The Top 6 Tips For Welding Aluminum

When it comes to welding, one method doesn’t fit all. Certain qualities of aluminum can make welding a challenge. Leading east coast steel company and metal manufacturer Pennsylvania Steel Co. provides insight into the processing and production of construction materials. Below we offer professional advice for ensuring a safe and effective aluminum welding process.

Aluminum Characteristics

Commercial aluminum alloys offer impressive strength-to-weight ratios and corrosion resistance. These qualities make aluminum a desirable and practical engineering material.

Aluminum is available in numerous forms and grades. They differ in purity, hardness, ductility, thermal conductivity, and various other properties. In other words, aluminum exists in a vast range of types. Here are several commonly utilized grades:

  1. 1100 Aluminum (the purest form of aluminum commercially available)
  2. 3003 Aluminum (most frequently used in the industry, pure aluminum with an addition of manganese)
  3. 5052 Aluminum (excellent resistance against salt water corrosion)
  4. 6061 Aluminum (most commonly used aluminum alloy in construction)
  5. 6063 Aluminum (often referred to as the “architectural alloy” for its use in building structures)

The specific grade of aluminum speaks to its chemical composition. These attributes determine the material’s ultimate application and price point.

Can You Weld Aluminum?

YES, but… 

Standard welding methods can be unsafe and ineffective. Aluminum is highly sensitive, susceptible to impurities, and offers a small window of workability. Since pure aluminum is soft and malleable, adding various alloys creates its diversified range of types. Although the element naturally has a low melting point, the tough exterior oxide layer complicates the welding process. 

Why is Welding Aluminum Difficult?

Specific metal properties can make them challenging to weld. For example:

  • Oxidation: the chemical reaction that occurs at the surface of a metal when exposed to oxygen.
  • Porousness: measurement of permeability and other energy absorption properties.
  • Impurities: the presence of trace amounts of other elements.
  • Thickness: the metal’s “gauge,” expressed in mm (millimeters).

Physical properties vary widely in terms of aluminum grades and often present obstacles when welding. The following characteristics can make aluminum difficult to weld:

  • High thermal conductivity (resulting in high dissipation of heat)
  • Hydrogen solubility (causing excessive porosity)
  • Oxide layer (requiring thorough cleaning/preparation)

Types of Aluminum Welding

  • GTAW/TIG welding
  • GMAW/MIG welding
  • Laser beam and electron beam welding
  • Resistance welding
  • Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW)
  • Friction welding

6 Tips for Welding Aluminum

Pennsylvania Steel Co. specializes in metal processing services for commercial fabricators throughout the United States. We possess decades of expertise in the metal production industry. By sharing our expert knowledge, we strive to educate our valued clientele. Above all else, Pennsylvania Steel Co. values its partners’ and customers’ safety, loyalty, and trust. Properly and safely execute your next aluminum weld by following the expert advice we’ve provided below.

1) Clean and prepare your material thoroughly.

Proper preparation of your aluminum alloy is essential to effective welding. Cleaning and degreasing the metal beforehand removes the outer oxide layer. Adequate removal of this tough layer exposes the raw aluminum material, which has a much lower melting point. For reference, pure aluminum melts at 1200ºF while the oxide layer melts at 3700ºF.

2) Correctly store your aluminum materials. 

Adequately storing prepped aluminum prevents re-oxidation. As stated, the oxide layer is tough to remove. You want to avoid additional preparation and scrubbing.

3) Use a heat sink.

A heat sink is a supplemental component that absorbs or dissipates unwanted heat. The appropriate heat sink ensures optimized thermal transfer during the weld.

4) Tailor your technique for different building materials.

As previously mentioned, aluminum’s complex chemical structure can complicate welding as it’s highly sensitive. Before diving in, take the time to do your research, assess your materials, and refine your technique.

5) Always wear proper PPE.

Once again, we aim to educate and protect our clientele. As a result, we urge all of our fabricators to wear the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when processing or working with any metal. When welding aluminum, for example, we highly recommend wearing a respirator!

6) Be patient and don’t rush.

Speeding through the welding process is undoubtedly dangerous. No matter how much PPE you wear, the best protection is practiced knowledge!

Allow the Pros at Pennsylvania Steel to Simplify the Welding and Production Process

Our goal at Pennsylvania Steel Company is the success of our valued clientele. We’re advancing this sustainable industry by sharing our expertise, providing superior customer service, and supplying metal fabricators all over the eastern U.S. Beyond our Bensalem, PA facility, we have warehouse locations in New York, Virginia, Ohio, and more. We take pride in being a superior steel and pipe supplier and processor for manufacturing businesses throughout the U.S.

