How is Aluminum Made?

Although it’s the most abundant metallic element in the Earth’s crust, aluminum never occurs in its metallic form in nature. Its compounds, however, are present in nearly every form of vegetation, mineral, and animal.

When the silvery-white metal is isolated (first achieved in 1825), we wind up with the periodic element Aluminum (Al). Thanks to the modern method of producing aluminum, it surpassed copper in world production of nonferrous metals back in the 1960s. Today’s seamless process – electrolysis of purified alumina dissolved in cryolite – has allowed aluminum to remain widely used in several settings for decades.

Basic Properties & Structure

What is aluminum?

Natural aluminum compounds are universally present in igneous rocks and various gemstones. Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians used organic clay for assorted projects, including pottery, medicines, and textiles. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that experts recognized aluminum for its application as a metal.

The versatility of this metal is due to its ability to be combined with other alloys (ex: magnesium or silicon) in small amounts to diversify its applications. Although pure aluminum is malleable and somewhat brittle, commercial aluminum is very strong while still relatively flexible.

aluminum periodic table

What's the difference between aluminum and steel?

Steel is more rigid than traditional aluminum and is more durable because it’s more than twice as dense. Both steel and aluminum consist of a combination of two elements. Steel contains iron and carbon, while aluminum contains bauxite and cryolite.

Features & Manufacturing Process

What does the procedure look like for creating aluminum?

Stage 1: Finding the Ore

  • As previously mentioned, the metallic aluminum alloy doesn’t appear anywhere in nature. As a result, it can only be extracted from naturally occurring compounds.
  • Ore is the natural rock or sediment that contains one or more valuable minerals in the form of clay, slate, or granite sediments. The essential aluminum ore is bauxite. Bauxite is commonly found in deposits close to the Earth’s surface and contains about 52% aluminum oxide with iron oxide impurities.

Stage 2: Mining

  • Investigatory drilling allows geologists and researchers to determine the location of bauxite deposits for mining alumina. Once found, they extract the bauxite and remove the earth using various methods, including blasting, drilling, and ripping with specialized bulldozers. The resulting product is alumina: the raw, crystalline form of bauxite. 
  • Four tons of high-quality bauxite will produce approximately two tons of alumina, from which producers can manufacture about a ton of pure aluminum.

Stage 3: Refining the Bauxite (Using the Bayer Process)

  • In the first step of the Bayer Process (Digestion), the bauxite is ground, mixed with caustic soda, and pressurized. This step separates unwanted impurities and forms what is known as sodium aluminate.
  • The second step (Clarification) involves reducing the pressure, removing the separated impurities, and cooling the clarified solution.
  • In step three (Precipitation), the addition of aluminum hydroxide seed crystals results in precipitation, causing the aluminum to become solid.
  • The fourth and final step (Calcination) entails a thermal treatment process using rotary kilns. This heating method removes remaining impurities, and the subsequent material is the alumina or aluminum oxide.

Stage 4: Smelting

  • The last stage of aluminum processing is called smelting, also referred to as the Hall-Héroult process, invented in 1886. Smelting, which takes place in steel reduction pots, extricates the aluminum from the alumina.
  • The resulting molten solution – 99.8% pure – is poured into molds and cast. Subsequently, it can be alloyed with other metals or refined to create super pure aluminum (99.99%).

Why choose aluminum metal for my project?

If you’re trying to determine the appropriate alloy for your construction project, you may consider multifaceted aluminum for its many benefits:

  • Lightweight
  • Flexible
  • Impermeable
  • Recyclable
  • Odorless
  • Corrosion Resistance
  • Ductility
  • Electrical and Thermal Conductivity
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Applications & Availability

What is aluminum used for?

Since this alloy is so versatile, its applications span enterprises and industries of all types. Some of the most recognizable aluminum functions include aerospace construction, food-processing equipment, household appliances, and electrical conductors. Because of its high corrosion resistance and conductivity, aluminum is ideal for manufacturing various consumer and commercial products.

Who supplies premium aluminum near me?

Are you looking for top-quality metal and alloy supplies near you? Pennsylvania Steel Company is the trusted manufacturer for premium metals all over the east coast and beyond – from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Long Island, New York to Cleveland, Ohio. The best aluminum supply company is your nearest PA Steel sales office, where our team is eager to provide you with superior materials for your next project. Contact our sales office in your area to receive fast, dependable customer support regarding local inquiries.

What are the Different Types of Steel?

Since steel is so versatile in its uses, reliable steel companies like Pennsylvania Steel offer various steel types for the multitude of projects our customers execute. The material’s type is determined by two main factors: the individual amounts of its alloy components (such as carbon and iron) and its production process.

