Properties of aluminum

Aluminum is derived from the mineral bauxite. Bauxite is converted to aluminum oxide (alumina) via the Bayer Process. The alumina is then converted to aluminum metal using electrolytic cells and the Hall-Heroult Process.

Properties of aluminum

One of the best known properties of aluminum is that it is light, with a density one third that of steel, 2,700 kg/m3. The low density of aluminum accounts for it being lightweight but this does not affect its strength.
Aluminum alloys commonly have tensile strengths of between 70 and 700 MPa. The range for alloys used in extrusion is 150 – 300 MPa. Unlike most steel grades, aluminum does not become brittle at low temperatures. Instead, its strength increases. At high temperatures, aluminum’s strength decreases. At temperatures continuously above 100°C, strength is affected to the extent that the weakening must be taken into account.


Linear expansion

Compared with other metals, aluminum has a relatively large coefficient of linear expansion. This has to be taken into account in some designs.

Aluminum is easily worked using most machining methods – milling, drilling, cutting, punching, bending, etc. Furthermore, the energy input during machining is low.

Aluminum’s superior malleability is essential for extrusion. With the metal either hot or cold, this property is also exploited in the rolling of strips and foils, as well as in bending and other forming operations.

Aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. An aluminum conductor weighs approximately half as much as a copper conductor having the same conductivity.

Features facilitating easy jointing are often incorporated into profile design. Fusion welding, Friction Stir Welding, bonding and taping are also used for joining.

Another of the properties of aluminum is that it is a good reflector of both visible light and radiated heat.

Screening EMC
Tight aluminum boxes can effectively exclude or screen off electromagnetic radiation. The better the conductivity of a material, the better the shielding qualities.

Corrosion resistance
Aluminum reacts with the oxygen in the air to form an extremely thin layer of oxide. Though it is only some hundredths of a (my)m thick (1 (my)m is one thousandth of a millimetre), this layer is dense and provides excellent corrosion protection. The layer is self-repairing if damaged.

Anodising increases the thickness of the oxide layer and thus improves the strength of the natural corrosion protection. Where aluminum is used outdoors, thicknesses of between 15 and 25 ¥ìm (depending on wear and risk of corrosion) are common.

Aluminum is extremely durable in neutral and slightly acid environments.
In environments characterised by high acidity or high basicity, corrosion is rapid.

Non-magnetic material
Aluminum is a non-magnetic (actually paramagnetic) material. To avoid interference of magnetic fields aluminum is often used in magnet X-ray devices.

Zero toxicity

After oxygen and silicon, aluminum is the most common element in the Earth’s crust. Aluminum compounds also occur naturally in our food

Annual Demand of Aluminum

Worldwide demand for aluminum is around 29 million tons per year. About 22 million tons is new aluminum and 7 million tons is recycled aluminum scrap. The use of recycled aluminum is economically and environmentally compelling. It takes 14,000 kWh to produce 1 tonne of new aluminum. Conversely it takes only 5% of this to remelt and recycle one tonne of aluminum. There is no difference in quality between virgin and recycled aluminum alloys.

Applications of Aluminum

Pure aluminum 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. Aluminum 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, aluminum is being employed in an ever-increasing number of applications. This array of products ranges from structural materials through to thin packaging foils.

Alloy Designations

Aluminum 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.

Designations for wrought aluminum alloys.

Alloying Element Wrought
None (99%+ Aluminum) 1XXX
Copper 2XXX
Manganese 3XXX
Silicon 4XXX
Magnesium 5XXX
Magnesium + Silicon 6XXX
Zinc 7XXX
Lithium 8XXX

For unalloyed wrought aluminum alloy 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 aluminum 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 aluminum 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 aluminum 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.

Density of Aluminum

Aluminum has a density around one third that of steel or copper making it one of the lightest commercially available metals. The resultant high strength to weight ratio makes it an important structural material allowing increased payloads or fuel savings for transport industries in particular.

Strength of Aluminum

Pure aluminum doesn’t have a high tensile strength. However, the addition of alloying elements like manganese, silicon, copper and magnesium can increase the strength properties of aluminum and produce an alloy with properties tailored to particular applications.

Aluminum is well suited to cold environments. It has the advantage over steel in that its’ tensile strength increases with decreasing temperature while retaining its toughness. Steel on the other hand becomes brittle at low temperatures.

Corrosion Resistance of Aluminum

When exposed to air, a layer of aluminum oxide forms almost instantaneously on the surface of aluminum. This layer has excellent resistance to corrosion. It is fairly resistant to most acids but less resistant to alkalis.

