Steel and aluminum are two popular metals for producing consumer and commercial metal goods. While both metals can have a shiny, silver appearance, have good forming characteristics, and can resist common forms of damage, the two metals offer very different characteristics and are used in distinct applications.
At Helander, we produce both aluminum and steel goods. We have a team of expert machinists, technicians, and manufacturing professionals, and we have more than 80 years of experience serving agricultural, high-end furniture, aerospace, medical, and automotive markets. Learn more about the differences between the two metals and how to pick the right fit for your next manufacturing project.
Steel vs. Aluminum
When you're selecting metal for a production project, it's important to consider both the overall workability of the metal during the production process (which can affect complexity and cost) and the characteristics it retains after production, which affects its functionality in end-use applications. The key differences between aluminum and steel include the following:
Aluminum is a non-corrosive, non-magnetic, and non-sparking metal. It's also easy to work with, making it a popular choice for a wide variety of electrical and power applications in consumer, commercial, and industrial systems.
While aluminum is not the most expensive metal on the market, increases in the raw material market price have made aluminum goods more expensive. They are currently more expensive than steel goods.
Aluminum is intrinsically resistant to corrosion, so parts made from aluminum are durable and reliable in high-humidity and even marine environments. Aluminum parts don't require additional coatings, paint, or finishes to stay corrosion-resistant, which simplifies production and ensures the anti-corrosion properties won't scratch off or wear away over time.
Aluminum is very malleable and easy to work with. It has a high degree of elasticity, so manufacturers can form seamless, complex constructions without cracking the metal. Aluminum is the superior choice for spinning processes and creating parts with deep, straight walls that need to meet tight tolerance levels.
Aluminum is a very lightweight metal with a good strength-to-weight ratio. It weighs 2.7 g/cm3, or approximately 33% of the weight of steel.
Other positive characteristics of aluminum include its ability to conduct heat and electricity, reflectivity, and low-temperature strength. The metal is also odorless and impermeable, making it ideal for use in sensitive applications.
Steel is a strong, rugged material that can be transformed into multiple different classes of alloys. It offers an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, hardness, toughness, fatigue strength, and more. Some of its characteristics to consider:
Steel is cheaper than aluminum per pound of material. However, just like with aluminum, market fluctuations that affect the raw material price can impact production costs.
Steel doesn't develop the same aluminum oxide anti-corrosive surface layer as aluminum. However, the material can be covered with coatings, paint, and other finishes. Some steel alloys, such as stainless steel, are specially fabricated to resist corrosion.
Steel is harder than aluminum, meaning it requires more force and power to produce manufactured products. However, the finished product is stronger, tougher, and can better resist deformation over time.
Steel is a dense material, with a density of approximately 7,800 kg/m3. Different alloys have slightly different weights, with carbon and cold-drawn steel weighing more than wrought iron.
Steel offers one of the best strength-to-weight ratios for building construction components, automotive parts, and more. The material is also durable, even in temperature extremes and applications with potential chemical exposures.
Applications of Steel and Aluminum
Some of the most common applications of steel include parts in the following industries:
- Industry and manufacturing
- Transportation, including automotive, marine, and mass transit
Some of the most popular applications for aluminum include:
- Aircraft, train, and ship components
- Consumer electronics
- Construction materials
- Power components
Contact Us Today for Metal Parts Manufacturing
Both steel and aluminum are highly versatile, advantageous materials for manufacturing metal goods. At Helander, our team of expert manufacturers can help you select the right materials for your project and create precision goods that are built to last. Contact us today to learn more about our manufacturing and metal-forming capabilities.