Aluminum: Robotics Metal of Choice

aluminum robotics blog article graphic

A lot goes into building a robot. You have to choose the right schematic, choose how you’re going to build it, as well as the materials you’re going to use. It may come as a surprise to some, but building a robot is a tad more complicated than going out to the garage and throwing together spare parts. You also have to plan it out and answer questions to know how to approach it. Do you build it from scratch? Or instead, do you build it by adapting ready-made products to serve as the base of your robot? Finally, what materials are you going to use to build it. For some, the base materials consist of wood and plastic, but for the discerning robotics hobbyist, the metal of choice is aluminum. To robotics hobbyists, aluminum is one of the most important materials you will use. It’s strong, lightweight, resistant to corrosion, affordable, and most importantly, easy to manipulate.

Strength

Now, I know what you’re saying to yourself, “aluminum is strong? But it’s so flimsy and weak!” While aluminum isn’t as strong as steel, it has a much higher strength to weight ratio. What this means is, for a mass of aluminum and an equal mass of steel, aluminum would be stronger, additionally, because of that ratio, you would need less aluminum than steel to achieve the same strength levels.

Corrosion Resistant

One of the most interesting parts of aluminum is that it has an inherent resistance to rust. When exposed to the elements it forms an oxidized layer which acts as a protective coating against any further rust. However, there are some occasions where rust can still occur and potentially present you with a problem. Physical wear over time will wipe off that protective rust layer and cause oxidation to slowly eat away at the metal. There are several ways to permanently prevent oxidation which can be easily found online.

High Heat Tolerance

Almost all heat sinks created are made out of aluminum. This is because aluminum conducts heat extremely well. The only other metal that’s as easily available that has a higher thermal conductivity than aluminum is copper. But, aluminum is still better because copper is three times the cost of aluminum, is heavier, and is too soft of a metal to be used in robotics. How is the high thermal conductivity of aluminum useful for building robots? Simple, if you need to sink heat from your motors to your chassis, aluminum is the best way to do it.

Curious how we can help you with your latest robotics project? We have custom solutions that can fit your needs, give us a call or shoot us an email today to get started. We look forward to working with you!

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Aluminum: Helping Push Green Technologies Further

In the past, we’ve talked about how Aluminum has shaped our lives and continues to be part of the cutting edge of future technology. However, it is also helping push green and sustainable technologies further. Here are a few products currently in research that could help replace the existing technologies with sustainable products.

Lightweight Aluminum-Steel Alloy

steel cable

steel cable (photo credit: Wiki Commons)

Around a year ago, scientists in South Korea were able to create a successful steel alloy with aluminum for possible use in several industries, including automotive and aircraft manufacturing. This isn’t the first time someone has thought to add aluminum to steel. In the 1970′s, Soviet scientists had recognized that by blending steel and aluminum, they could forge an extremely strong, but lightweight metal. The only problem was that the metal was extremely brittle, one strong impact and it would shatter rather than bend. This is due to the aluminum and iron atoms fusing to create a tough, crystalline structure that is the culprit behind the brittleness of the aluminum-steel alloy. No one knew how to solve this problem until Hansoo Kim and his team of scientists in South Korea discovered a way. By dispersing the crystals formed in the alloy, the surrounding alloy could insulate the metal from splintering.

The final result of this work is a viable aluminum-steel alloy that is 13 percent less dense than normal steel, and with a comparable strength-to-weight ratio to titanium alloys, making it one of the strongest steel alloys discovered.

Flexible Aluminum-Ion batteries

One of the most interesting ways that aluminum is shaping our future and helping make it more green is the progress we’ve achieved with it in the form of batteries. A new flexible aluminum ion battery has been created and it holds as much energy as a common car battery but recharges in about a minute. Aluminum-ion batteries have been seen as an attractive and sustainable alternative to lithium-ion batteries for a multiple of reasons. For one, aluminum is a much more abundant material, unlike the rare-earths that go into an L-Ion battery. Additionally, it is less reactive, which would mean safer, and less flammable batteries. Finally, aluminum has the ability to store almost three times more energy than its lithium-ion counterpart, and is smaller and lighter than current batteries.

While these technologies are very early in their development, the future that they could help create is fascinating. Imagine, driving a car who has an aluminum alloy frame, increasing gas mileage and safety while making it easier for manufacturers to produce cars. Batteries as thin as a piece of paper powering a device hundreds of times its size. Science fiction is quickly becoming non-fiction.

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Aluminum: Powering Today and The Future

Aluminum Powering Today and The Future

Smartphones, electric cars, wearable devices; what do all three of these things have in common? At one time they were considered to be a fantasy, to only be imagined in the realm of science fiction. With the constant progress of technology, these fantasies have become reality. Not only that, aluminum has helped play a part in bringing these previously science fiction items to life, and it has no plans of stopping its part in helping technology progress into the future. Here are some glimpses into the future of technology that are being helped along by aluminum.