Thermal Conductivity of Aluminum

The thermal conductivity of aluminum is about three times greater than that of steel. This makes aluminum an important material for both cooling and heating applications such as heat-exchangers. Combined with it being non-toxic this property means aluminum is used extensively in cooking utensils and kitchenware.

Electrical Conductivity of Aluminum

Along with copper, aluminum has an electrical conductivity high enough for use as an electrical conductor. Although the conductivity of the commonly used conducting alloy (1350) is only around 62% of annealed copper, it is only one third the weight and can therefore conduct twice as much electricity when compared with copper of the same weight.

Reflectivity of Aluminum

From UV to infra-red, aluminum is an excellent reflector of radiant energy. Visible light reflectivity of around 80% means it is widely used in light fixtures. The same properties of reflectivity makes aluminum ideal as an insulating material to protect against the sun’s rays in summer, while insulating against heat loss in winter.

Properties for aluminum.

Property Value
Atomic Number 13
Atomic Weight (g/mol) 26.98
Valency 3
Crystal Structure FCC
Melting Point (°C) 660.2
Boiling Point (°C) 2480
Mean Specific Heat (0-100°C) (cal/g.°C) 0.219
Thermal Conductivity (0-100°C) (cal/cms. °C) 0.57
Co-Efficient of Linear Expansion (0-100°C) (x10-6/°C) 23.5
Electrical Resistivity at 20°C (Ω.cm) 2.69
Density (g/cm3) 2.6898
Modulus of Elasticity (GPa) 68.3
Poissons Ratio 0.34

Mechanical Properties of Aluminum

Aluminum can be severely deformed without failure. This allows aluminum to be formed by rolling, extruding, drawing, machining and other mechanical processes. It can also be cast to a high tolerance.

Alloying, cold working and heat-treating can all be utilised to tailor the properties of aluminum.

The tensile strength of pure aluminum is around 90 MPa but this can be increased to over 690 MPa for some heat-treatable alloys.

Mechanical properties of selected aluminum alloys.

Alloy Temper Proof Stress 0.20% (MPa) Tensile Strength (MPa) Shear Strength (MPa) Elongation A5 (%) Elongation A50 (%) Hardness Brinell HB Hardness Vickers HV Fatigue Endur. Limit (MPa)
AA1050A H2 85 100 60 12 30 30
H4 105 115 70 10 9 35 36 70
H6 120 130 80 7 39
H8 140 150 85 6 5 43 44 100
H9 170 180 3 48 51
0 35 80 50 42 38 21 20 50
AA2011 T3 290 365 220 15 15 95 100 250
T4 270 350 210 18 18 90 95 250
T6 300 395 235 12 12 110 115 250
T8 315 420 250 13 12 115 120 250
AA3103 H2 115 135 80 11 11 40 40
H4 140 155 90 9 9 45 46 130
H6 160 175 100 8 6 50 50
H8 180 200 110 6 6 55 55 150
H9 210 240 125 4 3 65 70
0 45 105 70 29 25 29 29 100
AA5083 H2 240 330 185 17 16 90 95 280
H4 275 360 200 16 14 100 105 280
H6 305 380 210 10 9 105 110
H8 335 400 220 9 8 110 115
H9 370 420 230 5 5 115 120
0 145 300 175 23 22 70 75 250
AA5251 H2 165 210 125 14 14 60 65
H4 190 230 135 13 12 65 70 230
H6 215 255 145 9 8 70 75
H8 240 280 155 8 7 80 80 250
H9 270 310 165 5 4 90 90
0 80 180 115 26 25 45 46 200
AA5754 H2 185 245 150 15 14 70 75
H4 215 270 160 14 12 75 80 250
H6 245 290 170 10 9 80 85
H8 270 315 180 9 8 90 90 280
H9 300 340 190 5 4 95 100
0 100 215 140 25 24 55 55 220
AA6063 0 50 100 70 27 26 25 85 110
T1 90 150 95 26 24 45 45 150
T4 90 160 110 21 21 50 50 150
T5 175 215 135 14 13 60 65 150
T6 210 245 150 14 12 75 80 150
T8 240 260 155 9 80 85
AA6082 0 60 130 85 27 26 35 35 120
T1 170 260 155 24 24 70 75 200
T4 170 260 170 19 19 70 75 200
T5 275 325 195 11 11 90 95 210
T6 310 340 210 11 11 95 100 210
AA6262 T6 240 290 8
T9 330 360 3
AA7075 0 105 225 150 17 60 65 230
T6 505 570 350 10 10 150 160 300
T7 435 505 305 13 12 140 150 300

Aluminum Standards

The old BS1470 standard has been replaced by nine EN standards. The EN standards are given in table 4.

