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Aluminum Testing

Test Aluminum Content in Seconds with a Bruker® XRF Gun

Aluminum Testing with Bruker Handheld XRF

Aluminum (symbol Al, atomic number 13) is one of the most important industrial metals used in an enormous range of applications. Today’s industry depends on reliable and efficient metallic aluminum testing. Bruker’s small and powerful S1 TITAN handheld XRF aluminum tester gun has become standard for easy, state-of-the-art Al testing. It yields near-lab accuracy in seconds per test item. Use the contact from to request more information, a free demo or a quote!

Today, handheld XRF is the technology of choice for testing aluminum and other metals and their alloys. And XRF gun is both handy and cost-efficient, and it eliminates the need for lab testing. It uses the physical phenomenon of X-ray fluorescence to scan the chemical composition of various materials. Bruker has been a global leader in XRF analysis technology since 1982. Use the contact form to get in touch today!

Aluminum: An Overview

Read on for some cool facts about aluminum. In its pure form, it is a silver-white, soft, non-magnetic, ductile metal belonging to the Boron group (Group 13) of the Periodic Table. Next only to oxygen and silicon, aluminum is the most abundant element and metal in the earth’s crust (8.3 % by mass), although its occurrence starts to decrease in the earth’s mantle (2.2% by mass) where oxygen is the most abundant element.

Bauxite is the chief ore of aluminum. It is significant to note that metallic aluminum is highly reactive, which attests to the fact that it rarely occurs naturally, except in such atmospheric conditions that prevent oxidation. Which is why almost all of the earth’s aluminum is found combined with different elements.

Aluminum has found favor with a significant segment of the manufacturing industry. Consider, for instance, consumer products that capitalize on the non-toxic property of aluminum. From food packaging to medication containers and drinking cans, aluminum is the go-to solution. Perishable foods benefit from aluminum’s ability to prolong the shelf-life of canned items. The transportation industry is yet another beneficiary of aluminum. From cars to trains to aircraft to space vehicles, aluminum is widely preferred, both for its lightness and strength, and its capacity to improve fuel efficiency while reducing the carbon footprint. Aluminum has relatively low density, and is hence used for long-distance power lines, transformers, fuse boxes, satellite dishes and several household appliances. The latest sound system at your home also has crucial aluminum parts.

Whatever the specific application, industrial quality control must assure that aluminum-based materials meet the relevant alloy specifications and compliance guidelines. Bruker’s handheld XRF aluminum tester is the perfect option for the purpose. Get in touch now to learn how it serve your industry!

8 Properties that Make Al Great for Industrial Applications

Did you know that as of today, the global demand for aluminum is over 29 million tons per year? Moreover, in the context of climate change crisis, the ever-evolving use of recycled aluminum is highly effective. So what is it that makes aluminum so conducive to industrial uses?

Here are the eight properties of Al which make it suitable for widespread use.

  1. It is a light metal with a high strength-to-weight ratio (more Al can be used for increasing strength while it remains lighter). Consequently, for equipment which needs lighter, yet no less strong, material, Al is highly cost-effective.
  2. Aluminum is known for its remarkable corrosion resistance both to general atmospheric corrosion and marine corrosion (although aluminum alloys fare differently in core marine environments). Moreover, anodizing can help increase the corrosion resistance and scratch resistance of aluminum.
  3. Aluminum is widely prevalent in decorative uses, thanks to its high reflectivity. Reflectivity or reflectance is defined as the degree of effectiveness of the surface of a material in reflecting radiant energy. Aluminum is often considered to be one of the best lighting materials. With a light reflectivity of around 80%, it is a popular choice for LED light fittings. 
  4. A good number of aluminum alloys has been found to approximate the strength of construction steel. These alloys are particularly effective at absorbing crash energy, which is why they are preferred to steel in some of the tallest skyscrapers. Due to its strength, aluminum is widely used in shark cages!
  5. Even when subjected to exceedingly low temperatures, aluminum retains its original toughness (unlike carbon steels, which tend to become brittle). While its yield and tensile strength may increase, there might be a slight decrease in elongation, although impact strength remains almost unchanged.
  6. Aluminum is a good conductor of heat and electricity. It is for these purposes than copper, which is why it is used for most overhead power lines. Electrical grade aluminum has a conductivity that is over 60% of that of electrical grade annealed copper. Consider, for instance, 6000 series aluminum alloys, which are crack resistant. The automobile industry often makes use of 7000 series alloys which are subjected to distinctive thermal treatments (for example, over-ageing) to improve toughness. 
  7. Alloyed aluminum is non-toxic and is, therefore, widely used in food containers. Thanks to its conductivity, it distributes heat uniformly, thereby improving the quality of cooking food in the oven. Because aluminum foil trays are entirely recyclable, sustainability is guaranteed. 
  8. Aluminum is easily formed, which is why it is often referred to as the ‘miracle metal’. There is a staggering range of forming processes, such as cold stamping, cryogenic forming, roll forming, deep-drawing, sheet hydroforming, incremental sheet forming, warm stamping, warm hydroforming, hot gas forming, hot stamping with rigid dies, and so on. 

