical compositions.  Today, there are more than 530 registered compositions and that number continues to grow.  That underscores how versatile and ubiquitous aluminum has become in our modern world.

An aluminum alloy is a chemical composition where other elements are added to aluminum in order to enhance its properties, primarily to increase its strength. These other elements include iron, silicon, copper, magnesium, manganese and zinc at levels that combined may make up as much as 15 percent of the alloy by weight.

Aluminum has been widely used in the packaging, building and construction, as well as transportation sectors for decades.  It’s also been used in the military and space exploration.  It is no exaggeration to say that modern aviation and space travel would not have been possible without aluminum.

Today, aluminum alloys are used in military vehicles like the Humvee and alloys used in some of these applications are finding their way into automotive applications as well.  Additionally, aluminum was a major component in the shuttle program and more recently a big part of the Mars Rover.

In order to make further advancements in these markets, new alloys, many of which are variations of earlier alloys, are being registered every year. The Aluminum Association, in collaboration with its membership, manages this process as an ANSI-accredited standards-setting body. One of the biggest recent advancements across the markets is the addition of lithium in aluminum to provide even lower density and higher strengths than earlier products.    

Aluminum has found its way into many applications in our modern society.  With the wide variety of alloys and tempers that are available, it is the metal of choice anywhere that high-strength, low-weight, durable materials are required. 

 

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