Batteries

At Stanford University, scientists have successfully created an aluminum graphite battery. These batteries are flexible, long lasting, and can charge in just under a minute. Currently, they hold only half the power of a current lithium battery, but that will quickly change.

Also, a new type of battery technology called aluminum-air batteries are being tested for electric cars. This type of battery uses the oxygen in the air to fill its cathode, making the battery far lighter than its liquid lithium-ion counterpart. Additionally, when the aluminum-air batteries drain, they turn the aluminum into aluminum hydroxide which can then be recycled to make new batteries. This will mean that owners will have to swap out batteries every few months, however, due to it being lighter, and cheaper than current battery making efforts, this huge mileage jump should be easily affordable to electric car owners.

Auto Industry

While aluminum currently dominates as the material of choice for wheels and engine blocks, it’s use in automotive technology has increased as well. The first aluminum car can be dated back to 1913, however, the metal was never really seen as an automotive component outside of small batch premium vehicles such as Rolls-Royce and Ferrari. However, with Ford rolling off their first batch of F-150′s with an aluminum body along with BMW’s i8 and Audi’s A8, it seems that aluminum has hit the main stream. Ford’s new F-series comes in 700 pounds lighter than its previous F-Series models. This has allowed Ford to produce a lighter and more fuel efficient truck.

While it seems that all signs are pointing at aluminum becoming the new steel within the automotive industry, there are several hurdles that need to be overcome before it is able to be used effectively. Namely, the current cost of aluminum, along with a lack of infrastructure for manufacture and maintenance. However, this hasn’t stopped the auto industry to use it where it can, and it seems that lighter hybrid metals using aluminum or just straight aluminum itself will soon be another ingredient that is used by auto manufacturers.

Aluminum is doing great things and impacting our daily lives without us even realizing it. I’m curious to see what innovations are brought from this versatile metal, that we have yet to discover.

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Aluminum: A Cornerstone Of Future Technology

Aluminum A Cornerstone of Future Technology

Aluminum impacts our lives in more ways than we realize. Of course, there are the obvious ones that we use and interact with in our daily lives; the soda can you drink from is made of aluminum, we use aluminum foil as a cooking aid, the keyboard I’m typing this blog post with is made mostly of aluminum, however, aluminum is impacting our lives in ways we don’t see or sometimes even realize, and as we slowly march into the future, it will have an even bigger impact than it does now.

Telecommunications

Aluminum already has a large part to play in this industry through the manufacturing of phones. The smartphone in your pocket and the mobile devices you use at home are made up primarily of aluminum or aluminum alloys. From the shell to the internal workings, a good portion of your phone runs because of aluminum. However, within the next ten years, even the phone’s battery will be made of aluminum.

The battery hasn’t grown scientifically in over two decades, but scientists at Stanford University have developed an aluminum graphite battery that can charge in a minute flat. They’re flexible, long lasting, and charge ridiculously fast. Currently, they’re working on the charge capacity, as they only hold about half the power of the lithium-ion batteries currently on the market, but with being able to charge to full in under a minute, I don’t see that being a huge problem.

Transparent Aluminum

This one comes straight out of one of the oldest sci-fi series in modern history. This invention was first heard about from Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. The vision of the future that Star Trek painted for us is getting closer and closer every day. One of those inventions is transparent aluminum. Currently, its being used for industrial, military, and scientific applications such as body armor, and bulletproof barriers that can even deflect a .50 caliber bullet.

Also, the University of Tokyo released a paper last year about a transparent aluminum material that could potentially be used for commercial electronic displays, such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops.

Auto Industry

This one is a little bit closer to our current times. Automakers have been increasing their use of aluminum in their vehicles consistently over the last 5 years. Mainly done with luxury vehicles and mid-market sedans, auto companies are now starting to use aluminum in their commercial end of vehicles as well. For example, this past september, Ford released plans to make their F-150′s with aluminum. While the F-150′s body already uses aluminum, Ford plans on using aluminum for some other components that were previously steel. If used, this will make the vehicle 700 pounds lighter and increase the vehicle’s fuel efficiency by up to 29 percent.

As you can see, aluminum affects our lives in very intricate ways, and is on the path to have a larger and larger impact in our lives. It’s exciting to see what the future holds for us.

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Everyday Aluminum: Solar Power

everyday aluminum solar power blog image

With fossil fuels quickly becoming harder and harder to come by, we must begin looking for alternatives to continue our high necessity for energy. One such method is using solar energy to help create a clean, limitless alternative to our current energy dependence. Up until now, most of these frames have been created using pressed steel, a long and very expensive process, especially for the costs associated with creating the necessary frameworks for the photovoltaic cells.

Aluminum Provides Increased Stability

Innovations in aluminum extrusion technology are providing improved stability for solar panels in the field. To obtain maximum efficiency, solar panels need to be posiitoned with exceptional accuracy. Even miniscule shifts in position can reduce the power output by varying degrees depending on how big of a positional shift there was.

Aluminum extrusion can be used to help create a comprehensive framework for solar panels in a wide variety of situations including frames, supports, and even connectors. Aluminum extrusion products offer numerous benefits over alternative metals.

