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Aluminum, because of its flexibility and adaptability, as well as its numerous alloys, has a range of industrial uses, including tooling and welding. It’s low cost and formability means that it’s ideal for prototyping, and its particular properties make it popular in all sorts of applications and products. But one area that requires a great deal of precision when it comes to aluminum is machining.
Many problems can arise when machining aluminum. They include the susceptibility of the aluminum to adhering to the edges of the cutting tool and the need to make sure there is both enough strength in the tool to resist breaking due to the cutting forces and adequate chip evacuation along the cutting edge.
A quick look at the different classes of aluminum alloys will help better understand how different alloys react to the above issues.
Series 1xxx aluminum alloys are 99.00% pure aluminum. This means they have low structural value. In the annealed condition, they are highly ductile and possess a high level of corrosion resistance.
Series 2xxx aluminum alloys are known as copper alloys. Key properties include excellent machinability, limited cold formability (with the exception of when its annealed) and relatively low corrosion resistance. These alloys are generally anodized before application.
Series 3xxx aluminum alloys all are constituted of approximately 1% manganese. They are characterized by no perceptible loss in ductility, a high resistance to corrosion, and excellent formability. These alloys are especially well adapted to use in forming applications.
Series 4xxx aluminum alloys are distinguished by the addition of silicon. With its lower melting point, this series of alloys is predominantly used for manufacturing welding wire.
Series 5xxx aluminum alloys have magnesium added. These non-heat treatable alloys are famed for their strength, corrosion resistance, formability, and weldability. They are prominently used in a variety of applications, such as shipbuilding, transportation, bridges, and buildings.
Series 6xxx aluminum alloys have both magnesium and silicon added. As heat treatable alloys, they are characterized by their strength, corrosion resistance, and formability. The combination of magnesium and silicon allows these alloys to be solution heat treated, which improves their strength. They are, however, vulnerable to cracking. These alloys are generally used in architectural extrusions.
Series 7xxx aluminum alloys are made with a combination of zinc and magnesium or zinc and copper. They are known to be extremely strong, making them difficult to form. These alloys are employed in many high-performance applications in the aircraft, aerospace, and sporting equipment industries.