Learn why aluminum is critical to many modern innovations, and how that applies to site furnishings
When it comes to finding or manufacturing site furnishings, there are a wide variety of materials you can select from. Depending on the environment and intended application of your furnishings, certain materials may stand out as more suitable for their construction. Metals such as cast iron and stainless steel are commonly used to build site furnishings, but aluminum is becoming a popular alternative due to the numerous benefits it provides.
What is Aluminum?
A silvery-white, malleable metal found in abundance within the earth’s crust, Aluminum (sometimes spelled “aluminium”) is a chemical element with a density much lower than those of most common metals. When used in industrial applications, aluminum is commonly alloyed, improving its mechanical properties exponentially.
Today, aluminum metal is commonplace in everyday items from packaging (cans, foil) and transportation (cars, bicycles, spacecraft) to electrical uses (as a conductor for electric signals) and construction. Similarly to iron, aluminum is available in both cast and wrought forms, and comes in numbered grades that indicate levels of purity and differing materials used. Where 1xxx series aluminum will contain 99%+ aluminum content, other grades contain various alloying metals such as copper, manganese, or silicon to increase its strength and durability, resilience to oxidization, or even raise its tolerance to heat.
The Aluminum Advantage
As a material used for construction and industrial application, aluminum possesses multiple innate qualities that are beneficial and make it a cost-efficient selection. Some of those benefits include:
With a notably low density of only 2.70 g/cm3, aluminum is an extremely lightweight material—weighing around 65% less than steel. Compared to heavier metals like steel and cast iron, this makes the transportation and installation processes faster and easier, saving time in addition to labor and shipping costs.
While aluminum is known for its durability, the exact lifespan of aluminum depends on a small number of factors, including the specific alloy being used, the thickness of the material, and the environment it is exposed to.
Alloys that are harder and stronger (such as those that contain high levels of copper or zinc) are more durable in comparison to softer alloys, and thicker alloys are less prone to damage as they can withstand more stress and strain.
Resistance to Corrosion
Due to aluminum’s high reactivity, it forms a thin protective oxide layer upon exposure to air to prevent further contact with its environment. This process, known as “passivation,” provides incredible durability alongside resistance to corrosion unless made unstable by an external factor, such as galvanization (when an electrical circuit forms between multiple types of metal) or extreme pH levels in the environment.
In addition to its natural resistance, surface finishes such as clear protectant or powder coating can be used to further protect the aluminum from corroding agents, particularly for outdoor site furnishings. Alternatively, anodizing can be used to increase corrosion resistance and enhance visual qualities.
Easy to Work
As a soft and ductile metal, Aluminum is considered easy to work compared to other metals as it can be easily shaped and formed. The low density of aluminum allows for easy cutting, and the softness of the material leaves it less prone to cracks or breaks during the machining process.
In addition to these physical properties, aluminum’s thermal conductivity allows it to be machined at high speeds without overheating.
Sustainability and Recyclability
According to the Aluminum Association, nearly 75% of all aluminum produced is still in use today. This is not only attributable to its durability, but also its infinite recyclability. Recycling aluminum uses only about 5% of the energy that is required to produce new aluminum, and the material is 100% recyclable and can be recycled without degradation—meaning the use of aluminum is both energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly on a long-term basis.
Aluminum in Site Furnishings and Bollards
Due to its innate qualities and resistances, aluminum is a popular choice for the construction of site furnishings where durability is essential—especially those exposed to extended use. Examples of furnishings where aluminum establishes a practical and cost-effective include (but are not limited to):
Bollards are short, vertical posts used to create barriers and define boundaries in outdoor spaces, protecting pedestrian areas, buildings, and assets alike from vehicular intrusion. As aluminum weighs substantially less than traditional materials used for bollards (such as cast iron), aluminum bollards make an excellent choice for removable applications or installation over steel security posts.
Bicycle parking racks need to be able to handle weathering and wear from use while also being accessible for cyclists. Aluminum provides an elegant yet easy solution, as its resistance to corrosion, workability, and light weight allow for simplicity in both construction processes and installation.
Like the above examples, the innate qualities of aluminum make it a premium choice for the construction of outdoor benches. While the metal’s light weight makes it easy to move and install, the resistances against corrosion and deterioration mean that aluminum benches have the capability to last, even in inclement weather.
Saving both time and cost, the advantages of using aluminum for your site furnishings and bollards make it a worthwhile consideration for businesses and municipalities looking to invest in high-quality, long-lasting products and solutions.
Interested in learning more about Aluminum and its various applications? Check out some additional pieces of reading on the topic below:
- Ask a Metallurgist: A Brief Intro to Aluminum Grades
- Rims, Tins, and Airplanes: Aluminum and Aluminum Castings
- Does Aluminum Rust or Corrode?