The Difference Between Steel and Aluminum Metal Fabrication

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The Difference Between Steel and Aluminum Metal Fabrication

Stainless steel and aluminum are very different materials, each with many unique features. We do fabrication services for both, so we want you to have some basic knowledge to enable you to make the right decision when it comes to your specific project. Below, read about some key differences in process and end product.

The Processes

The fabrication processes behind aluminum and stainless steel vary quite a bit, largely due to the strengths and limitations of each material (more on that below). Here are just a few ways that the fabrication differs between the two materials:

Aluminum

Aluminum can be cut into various forms to meet product specifications. It is very versatile and easy to work with during the fabrication process.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel can undergo rigorous fabrication processes, although it is limited when it comes to cutting. The work we do on stainless steel includes hardening, machining, welding, soft soldering and brazing. Products specs can be met by folding, bending, cold and hot forging, deep drawing, spinning and rolling.

The End Products

Of course, there are the products themselves. Each has its benefits and limitations that make them better suited for specific applications. Here are a few notable features of each:

Aluminum

Weight – Aluminum has a clear advantage when it comes to weight. While less strong than stainless steel, aluminum is much better suited for applications where weight is an issue — aircraft, for example.

Cost – As a lighter material, aluminum typically costs less than stainless steel, making it an economical option in many applications. It is also a lighter, less expensive material to ship.

Conductivity – In terms of conducting heat, aluminum is better than stainless steel. For that reason, aluminum is often the preferred option for applications such as car parts or air-conditioning systems.

Cutting Ability – Aluminum is very workable. It is soft and easy to cut, compared with stainless steel — which is a denser, abrasion-resistant material.

Stainless Steel

Strength – Stainless steel, when compared with aluminum, is the stronger option. As noted above, it outweighs aluminum. However, when strength is needed and weight is not an issue, stainless steel likely is the better option.

Corrosion Resistance – It should be noted that both aluminum and stainless steel are made to be highly resistant to corrosive elements; however, stainless steel is better. The chromium found in stainless steel helps to resist corrosion. Likewise, aluminum’s makeup helps it resist oxidation. Though in extreme conditions — such as an especially acidic environment — aluminum can corrode quickly.

Heat Resistance – Stainless steel can withstand temperatures higher than 400 degrees Fahrenheit — the point at which aluminum will soften and result in damage.

Welding Ability – While both can be welded, it is easier to work with stainless steel.

The National Metal Fabricators team knows both materials inside and out, and we’re always happy to lend you our expertise. When deciding the best material to suit your specific project, feel free to reach out to us.