Aircraft require a variety of materials for assembly, some being specific to the aerospace and aviation industries and others being commonplace. Interestingly, aluminum materials comprise 75% to 80% of an aircraft’s structure. Since the first days of flight, aluminum has remained the most prevalently used materials in the construction of aircraft. With its ideal balance of being both strong and lightweight. Depending on the width of aluminum, it will have different properties; as such, both thicker and thinner aluminum materials are required for the construction of an aircraft. This is why the aluminum used in aircraft manufacturing is organized into one of two separate categories; thicker aluminum is classified as an aluminum sheet, while thinner aluminum is classified as an aluminum plate. For your better knowledge, this blog will further explore the specific differences between aluminum plates versus aluminum sheets.
Regardless of size or shape, aluminum materials maintain the characteristic of being roughly one third the weight of steel. This makes aluminum both more fuel efficient and better in its ability to handle loads than a heavier material. Furthermore, aluminum is highly resistant to corrosion which is vital to any aircraft component operating in damp environments. Prior to shaping, aluminum is available in many different alloys and material grades which determine how they will be used in aircraft manufacturing.
Some common grades and uses for aluminum include 2024, 7075, 5052, and 3003, among others. The first of these is 2024, an alloy which is typically used for cowls, aircraft skins, and common aircraft structures, in addition to repairs and maintenance. 7075 is a high strength alloy, while 5052 is used for tanks that need high grade materials for corrosion resistance. Given the various options, when looking to procure an aluminum material, one should always consider their applications.
You can procure your aluminum material in many forms, such as blocks, rods, bars, and of course, sheets or plates. Aluminum sheets and aluminum plates are two of the most common options, both of which are long swaths of material in two different categories of thickness. Aluminum that is 0.250 inches or thicker is considered an aluminum sheet, while aluminum that is 0.249 inches or thinner is considered an aluminum plate. Both start as ingots of raw aluminum that are preheated and then processed. From here, the aluminum is fed into a breakdown mill where it is formed into a thick sheet. It is then rolled to a desired thickness in the hot and cold rolling processes, either resulting in a sheet or plate.
While aluminum sheets are the most common form of aluminum, aluminum plates are the most used in the aerospace industry. A unique attribute of certain aluminum alloys is their ability to become stronger at extremely cold temperatures. These materials are most often sold as aluminum plates used for the skin of spacecraft fuel tanks and jets, as well as storage tanks. All things considered, both aluminum plates and aluminum sheets offer similar benefits for constructing most parts of an aircraft, with sheets being more optimal for larger applications.
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