Lower Cost but Same Benefits as Welded Steel

Aluminum used to make trusses offer a level of strength similar to welded steel, and can even maintain the stability needed to resist shifting caused by wind and other stresses that might occur to a solar panel array. Additionally, Due to being extremely light weight, it makes the aluminum structures easier to transport and assemble in remote locations, which is very common when it comes to major solar power powerplants. Also, the lightweight characteristic of aluminum makes it perfect for rooftop installations especially where building specs have limited capacities for supporting the additional weight of the panels and its substructure. Finally, the malleability of aluminum extrusions helps to allow flexibility in the design of supports and frames for solar panels, which allows the aluminum to connect at exact and uncommon angles while requiring fewer parts and fewer connections which in turn allows the panel to reach maximum efficiency.

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Everyday Aluminum: Construction

Last time, we spoke with how extruded aluminum has brought a new level of innovation and safety to the automotive industry. This time, we’re going to explore how aluminum has helped provide savings and improved the integration and strength of the construction industry.

Aluminum extrusion has quickly become an important feature in the construction industry because of the cost benefits and structural integrity. From aesthetics to complex shapes to be able to support the weight of the construction, extruded aluminum can be exploited for numerous construction materials.

The Extrusion Process

Extrusion is a process of shaping molten materials, such as metals or plastics, by forcing them through shaped dies at high pressure. Because of the flexibility of the process, there are numerous ways to perform an extrusion, including hot and cold, continuous or semi-continuous.

Think of it this way, imagine a pasta machine; the dough is prepared and then sent through a press, which emits long, continuous strands of spaghetti (or the noodle of your choice). Metal and plastic extrusion is a very similar process. The material is brought to molten temperatures and then forced through a die at high pressure either through hydraulic or mechanical power. The difference between continuous and semi-continuous is that continuous will continue to go to create one long, continuous section until the piece is done. Semi-continuous means that the press will cut off the pieces pushed through the extruder one by one and sent further down the assembly line for cleaning and finishing.

Extruded Aluminum in Construction

The versatility of extruded aluminum applies to both application and production. Manufacturing extruded aluminum can be done through any process, doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, continuous or semi-continuous.

During Chicago’s renovation of their famed business district, locally known as “The Loop” construction companies employed over a million tons in extruded aluminum parts and frameworks.

Extruded aluminum is not just limited to exterior design and function, either. Lighting fixtures, elevator shafts, and stairwells all employ different applications. While aluminum can’t make up the basic skeleton of a building, it accents and aids the structure in the interior. Integrated extruded aluminum design features in almost all areas of building construction, including structural, mechanical, and many others.

Finally, the fact that aluminum is one of the most recyclable metals on the planet has made this metal very easy to re-use. In fact, this high level of sustainability has made it part of LEED building certification.

How does your business use extruded aluminum? Let us know in the comments below!

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Everyday Aluminum: Extruded Aluminum In Cars

Framing Tech Blog BannerExtruded aluminum is helping the automotive industry build lighter vehicles that increase efficiency, safety, and sustainability. Aluminum is now second only to steel as the most used material for frames, bumpers, suspension, powertrain, HVAC components, among many other parts of the vehicle. Analysts predict that aluminum use is predicted to double by 2025.

Extruded Aluminum’s Sustainability

Reducing the vehicle’s weight with aluminum increases it’s fuel efficiency, which in turn will help the vehicle produce fewer tailpipe emissions. This due to simple physics, the lighter the vehicle, the fuel or battery power it needs to consume to move. Additionally, according to independent studies, aluminum has one of the smallest total carbon footprint in it’s life-cycle. As one of the most abundant metal’s in the Earth’s crust, it is also completely recyclable with no degradation of material, in fact, 75 percent of all aluminum produced since 1888 is still in use today, how’s that for a renewable resource.

Aluminum Is Unmatched In Efficiency

More and more, steel is being replaced with high-strength, low weight aluminum alloys, since this allows vehicles to keep their size while cutting their weight to save fuel and reduce emissions produced. As more hybrid and electric vehicles hit the roads, the need for heavy, expensive battery can be reduced in an aluminum heavy vehicle. For example, hybrids that are built using an aluminum structure, are 14 percent more efficient than their steel-framed counterparts.

Safer Than Steel

Finally, aluminum has been found to be safer than steel by having superior energy absorption properties. Because aluminum structures can be designed to fold predictably during a crash, they are being used in the front and rear-end crumple zones which are designed to absorb the energy of the impact and deflect it away from the occupants, so that the vehicle, and not it’s occupants absorb the majority of the destructive kinetic energy produced by the crash (such as with this Ferrari crash). Pound-for-pound, aluminum can absorb twice as much kinetic energy during a crash than steel, and can be used in these safety critical zones without increasing the weight of the vehicle.

With its ability to increase safety, efficiency, and sustainability, it’s no wonder that automotive manufacturers are racing to create intuitive ways to use this abundant metal to its full potential.

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