Our passion for advancing the steel trade stands over 50 years strong. Numerous industries – including the construction, defense, and technology sectors – rely on our experienced steel company as a vital source of premium metal production and processing services. We’re committed to facilitating growth – as a company, as an industry, and as a community. Request a quote or contact our metal specialists for inquiries regarding our product lines and services. 

The Difference Between Cold-Finished and Hot-Rolled Steel

Business owners and makers have thousands of steel varieties on the market to choose from. With such an array of metal options, selecting the correct type, grade, and finish of your building material can be tedious. Pennsylvania Steel Co. offers a vast assortment of premium steel products at locations all over the United States. Plus, our online resources help our clients build the best projects possible.

Steel Manufacturing, Summarized

Not to be mistaken with the four main types of steel, the general steel manufacturing process falls into two main categories: hot-rolled and cold-rolled. This process starts with the extreme heating and consequent oxidation of mined steel ore.Basically, pieces of large, rectangular metal called billets are heated and flattened into sizable rolls. 

From there, the steel will go through one of the aforementioned rolling processes for its finalized design. “Rolling” refers to the vital step in the manufacturing process that involves forming the metal by using a series of rollers in an attempt to reshape it or enhance its properties. This formation method (hot or cold rolling) will determine the material’s ultimate function.

Hot Finishing Process vs. Cold Finishing Process

"In the conversation about hot-rolled vs. cold-finished products, all cold-finished products are hot-rolled, but hot-rolled products are not necessarily cold finished. Instead, it’s all a matter of how the bars are processed."

ryerson.com

Once steel is heated past its recrystallization temperature (over 1700º F) it can be easily formed and sized. If the material isn’t processed further at room temperature, it’s considered hot-rolled. The steel that goes through further refinement processes is categorized as cold-rolled. Explore further metal rolling methodology differences, capabilities, and tolerances below!

Hot-Rolled Steel

As hot-rolled steel cools, it tends to shrink and form asymmetrically, allowing for more variation in shape and size. For this reason, hot-rolled steel is used in projects where the finished product doesn’t have specific dimensional requirements.

For example, one of the most commonly recognized forms of hot-rolled steel is sheet metal, which is frequently used in creating air ducts and motor vehicles. In these applications, surface finish and proportions don’t need to be precise.

As a result, hot-rolled steel is typically cheaper in price simply because it doesn’t involve any further processing. Since it doesn’t require any reheating, production costs for hot-rolled steel are much lower.

Cold-Finished Steel

That being said, cold-rolled steel needs reheating to further refine its structural properties. In order to achieve more exact dimensions and surface quality, the metal is re-rolled at a lower temperature. This supplemental rolling results in more specified attributes including exterior finish, durability, and dimensional parameters. 

PA Steel, for example, carries a variety of cold-finished bars in a range of grades and finishes for businesses all over the eastern United States. This equipment is used for creating products such as furniture, garages, and home appliances.

Although it’s typically up to 20% more durable than hot-rolled, cold-finished steel is limited to basic square, round, and flat shapes. Despite its improved resistance, the additional processing performed on cold-rolled metals may make it more susceptible to internal stress. Finalized materials need to be stress relieved prior to grinding or cutting to avoid potentially volatile warping or distortion.

Determining the Appropriate Steel Type

Put simply, the last step in the manufacturing process will influence the final product’s application. If tolerance, surface finish, symmetry, straightness, or aesthetics are a key factor in the project’s creation, cold-rolled steel is likely the ideal choice. Conversely, hot-rolled steel can be used for large-scale or low-budget operations that can account for dimensional changes as it cools.

Tolerance Variety

The table below outlines the varying tolerances of hot-rolled vs. cold-finished steel products:

Data source: rapiddirect.com/blog/hot-rolled-vs-cold-rolled-steel

Premium Steel and Pipe Supply From Pennsylvania Steel, Co.

Visit our new and improved website to browse our selection of high-quality products, including several varieties of cold and hot-rolled steel, plus carbon tubing, stainless steel, finished bars, and more. PA Steel Company employs an expert team of industry professionals that are prepared to supply you with the ideal metal for any size project. Browse our locations in Pennsylvania, Richmond, Cleveland, Charlotte, Long Island, and more!

If you’re still having trouble figuring out the ideal steel production process for your project, check out our FAQ page or request a quote online today!

Employee Spotlight: Jonathon Albert

We would like to welcome Jonathon Albert to Pennsylvania Steel. Jonathon has been promoted to General Manager of our York Division. Jonathan has been in the Service Center Industry since 2006 and has held numerous positions, including Business Development, Inside Sales, Manager of Business Operations and Contracts, and Regional Controller. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Clarion University, a master’s degree in Accounting from Mercer University, and earned his MBA from The University of Louisville. Welcome to the team!