EN standards for aluminum

Standard Scope
EN485-1 Technical conditions for inspection and delivery
EN485-2 Mechanical properties
EN485-3 Tolerances for hot rolled material
EN485-4 Tolerances for cold rolled material
EN515 Temper designations
EN573-1 Numerical alloy designation system
EN573-2 Chemical symbol designation system
EN573-3 Chemical compositions
EN573-4 Product forms in different alloys

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The EN standards differ from the old standard, BS1470 in the following areas:

  • Chemical compositions – unchanged.
  • Alloy numbering system – unchanged.
  • Temper designations for heat treatable alloys now cover a wider range of special tempers. Up to four digits after the T have been introduced for non- standard applications (e.g. T6151).
  • Temper designations for non heat treatable alloys – existing tempers are unchanged but tempers are now more comprehensively defined in terms of how they are created. Soft (O) temper is now H111 and an intermediate temper H112 has been introduced. For alloy 5251 tempers are now shown as H32/H34/H36/H38 (equivalent to H22/H24, etc). H19/H22 & H24 are now shown separately.
  • Mechanical properties – remain similar to previous figures. 0.2% Proof Stress must now be quoted on test certificates.
  • Tolerances have been tightened to various degrees.

Heat Treatment of Aluminum

A range of heat treatments can be applied to aluminum alloys:

  • Homogenisation – the removal of segregation by heating after casting.
  • Annealing – used after cold working to soften work-hardening alloys (1XXX, 3XXX and 5XXX).
  • Precipitation or age hardening (alloys 2XXX, 6XXX and 7XXX).
  • Solution heat treatment before ageing of precipitation hardening alloys.
  • Stoving for the curing of coatings
  • After heat treatment a suffix is added to the designation numbers.
  • The suffix F means “as fabricated”.
  • O means “annealed wrought products”.
  • T means that it has been “heat treated”.
  • W means the material has been solution heat treated.
  • H refers to non heat treatable alloys that are “cold worked” or “strain hardened”.

The non-heat treatable alloys are those in the 3XXX, 4XXX and 5XXX groups.

Heat treatment designations for aluminum and aluminum alloys.

Term Description
T1 Cooled from an elevated temperature shaping process and naturally aged.
T2 Cooled from an elevated temperature shaping process cold worked and naturally aged.
T3 Solution heat-treated cold worked and naturally aged to a substantially.
T4 Solution heat-treated and naturally aged to a substantially stable condition.
T5 Cooled from an elevated temperature shaping process and then artificially aged.
T6 Solution heat-treated and then artificially aged.
T7 Solution heat-treated and overaged/stabilised.

Work Hardening of Aluminum

The non-heat treatable alloys can have their properties adjusted by cold working. Cold rolling is an example.

These adjusted properties depend upon the degree of cold work and whether working is followed by any annealing or stabilising thermal treatment.

Nomenclature to describe these treatments uses a letter, O, F or H followed by one or more numbers. As outlined in Table 6, the first number refers to the worked condition and the second number the degree of tempering.

 Non-Heat treatable alloy designations

Term Description
H1X Work hardened
H2X Work hardened and partially annealed
H3X Work hardened and stabilized by low temperature treatment
H4X Work hardened and stoved
HX2 Quarter-hard – degree of working
HX4 Half-hard – degree of working
HX6 Three-quarter hard – degree of working
HX8 Full-hard – degree of working

Temper codes for plate

Code Description
H112 Alloys that have some tempering from shaping but do not have special control over the amount of strain-hardening or thermal treatment. Some strength limits apply.
H321 Strain hardened to an amount less than required for a controlled H32 temper.
H323 A version of H32 that has been hardened to provide acceptable resistance to stress corrosion cracking.
H343 A version of H34 that has been hardened to provide acceptable resistance to stress corrosion cracking.
H115 Armour plate.
H116 Special corrosion-resistant temper.


This Data is indicative only and must not be seen as a substitute for the full specification from which it is drawn. In particular, the mechanical property requirements vary widely with temper, product and product dimensions. The information is based on our present knowledge and is given in good faith. However, no liability will be accepted by the Company is respect of any action taken by any third party in reliance thereon.

As the products detailed may be used for a wide variety of purposes and as the Company has no control over their use; the Company specifically excludes all conditions or warranties expressed or implied by statute or otherwise as to dimensions, properties and/or fitness for any particular purpose.

Any advice given by the Company to any third party is given for that party’s assistance only and without liability on the part of the Company. Any contract between the Company and a customer will be subject to the company’s Conditions of Sale. The extent of the Company’s liabilities to any customer is clearly set out in those Conditions; a copy of which is available on request.

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