Discover the importance of aluminium alloy selection for your engineering projects. Learn about different casting and forming methods.
Types of aluminium alloys
Most aluminum products and semi-finished products, which are used in mechanical engineering, construction and other engineering fields are shaped, which they receive by methods of metal forming by pressure – rolling, pressing (extrusion), drawing, forging, punching. Examples are rolled sheet (thick, thin and foil), extruded profile, trumpet, bar and wire. Aluminum alloys, which are processed by these methods, called “wrought”.
Almost all other aluminum products – these are mainly cast products, which are obtained by various casting methods, such as sand casting, chill casting, high pressure die casting, low-pressure casting, investment casting and others. Aluminum alloys, which are used for casting, called “casting”.
A relatively small amount of aluminum alloys and products from them are obtained by special methods, such as hot isostatic treatment, powder technology, ultrafast solidification method and others.
The number of wrought aluminum alloys, which the design engineer has at his disposal, is very large. All wrought aluminum alloys are classified into:
- heat-treated aluminium alloys and
- thermally hardenable alloys.
Before considering the characteristics of these two classes of wrought aluminum alloys, it is useful to recall the modern international system of designation of the deformable alloys themselves and their states, that is, that technological processing, which they receive during the manufacture of products and semi-finished products.
Designation of wrought alloys
The international AA designation system for wrought aluminum alloys subdivides all wrought alloys into eight classes (series, groups) for the main alloying elements (table 1).
Figure 1 – International classifications of wrought aluminium alloys (Aluminum Association) 
In this international designation system for wrought aluminum alloys, which consists of four numbers:
- the first digit identifies the main alloying elements
- the other three digits are used as serial numbers to identify the various individual alloys.
The 1xxx series formally includes non-alloys (no alloying elements), and aluminum grades. Certain information is included in the designation of aluminum grades. for instance, in the designation of industrial grade aluminum grades, the last three digits xxx indicate the grade of purity: 1080 indicates the purity of aluminum 99,80 %. In other series of aluminum alloys (2xxx, 3xxx, 4xxx, 5xxx, 6xxx, 7xxx and 8xxx) numbers xxx do not carry direct information about the chemical composition of a particular alloy.
Tempers of aluminum alloys
The same alloy can be processed by different technological operations: heat treatment, cold deformation processing (autofrettage) and their combinations. As a result of such processing, the alloy can obtain different mechanical properties., microstructure and other performance characteristics. These features of the technological processing of aluminum alloy and the properties obtained by it as a result of this processing reflect the characteristics of the alloy, which is called “temper”.
Full designation an aluminium alloy
A complete record of the alloy designation consists of the designation of the alloy and the designation of its temper:
Wrought aluminium alloy selection
Selecting of the right aluminum alloy produced on the basis of:
- properties, required for the product during its service life
- degree of complexity of product manufacturing
- total alloy cost, its availability on the market, heat treatment technology and surface finishing
Non-thermally hardened alloys can be hardened by solution treatment and / or by cold deformation working (autofrettage), but not able to harden due to the aging mechanism, that is, precipitation of strengthening phases.
- Aluminum grades 1xxx: technically pure aluminum.
- Alloys 3xxx: aluminum-manganes.
- 5xxx alloys: aluminum-magnesium.
These are alloys of the 2xxx series, 6xxx, 7xxx and 8xxx, which gives ample opportunities for choosing the right aluminium alloy.
- 2xxx alloys, especially those, which are based on the aluminum-copper-magnesium system, found application in load-bearing structural elements of aircraft.
- 6xxx alloys (aluminum-magnesium-silicon) are widely used as profiles with moderate strength in construction, mechanical engineering and other areas of industry.
- 7xxx alloys (aluminum-zinc-magnesium) provide high strength for critical structures and structures.
- 8xxx alloys include an alloy 8001 (Al-1,1Ni-0,6Fe) for nuclear power plants for operation in water at high temperatures and high pressure and alloy 8011 (Al-0,75Fe-0,7Si), which is capable of deep drawing for fabrication, for example, bottle caps .
Casting aluminium alloy selection
Designation of casting aluminium alloys
Like wrought alloys, casting alloys are also subdivided into:
- non-heat-treatable and
When selecting the right aluminium alloy for casting, the following factors are considered:
- type of casting technology
- requirements for mechanical and other properties
- cost of production.
Casting alloys, in which silicon is the main alloying element, are the most important for applications in various engineering fields. These alloys are characterized by high fluidity, since in terms of silicon content they are close to the eutectic chemical composition. These castings have high corrosion resistance combined with low thermal expansion and good weldability..