The Four Main Types of Steel

Although there are technically over 3,500 types of steel available on the market with varying physical properties, we’re not going to provide you with a complete list of steel types. Instead, we will focus on four predominant types of steel: carbon steel, alloy steel, stainless steel, and tool steel. Learning the differences between these will help you understand which is the best for your project and why it’s the best for the job.

pa steel types of metal

Carbon Steel

As the name suggests, carbon steel contains mainly carbon and iron, and a trace of other elements (such as magnesium or chromium). There are three main subcategories of carbon steel which include:

  1. Low Carbon Steels (less than 0.3% carbon)
  2. Medium Carbon Steels (0.3% – 0.6% carbon)
  3. High Carbon Steels (greater than 0.6% carbon)

This specific profile will define the applications for your carbon steel type. While low carbon steels are very flexible and easy to work with, high carbon steels offer the most strength.

Generally, this type of steel is used in materials such as construction equipment and automotive components. In fact, carbon steel accounts for about 90% of total steel production in the entire industry because it’s inexpensive to produce and durable enough for use in large commercial projects. 

Alloy Steel

The name “alloy steel” suggests a large mix of different elements in addition to the characteristic carbon and iron combination. Examples of common additives are:

  • Magnesium
  • Chromium
  • Nickel
  • Silicon
  • Molybdenum
  • Titanium
  • Copper

The percentages of these elements will determine the appropriate application for the material. Manipulating these proportions changes the steel’s properties, such as heat resistance, hardness, and ductility. Companies often utilize this type of steel to produce commercial equipment like aerospace and aircraft components, transformers, pipelines, and power generators.

Stainless Steel

Steel in this category contains 10-20% chromium, making it incredibly resistant to corrosion and staining. This concentrated chromium coating also makes this material rust-proof. Classified by their microscopic structures, there are three subsets of stainless steel:

TYPE OF STAINLESS STEELGRADEPROPERTIES% ALLOYING ELEMENTSCOMMON USES
Austenitic300non-magnetic and non-heat-treatable18% chromium
8% nickel
<0.8% carbon
kitchen and food processing equipment
Ferritic400magnetic10.5-27% chromium
<0.1% carbon

heat exchangers and furnaces, auto parts
Martensitic400magnetic and heat-treatable
11-17% chromium
<0.4% nickel
<1.2% carbon
cutting tools, dental and surgical equipment

Stainless steel is a highly versatile material due to its notable resistance to heat and discoloration. Its unique resilience makes it the best type of steel for a number of industries, ranging from culinary and catering to standard machinery and cars.

Tool Steel

A combination of carbon and alloy steel, tool steel generally offers high hardness and abrasion resistance. These features, along with its superior ability to retain its shape, make it the ideal material for composing various tools. Surgical equipment, drills, dyes, bits, molds, and punches are examples of instruments made using tool steel.

Manufacturing quality tools requires quality steel components. PA Steel produces a number of different tool steels, which consist of carbon and alloy steels. Tool steel offers advanced abrasion resistance and toughness. We stock many different tool steel grades, including:

  • Air Hardening (A-Grades)
  • High-Carbon High-Chromium (D-Grades)
  • Shock Resisting (S-Grades)
  • Mold Quality/Hot Work (H-Grades
  • Oil Hardening (O-Grades
  • Water Hardening (W-Grades)

To learn more about our tool steel inventory, grades, and their applications, check out our detailed Tool Steel Guide.

Choosing The Best Steel For Your Project

As previously mentioned, the selected steel’s type identifies its key properties, including ductility, hardness, weldability, and more. Naturally, these qualities will determine the applied uses of the chosen metal.

In other words, selecting the wrong metal can prove detrimental to the quality of your project. For example, high alloy or low carbon steels are most effective in extremely cold temperatures because they retain high tensile strength even in frigid conditions. Therefore, residential and commercial structures being built in freezing climates should use these types of metals in their structural designs.

If you’re unsure about what your metal project requires, feel free to contact the specialists at Pennsylvania Steel for further insight into your ideal metal for the job. We can help you confirm your choice and walk you through your potential options for a high-quality result!

Contact PA Steel For a Custom Quote

Regardless of the job you take on, PA Steel offers a wide stock of the different types and grades of steel to help you prepare for your next project. Our knowledgeable staff has years of expertise, so feel free to contact the steel warehouse closest to you with any questions or to receive an estimate. We have steel supply warehouses in Pennsylvania, Virginia (Richmond), New York, New England, North Carolina (Charlotte), and Ohio.

