Aluminum has become the material of choice for many engineers because of its excellent performance and affordable price. It can be said that as long as the aluminum alloy can meet the performance requirements, the aluminum alloy will be selected.
Aluminum is also the most commonly used material in prototyping. Industries such as the aerospace, medical and automotive industries require durable mechanical and structural components. Aluminum prototypes are critical in the manufacturing process because they are strong, weldable and corrosion resistant.
Manufacturers use a variety of techniques to create aluminum prototypes. Depending on the number or shape of parts, you can choose to use 3D printing, CNC machining or aluminum casting services.
Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages. The wrong choice can result in high tooling and manufacturing costs, unusable and unusable parts.
1.What is aluminum prototyping?
Aluminum prototyping is a rapid prototyping process for aluminum blocks. This process involves different techniques and different machines to come up with the best design.
Manufacturers and designers try to bring the final product to market in the shortest possible time. This is done to save time and money. Therefore, a sample very close to the original product was created.
Aluminum products are in high demand and have many uses in different industries. Before building high-budget products, aluminum prototype makers create prototypes that help improve designs.
2.Aluminum alloy production process
Method 1: CNC
CNC machining is one of the most common machining methods used to create aluminum prototypes. This machining process relies on computer input to precisely control the machine to remove part of the aluminum workpiece and leave the part you want. Also, as a subtractive manufacturing method, it wastes material. But what makes CNC machining different? When should I use it?
CNC machining provides high quality, excellent surface finish, repeatability, and is compatible with a wide range of aluminum alloys. Because the CNC machining process begins with the creation of a 3D CAD model, designs can be changed quickly between prototypes without impacting lead times.
CNC machining is particularly suitable for testing and building prototypes. 4-axis and 5-axis CNC milling machines allow you to create complex prototypes that are difficult to handle with other machining methods.
Method 2: 3D printing
3D printing is another popular method of creating aluminum prototypes using additive manufacturing techniques to reduce waste. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) technology can be used to create 3D printed aluminum prototypes. Here, powdered aluminum particles are sintered layer by layer using a high-power laser to form the desired shape.
Similar to the CNC machining process, 3D printing relies on 3D CAD models to create accurate aluminum prototypes. Its smallest feature size ranges from 0.25mm to 0.8mm, enabling the fabrication of complex geometries with complex internal cross-sections. However, 3D printed aluminum prototypes are not cheap and often require additional surface preparation.
3D printing of aluminum prototypes is generally more expensive than CNC machining. Therefore, 3D printing is suitable for the manufacture of small parts, especially test versions and product prototypes.
Method 3: Investment casting
Investment casting, also known as precision casting, is a centuries-old casting process used to make aluminum prototypes. Here, aluminum parts are made by pouring molten aluminum into a mold made from a wax model. Molds are expensive to produce due to the need for special equipment. Therefore, making a mold for one or two prototypes is not economically feasible, nor is it suitable for mass production.
Investment casting provides excellent surface finish, tight dimensional tolerances, and is compatible with a wide range of aluminum alloys. In addition, investment casting wastes less material than CNC machining. The only downside to this process is the size limit. If you’re making bulky aluminum parts, this may not be the best choice.
3.Advantages of aluminum prototypes
Depending on the part, its functionality and strength requirements, different materials can be used for prototyping. However, aluminum is preferred for aesthetic and functional reasons. Here are some of the benefits of choosing an aluminum prototype:
① Excellent functional performance
Some prototypes have no mechanical or functional impact, while others should be used. Pre-production, hybrid and functional prototype work. Therefore, good quality and strength are required. Aluminum is the metal of choice due to its excellent properties.
② Higher heat resistance
Aluminum prototypes are more resistant to extreme temperatures than cheaper options like plastic. Therefore, it is less likely to degrade during manufacturing.
③ Better aesthetics
Metal prototypes look better whether you use 3D printing or CNC machining. Plus, even as an unusable prototype, it’s more attractive than plastic parts.
Aluminum prototypes and metal parts are much less expensive than plastic parts. This is because the physical properties of metals reduce the frequency of parts replacement. This reduces manufacturing costs in the long run.
⑤ Test accuracy
Prototypes made by CNC machining and other processes have high precision. In addition, aluminum alloys have excellent quality and can produce parts for market inspection.
⑥ More suitable for mass production
Once engineers have created an aluminum prototype, customers can use it for production. It’s easier to turn a metal prototype into a finished product. However, if the prototype is made of plastic, it cannot be converted to metal in mass production.
⑦ Super power
Aluminum alloy has high strength, good corrosion resistance and good plasticity. These excellent properties make it widely used in most industries. For example, in the aviation industry, aluminum parts are widely used. With this advantage, customers can rest assured that they will receive quality parts and prototypes.