Aluminium is the world’s most abundant metal and is the third most common element comprising 8% of the earth’s crust. The versatility of aluminium makes it the most widely used metal after steel.
Aluminium is derived from the mineral bauxite. Bauxite is converted to aluminium oxide (alumina) via the Bayer Process. The alumina is then converted to aluminium metal using electrolytic cells and the Hall-Heroult Process.
Worldwide demand for aluminium is around 29 million tons per year. About 22 million tons is new aluminium and 7 million tons is recycled aluminium scrap. The use of recycled aluminium is economically and environmentally compelling. It takes 14,000 kWh to produce 1 tonne of new aluminium. Conversely it takes only 5% of this to remelt and recycle one tonne of aluminium. There is no difference in quality between virgin and recycled aluminium alloys.
Pure aluminium is soft, ductile, corrosion resistant and has a high electrical conductivity. It is widely used for foil and conductor cables, but alloying with other elements is necessary to provide the higher strengths needed for other applications. Aluminium is one of the lightest engineering metals, having a strength to weight ratio superior to steel.
By utilising various combinations of its advantageous properties such as strength, lightness, corrosion resistance, recyclability and formability, aluminium is being employed in an ever-increasing number of applications. This array of products ranges from structural materials through to thin packaging foils.
Aluminium is most commonly alloyed with copper, zinc, magnesium, silicon, manganese and lithium. Small additions of chromium, titanium, zirconium, lead, bismuth and nickel are also made and iron is invariably present in small quantities.
There are over 300 wrought alloys with 50 in common use. They are normally identified by a four figure system which originated in the USA and is now universally accepted. Table 1 describes the system for wrought alloys. Cast alloys have similar designations and use a five digit system.
Alloy Designations Cont...
Designations for wrought aluminium alloys.
Alloying Element None (99%+ Aluminium) - 1XXX
Alloying Element Copper - 2XXX
Alloying Element Manganese - 3XXX
Alloying Element Silicon - 4XXX
Alloying Element Magnesium - 5XXX
Alloying Element Magnesium + Silicon - 6XXX
Alloying Element Zinc - 7XXX
Alloying Element Lithium/Other - 8XXX
For unalloyed wrought aluminium alloys designated 1XXX, the last two digits represent the purity of the metal. They are the equivalent to the last two digits after the decimal point when aluminium purity is expressed to the nearest 0.01 percent. The second digit indicates modifications in impurity limits. If the second digit is zero, it indicates unalloyed aluminium having natural impurity limits and 1 through 9, indicate individual impurities or alloying elements.
For the 2XXX to 8XXX groups, the last two digits identify different aluminium alloys in the group. The second digit indicates alloy modifications. A second digit of zero indicates the original alloy and integers 1 to 9 indicate consecutive alloy modifications.