The Aluminum Manufacturing Process
Aluminum is an essential material in modern manufacturing. Aerospace, construction, healthcare, transportation, and other leading industries all depend on it in some form. Aluminum has a number of desirable properties, including strong electrical and thermal conductivity, low weight, and high malleability. Because of its versatility, it can be used to manufacture products of any shape or size, whether it’s a can of soda or the fuselage of a commercial airliner.
At Continental Steel and Tube, we’ve provided companies in nearly every major industry with high-performance aluminum parts through our aluminum manufacturing process for nearly three decades. Regardless of the scope or scale of your project, we can source and supply any component you need.
The Bayer Process
Aluminum manufacturing begins with bauxite, an ore that consists of aluminum oxide, iron, and other metals. As soon as the bauxite is mined, it’s subjected to the Bayer process—a method named in honor of the Austrian chemist who developed it in the late nineteenth century.
Since aluminum oxide must be separated from any surrounding impurities before it can be processed, it must be extracted from bauxite before it can be used for any industrial purpose. During the first stage of the Bayer process, the bauxite is placed in a chemical solution and heated between 150 °C and 200 °C, which dissolves the aluminum oxide. In its liquid form, the aluminum compound travels through a series of filters before settling in a precipitation tank, where it begins to crystallize. The crystals are then heated to approximately 1,100° C in a kiln, resulting in pure aluminum oxide.
The Hall—Héroult Process
Aluminum manufacturing then continues with the Hall—Héroult process, named for the American and French chemists who developed them independently in 1886. It remains in widespread use today with only minor adaptations.
Since aluminum oxide contains oxygen atoms, it needs to be refined into pure aluminum before the material can be used in manufacturing. The process of refinement begins by placing the heated aluminum oxide crystals into a vat of molten cryolite, which immediately dissolves the crystals to create an electrolyte solution. A direct current then enters the vat through a carbon lining and leaves it through a pair of carbon rods suspended above it. The electric current initiates a chemical reaction that causes the aluminum to separate from the oxygen atoms and accumulate at the bottom of the vat.
After undergoing this process, the aluminum becomes molten metal of 99.8% purity. The molten metal can then be cast into a mold, cooled with water, and finished in the desired shape. The result is industrial-grade aluminum.
The Continued Strength of Aluminum
Aluminum manufacturing hasn’t changed much since the late nineteenth century, but as the technology used to refine it improves, the quality of the aluminum produced continues to increase.
At Continental Steel and Tube, we’ve always worked with the most innovative manufacturers in the industry to ensure that we can supply our clients with the strongest aluminum on the market today. Over the years, we’ve established a diverse network of suppliers that specialize in every application involving aluminum. With these longstanding relationships supporting us, we’re able to provide you with an aluminum product that meets any application need.
Continental Steel and Tube is proud to supply manufacturers across the world with the finest aluminum in the industry. If you’re interested in our products, give us a call at 877-292-2290 or contact us online.