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November 9, 2020
The advancements in aluminum manufacturing technologies and processing equipment have made it an increasingly popular alternative, especially in applications that require a lightweight yet durable and corrosion-resistant material. The transport sector has been keen to leverage these benefits, for example, in rail and off-road vehicle applications. While aluminum wheels are often considerably more expensive compared to traditional steel wheels, the significant weight reduction and durability they deliver make them a cost-efficient investment.
From a material removal perspective, aluminum is a very workable material. Most tasks, such as fettling of castings, surface preparations, and finishing, have no specific demands from tools. However, there are still a couple of things metalworkers should bear in mind when working with aluminum to optimize efficiency and safety.
When working with aluminum, it is essential to avoid pushing down too hard, as it can result in overheating and ultimately damage the material. That said, most standard abrasives can be used at normal speeds without additional precautions. The speed should depend on the size of the disc. For instance, the normal operating speed for a 6” disc is 10.000 rpm, and for a 7” disc 8500 rpm.
The aluminum dust from the material removal task can clog the grinding wheel, making the process inefficient and time-consuming. The easiest way to address this is to apply sprays and waxes to the material to reduce the amount of free-flowing dust entering the wheel and operate tools at normal speeds.
It is worth reviewing the requirements of the application before choosing an abrasive. Currently, aluminum oxide grinding wheels with hard bonds dominate the market, but they are not always the best option. In some cases, using a soft bond, or a silicon carbide grain, can deliver better results.
Aluminum dust poses a serious health risk when inhaled, so it is essential to ensure that the workplace has sufficient ventilation in place before starting work. That is why precautions including using tools with dust extraction features and having a ventilated grinding table are mandatory requirements for working with the material. Aluminum dust is also highly flammable, so keeping the working environment dust-free is crucial for reducing fire hazards and complying with safety regulations.
While aluminum is a relatively easy material to work with, productivity and working comfort can be further enhanced by leveraging accessories and additional features of the tools. Spindle locks, for example, help minimize downtime by making abrasive replacement quick and easy. Autobalancers, on the other hand, are useful in reducing the vibrations experienced by the operator, improving the ergonomics, and enabling tools to be operated safely for longer.
Aluminum alloys are popular in high-speed rail applications, as they have lower density compared to steel, but are still strong and have excellent formability and corrosion resistance. These features make aluminum the perfect material for helping reduce energy consumption and increase load capabilities – vital for optimizing transport efficiency in freight trains.
Bearing these considerations in mind will help metalworkers improve productivity and efficiency when working with aluminum.