The Best Type of Aluminium For Use in Electrical Applications

Aluminium Heat Sink Extrusion
Aluminium Heat Sink Extrusion

If you are an electrician or work with electricity on a regular basis, then chances are you quite used to dealing with aluminium. As a material that features numerous positive properties related to electrical use, the metal has become an important contributor to a variety of industries related both directly and indirectly to electricity. It is for this reason that it is important to understand which aluminium alloys are a good fit for electrical applications.

Why Is Aluminium A Good Choice For Electrical Applications?

The many advantageous properties of aluminium are clear to see. The material is extremely lightweight, boasts a high strength to weight ratio and is extremely corrosion resistant. The metals natural oxidisation layer protects it from bacteria and moisture, making it an ideal packaging material in the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries.

While most people are aware of at least some of the above advantages, there are many who may be surprised to learn just how well it conducts electricity. Of all the known metals on earth, aluminium is the second best conductor of electricity, with copper being the obvious first. However, due to aluminium being significantly lighter than copper, it’s debatably more effective as a conductor.

The majority of overhead power lines consist of an aluminium core. Looking a little closer, an aluminium wire, when compared to a copper wire, boasts a larger cross section to pass the same amount of current through as a copper wire. When you compare weight, the aluminium wire is obviously lighter, two times lighter in fact. So it’s really no wonder that with weight being a major deciding factor for overhead cables, aluminum has been the go-to material since as early as the 1880’s.

Aluminium Overhead Cables

How is Aluminium Used in Electrical Wiring?

The most common alloys utilized for wires and cables are from the 1ххх, 6ххх, and 8ххх alloy series. Additionally, alloys from the 8ххх series have the capability to deliver wires with a service life that can surpass 40 years.

To start, a solid aluminium rod with a diameter ranging from 9 to 15 mm is used as the workpiece for the cable. This rod is easy to bend and roll and with little worry of it cracking. In fact, the aluminium is so strong it’s nearly impossible to tear or break the rod, and it can withstand significant static loads.

In order to create a rod that is both durable and effective, a process of continuous casting and rolling is utilized. The casted workpiece then gets rolled through a mill several times until the specified size is achieved. The resulting cord is surprisingly flexible and is usually rolled up into a large coil once cooled. In the next process, a special facility is required to draw the rods in order to obtain the final specified diameter, generally between 4 and .23mm.

Types of Electrical Applications That Rely on Aluminium

Apart from the electrical grid, there are numerous applications that rely on aluminium in the electrical and energy fields. As an example, aluminium busbars have been the standard for over 60 years, mainly due to the metals light weight and high durability. If you aren’t familiar with the term, a busbar, as per Wikipedia, is a metallic strip or bar, typically housed inside switchgear, panel boards, and busway enclosures for local high current power distribution.

Aluminium is also frequently found in the electrical stages of large industrial plants, an example of which being smelters and electrochemical plants due to the need for the large sections of cast bars. Aluminum is also a common material for switchgear, rising main systems and in the windings of capacitors.

Yet another beneficial property of aluminum that we haven’t yet mentioned is its ability to transfer heat. Some examples of foil heating elements that are usually made from aluminium include foil film wallpaper, concrete curing, and soil warming.

Concrete Curing Tank

Because of the relative ease of extruding aluminium compared to most other metals, it’s a perfect choice for heat sinks. It can be easily cast or extruded into solid and hollow shapes as required, creating heat sinks that can be used in devices such as semiconductors and transformer tanks.

A Trusted Technical Partner

Aluminium has been a critical component of the electrical generation since the days of Thomas Edison, nearly 150 years ago. Recent times are seeing rapid advancements in the diversity and ability of aluminium alloys in various fields. Manufacturers and engineers need partners who can not only supply the correct material for the job, but can also help ensure they are optimizing their production process.

Need help finding the right material for the job? Contact a friendly Aluminium Trading sales representative to learn more about which aluminium alloy might be right for you.

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