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. 

Internships Help Students Explore Career Options

Randolph-Macon College students Nicole Zuck ’16 andBashil Singh ’15, both economics/business majors, spent January Term (J-term) putting into practice what they’ve learned in class. Zuck and Singh did internships—arranged through R-MC’s Bassett Internship program—at Pennsylvania Steel in Ashland, Virginia.

Working under the guidance of Chris Keiser, general manager of PA Steel’s Richmond division, Zuck and Singh helped increase the company’s customer base; determined the average amount that customers spend; and tracked the frequency of customers’ purchases. They also used online marketing tools—including social media—to increase the company’s exposure.

Internship Skills = Career Choices
Zuck, from Lovettsville, Virginia, said the internship was a great way to kick-start her future plans. She hopes to have a career in marketing.

“An internship provides networking opportunities that will be valuable for many years,” says Zuck, a member of the Honors program. “Internships are useful for figuring out what you enjoy—or don’t enjoy. My month at PA Steel prepared me for future jobs because it showed me what it’s like to work with a team, manage projects and brainstorm.”

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Singh, an international studies minor from Kathmandu, Nepal, decided to major in business because of the flexibility it offers.

“I will have a wide variety of career choices to choose from,” he says. “My major and minor combined will help me communicate and work together with others in a highly diversified world.” Interning at PA Steel, he says, gave him a glimpse into life after college. “I had the opportunity to see how an organization operates,” he says. “I also learned to be flexible and be ready to handle any sort of task given to me.” Singh, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, plans on working for a year after college and then attending graduate school. No matter where life takes him, he knows he’ll stay connected to Randolph-Macon College.

“I have met so many people in my years at R-MC,” he says. “As an international student, I’m especially thankful that the Randolph-Macon community helped me transition to life in the U.S. and make such great friends.”

Mentorship
Keiser enjoyed mentoring Zuck and Bashil, and says his only regret is that the internships lasted just a month.

“Nicole and Bashil were great to be around,” says Keiser, who told Zuck and Singh that networking and relationships are key components of a successful company. “It was interesting to have two people with little knowledge of our business develop a marketing program for us. It was great to have young, energetic and unbiased minds come into our business and introduce new ideas. Nicole and Bashil demonstrated to me that Randolph-Macon is doing a great job educating its students.”

Under his guidance, Zuck and Singh developed a flyer to increase the company’s exposure and its Facebook followers.

“We also offered Facebook followers a chance to win NASCAR tickets for anyone who ‘liked’ our page,” explains Keiser. “Nicole and Bashil increased our fan base by more than 100 people. There is so much more we could have done, but the clock just ran out. Nicole and Bashil were really becoming part of the team and we enjoyed having them. I am certain they will achieve success in whatever they choose to do.”

January Term
R-MC’s popular J-term offers something for everyone. For some students, that something is a chance to travel to destinations around the world and immerse themselves in other cultures. J-termers have studied evolution and conservation in the Galapagos Islands, Central American culture in Costa Rica, the history of mathematics in England, and have helped build homes in El Salvador.

Other students dedicate the month to internships. R-MC’s Bassett Internship program offers academic credit and connects students with tailor-made internships to explore a wide range of career fields in various geographic locations.

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Glad To Have you Here, Pennsylvania Steel

You don’t need a business degree to know that it’s good news when a company expands, especially a local company.

Fortunately for Gaston County, Pennsylvania Steel Co. decided to stay in the neighborhood when it went looking for larger quarters to accommodate its growing business.

Things were getting too tight at PSC’s Gastonia location, but just the right spot turned up in Stanley. That means the jobs stay nearby for the company’s 50 employees – and more business means the possibility more jobs will be added.

The new location, says General Manager Mike Loveland, will result in a more efficient operation. That’s more good news, – for customers, employees and owners.

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Efficiency helps a company compete and a competitive edge can help bring in more business and secure the future for the company and its employees.

PSC planted its roots in Gaston County nearly three years ago when it acquired Schwartz Steele Service Inc. From the beginning, the company experienced strong growth, so much so it had to lease a second location.

In Stanley, operations will be back under one roof – a roof that covers 80,590 square feet of warehouse and sales office space. As the once mighty textile industry dwindled and jobs disappeared, Gaston County residents had enough shrinking business news to last a lifetime.

It’s encouraging to see the opposite – business growth and expansion for a company that came to Gaston County and decided to stay in Gaston County.

We’re glad to have you here, Pennsylvania Steel Co. Congratulations on your success!

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