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Sean Wenhold New NC General Manager

Pa Steel would like to congratulate Sean Wenhold on becoming General Manager of our North Carolina and Virginia offices. Sean is an experienced Sales Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the steel distribution and manufacturing industries. We are proud to see Sean advance and grow his already substantial financial, business, and operational management skills and sales knowledge. As of July 6th, 2021, you will find Sean in Pennsylvania Steel Company’s Stanley office in North Carolina. Congratulations to Sean and welcome to North Carolina.
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Employee Spotlight: Melanie Morril

I started at Pennsylvania Steel New England in 2009.  My initial responsibilities included billing, shipping & allocating, and receiving.  Because of these various duties, I was able to learn about Pennsylvania Steel’s products and its operation.

Shortly after that, I was promoted to Office Manager, responsible for accounting, and hiring staff to fulfill the billing, shipping & allocating, and reception positions expanding our PSC New England family.  Eventually, my position also evolved to include HR responsibilities.

As Office Manager, I also have the opportunity to work with Tony Luongo our GM and be involved in many projects ranging with OSHA Safety Manual, IT and DOT.  PSC New England recently obtained its ISO 9001: 2008 certification and am a proud participate in the ISO Core Group and am an Internal Auditor.

I feel very fortunate to work at Pennsylvania Steel Company.  My co-workers at PSC New England are a hardworking, humorous and supportive group, which makes working at Pennsylvania Steel so enjoyable. I am grateful and enthusiastic about being part of this growing company and look forward to the new challenges each day brings.

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Employee Spotlight: Kathleen Esposito

I started my metal career at Davidson Aluminum in 1995.  I was hired for the shipping and receiving department, where I was responsible for shippers and certifications.  I stayed with Davidson until they closed their doors in 1999. I was offered a similar position at Transtar Metals, who had purchased one of the Davidson companies. I stayed with them until they relocated to Connecticut.  Afterwards, I moved on to work for New England Motor Freight, where I gained experience in trucking for a few years.  

In 2006 I received a call from John and Joe from Metal Connections asking me to join their team/family. I had previously worked with both of them at Davidson Aluminum. There, I took on a role in the shipping department. Little by little they taught me the sales end of the metal business.

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It took a while to gather the confidence and knowledge required to be in sales, due to the fact that I had worked primarily in the warehouse. I was surprised by how much I knew about metal and the time and effort it takes to process the material.  Through trial and error, I learned my sales skills, of which I am proud of. 

In 2012, Pennsylvania Steel Company, Inc. purchased Metal Connections. John had spoken to us before he sold the business and explained that by joining a bigger, family owned company, we would have more opportunity and security in the future. I decided to join a bigger team/family which I am happy to be part of.

As the senior sales person in Long Island, I get to be a part of the challenge and opportunity to help build a company that will last a long time. I hope to continue to be able to represent and call Pennsylvania Steel my home for many years.  

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I started my metal career at Davidson Aluminum in 1995.  I was hired for the shipping and receiving department, where I was responsible for shippers and certifications.  I stayed with Davidson until they closed their doors in 1999. I was offered a similar position at Transtar Metals, who had purchased one of the Davidson companies. I stayed with them until they relocated to Connecticut.  Afterwards, I moved on to work for New England Motor Freight, where I gained experience in trucking for a few years.  

In 2006 I received a call from John and Joe from Metal Connections asking me to join their team/family. I had previously worked with both of them at Davidson Aluminum. There, I took on a role in the shipping department. Little by little they taught me the sales end of the metal business. It took a while to gather the confidence and knowledge required to be in sales, due to the fact that I had worked primarily in the warehouse. I was surprised by how much I knew about metal and the time and effort it takes to process the material.  Through trial and error, I learned my sales skills, of which I am proud of. 

In 2012, Pennsylvania Steel Company, Inc. purchased Metal Connections. John had spoken to us before he sold the business and explained that by joining a bigger, family owned company, we would have more opportunity and security in the future. I decided to join a bigger team/family which I am happy to be part of.  As the senior sales person in Long Island, I get to be a part of the challenge and opportunity to help build a company that will last a long time. I hope to continue to be able to represent and call Pennsylvania Steel my home for many years.  

Employee Spotlight: Robert W. Wagner

I  was referred to a job at a family-run business, Bethlehem Aluminum, by my father-in-law Richard Stoudt, where he was also referred by his father-in-law Harvey Schwenger. I joined the Bethlehem Aluminum team in 1988 as a 3rd generation employee! My first position was material handling, forklift operator, and crane operation. I soon began filling orders, fabricating and maintaining equipment which consists of a 12ft shear am aluminum chop saw and a uni-point radial arm saw. My fellow employees began calling me “Doc” as I was the go-to guy when anything required adjustment/repair. Later our company purchased a new saw called a metal saw; a precision cut saw. While operating these machines, I was asked by the president, Bob Burdette, to begin driving trucks for deliveries. I delivered aluminum for 5 years. An advancement became available within the company, one they felt I would be the best candidate, due to my knowledge and experience in the warehouse. I strictly ran the metal saw which happened to be the most valuable saw in the plant.