The number after the dot
Numeral, which goes in the designation of the casting alloy after the point, indicates the shape of the product :
- The number zero (0) after the dot indicates the cast product itself (casting)
- The number one (1) after the dot indicates the chemical composition limits for the ingot., which is used for the manufacture of cast products xxx.0.
- The number two (2) after the dot indicates an ingot, which is used to manufacture the product xxx.0, but an ingot of a different chemical composition (usually narrower), than ingot xxx.1. Although not always, xxx.1 often indicates the chemical composition limits for the secondary alloy, while XXX.2 indicates the chemical composition limits for the primary alloy.
Important to remember, that the “0” after the dot indicates the casting, while “1” or “2” indicates the chemical composition of the ingots, which is required for the manufacture of this casting product (casting).
Since melting and melt processing can change the chemical composition of the alloy, which is prepared for making castings, chemical composition requirements xxx.1 or xxx.2 are always somewhat more stringent, than for the requirement for the chemical composition xxx.0 for the finished casting. According to the accepted agreement, ingots xxx.2 always have stricter chemical composition limits., than ingots xxx.1.
Not all alloys have both ingot shapes – xxx.1 and xxx.2. Many more traditional high pressure casting alloys will only have an xxx recycled ingot.1, and many alloys for casting high-quality castings have only ingot xxx.2.
The numeric designation of the casting alloy may be preceded by a letter, for example, A360.0. The letters indicate some deviations from the originally developed alloy, possibly a version with a lower content of impurities or an additional controlled element.
Application of casting aluminium alloys
1xx series alloys
Alloys of the 1xx series are industrially used for casting rotors of electric rotors. Rotors are usually cast on vertical high pressure die casting machines, which are specially designed for this purpose. Due to the high electrical conductivity of commercially pure aluminum, it is used for the manufacture of electrically conductive busbars They are cast together with a steel sheath, which is pre-installed in the mold.
2xx series alloys
Series 2xx alloys include the highest strength aluminum cast alloys available today. Alloys of the 2xx series retain their strength better at elevated temperatures, than other cast aluminum alloys.
3xx series alloys
The 3xxx series alloys are the real workhorses of the aluminum foundry industry due to their high casting characteristics and good strength.. The most used of them are Al-Si-Cu alloys, which, with an increased copper content, are completely thermally hardened.
Alloy group 380 for a long time it was used in an overwhelming amount (over 85 %) for high pressure casting. These secondary (scrap aluminum) alloys have been specially developed for high pressure casting.
4xx series alloys
Alloys of the 4xx series are used then, when good casting properties are required, as well as higher corrosion resistance, than alloys of the 3xx series, which contain copper. They are used to make castings for seawater service., equipment for the food industry and components for the chemical industry, as well as such products, as the base of street lighting poles .
5xx series alloys
5xx series alloys have the highest corrosion resistance of all cast aluminum alloys. They also polish well to a mirror finish, well anodized with a pleasant natural aluminum look. Therefore, they are used for the manufacture of decorative castings, as well as cast products, which are used in the dairy and food industries, pipe fittings for marine and chemical equipment.
7xx series alloys
7xx series alloys have good impact resistance and achieve a sufficiently high strength without the need for heat treatment. 7xx series alloys age gradually at room temperature, but gaining maximum strength during 20-30 days after casting. They are popular for making large machine parts, furniture, garden tool, parts of trucks and mining equipment. Alloys of the 7xx series have the highest solidus temperature of all cast aluminum alloys, except for rotor alloys of the 1xx series. Therefore, they are suitable for joining parts by soldering .
8xx series alloys
8xx series alloys are used exclusively for casting bushings and support bearings. They have high compressive strength and unique lubricating properties under overheating conditions. The only ingredient in 8xx alloys is tin. Tin is in the solidified casting in the form of small globules of pure tin. If there is no normal lubrication and overheating occurs in the bearing, then the tin phase melts at 231 ºС and seeps out of the overheated surface and provides emergency lubrication from liquid tin and thereby prevents catastrophic destruction of the system .
- TALAT 1255 Metallurgical Background to Alloy Selection and Specifications for Wrought, Cast and Special Applications / M. H. Yacobs – 1999
- Aluminum and Aluminum Alloys /ed. J.R. Davis – ASM International, 1993
- Aluminum Cast Alloys: Enabling Tools for Improved Performance / D. Apelian – NADCA, 2009