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In 2004 I recommended that the company hire my son, Robert N. Wagner and Robbie became the 4th generation in my family to work for Bethlehem Aluminum.

In 2007 Pennsylvania Steel, another family owned company, bought Bethlehem Aluminum. PA Steel retained all employees, and also purchased 4 other companies selling various metal products. At our location, we began stocking not only aluminum, but also steel products. Very soon we outgrew our facility on busy Hamilton St in Allentown, and we relocated to Whitehall, PA. In our new location, we upgraded to a larger metal saw, and I was the chief operator. After 28 years everyone still calls me Doc and I am proud to call Pennsylvania Steel my home and employer.

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Gary Hoadley, Warehouseman

I started at Pennsylvania Steel Company in June of 1995 after having worked in the restaurant business for 7-1/2 years.  I came to the company with no prior knowledge of steel, or the industry.

I began working in the warehouse pulling orders and loading/unloading trucks as well as learning how to operate the saws.  Within 2 years. I became 2nd Shift Supervisor, a position that I held for 5 years. A spot opened up on the day shift for me and shortly thereafter I was made Day Shift Supervisor, which I held for nearly 13 years.  During that time, I worked in sales for a short while, where I decided I was best suited for the warehouse. Also, throughout this time, I held a part-time position in the Operations Department.

I am currently an ISO Auditor for the Bensalem branch and have recently starting driving and making deliveries while maintaining my position in the warehouse.

When I started working at PA Steel we were a 1 branch, 4 truck company. I have enjoyed watching Pennsylvania Steel’s expansion throughout the years to become the company that it is today. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for us.

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Tammy Poff, Inside Sales

Hi! My name is Tammy Poff and I started with Lucas Metals in 1987. My first job with Lucas was in a clerical capacity. I did a little bit of everything even sales when no one else was around. When Pennsylvania Steel bought Lucas Metals in 1997, my new boss, Lee Kushman decided I should move on to the sales department. I agreed and have spent almost 20 years in inside sales. I love my customers and have a great relationship with them. Sometimes they know me better than my family. I have a full personal life with two grown children Andrea and Ryan who now have children of their own. The role of mother and grandmother is important to me. I enjoy every minute of watching my kids and grandkids enjoy their lives and assisting where I can. I’m very happy with the balance and success I have achieved in my life both at work and at home. I’m grateful for the opportunity that Pennsylvania Steel has provided and the wonderful life I have as a result. I wish everyone in the company the good fortune I have had from a company that rewards hard work and a diligent effort. Thank you to my superiors for having faith in me and to my co-workers for being such great people to be around. My view is that our sales team is the best.
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Bob Noonan, General Manager

I started my career in the steel business at the age of 20 as a saw operator, for Mannion Steel Company in Philadelphia, PA. Over my years at Mannion, I worked my way up to General Manager. After several years I decided to pursue my own steel business in New Jersey. With help I built this company into a force in the market until I was able to realize one of my lifelong dreams; I had always wanted to live in Florida.

In 1999 my family and I decided to relocate to Venice, Florida and open another business, Harbor Steel, Inc. The business grew quickly. Unfortunately, the company was hit with the 2007 downturn in the housing and construction markets and we were forced to close our doors in 2009.

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My family and I moved back north to Whitehall, PA in 2010 and started working for Pennsylvania Steel Company as an Inside Sales Person. I was soon promoted to Inside Sales Manager. Sales at the Whitehall branch grew and I was recently promoted, this time to General Manager of a new Pennsylvania Steel acquisition in Cleveland, OH.

I’ll be moving my family there in early 2016 to start the next chapter in my journey. With all the help and resources available within Pennsylvania Steel I’m sure this newest branch will soon become a market force in the Cleveland area.

I’m very excited to get things started!

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Pennsylvania Steel Company Expanding Into The Cleveland Marketplace.

Pennsylvania Steel Company Inc. has agreed to acquire Erie Metals Inc., Berea OH. The acquisition will be completed on January 5, 2016. The Erie Metals Division will be the 8th location for Pa Steel. This new location will dramatically increase Pennsylvania Steel’s market footprint which previously ranged from South Carolina through New England.

Erie Metals Inc. is a cold finished carbon bar specialist and has been servicing the Cleveland market for over 25 years. Erie Metals founders Mike Reese and Jim Straka will both remain on board as part of the Erie Metals Division of Pennsylvania Steel.

Pennsylvania Steel Co. Inc. is a privately held full line Metals Service center headquartered in Bensalem PA. Pa Steel provides raw material to the metal manufacturing sector through eight Service Center locations. Core products include Carbon and Alloy Steels, Aluminum, Stainless, Tool Steel and Tubing products.

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