This list of properties is far from exhaustive. It is meant to highlight the immense industrial significance of aluminum today. While the use of aluminum is widespread across industries, the automobile sector continues to lead the way. For instance, in the year 2015, Ford released the F-150 (which is made entirely of aluminum), shedding more than 15% of the body weight of the vehicle. With more and more studies gaining insight into the yet-undiscovered properties and benefits of aluminum, the industrial demand for the ‘miracle metal’ is set to grow. 

It stands to reason that every reasonable application of aluminum depends on accurate material testing. Contact Bruker today to find more about how our XRF guns save aluminum testers many headaches!

A Brief History of Aluminum

The history of aluminum cannot be read apart from the history of alum, a naturally occurring chemical compound, typically a hydrated double sulfate salt of alum, of which there are various types and uses. The earliest mention of alum dates back to the 5th century BCE in the writings of the renowned Greek historian Herodotus. Back then, alum would be used as a dyeing mordant and for Hellenistic fortifications. But it was not until after the Crusades that alum gained the attention of global commerce, with Europe importing alum from the eastern Mediterranean until around the middle of the 15th century. 

In spite of the commercial relevance of alum, its nature for remained mysterious for a long time. It was around 1530 that the renowned Swiss physician Parcelsus came up with the suggestion that alum was a “salt of the new earth”, a view later espoused by German doctor and alchemist Lebavius. Consequently, more and more alchemical and chemical tests were performed with alum. Two centuries after Lebavius, German chemist Friedrich Hoffman declared alum to be the base of a distinct earth while another chemist, Andreas Marggraf, synthesized alumina by boiling clay in sulfuric acid. 

The Discovery of Aluminum

Sir Humphry Davy, discoverer of aluminum Sir Humphry Davy

In the year 1807, the English chemist Sir Humphrey Davy shone light on the existence of the element, contending that ‘alum’ was nothing but the salt of an unknown metal. While Davy had decided to settle on calling it ‘alumium’, it was later revised to ‘aluminium / aluminum’ by other scientists. In spite of Davy having taken the lead in highlighting the existence of aluminum in nature, his tests proved unsuccessful in producing the element by oxidizing a mixture of aluminum oxide and potash.

It was not until 1825 when the Danish physicist HC Oersted, following on the heels of Davy’s work, succeeded in producing the first nodules of aluminum by subjecting potassium amalgam and aluminum to heat. Still, the nature of Al continued to remain unknown.

Tests by H.C. Oersted were the first to isolate aluminum H.C. Oersted

The discovery of aluminum’s lightness, for which it continues to be a cherished industrial entity till today, is credited to Friedrich Wohler. Apart from its lightness, Wohler underscored a host of elemental properties of aluminum – a turning point in the history of the ‘miracle metal’. Following Wohler’s insights, aluminum, still a mystery element, began to see more research funding. 

Gradually, more and more scientists embarked on exhaustive studies of aluminum. By the second half of the 19th century, the Frenchman Henri Saint-Claire Deville came up with a reduction process, primarily using sodium. Eventually, with further refinement by a host of other scientists, the production of high-cost metal was made possible for the first time across industrial Europe. The period marked a watershed moment for the industrial world with scientists having acquired the skills of producing kilograms, instead of grams, of aluminum. A few years later, in 1886, the world witnessed the advent of the smelting process that is still in use today. 

The discovery of the modern smelting process was an intriguing event, given that it was discovered concurrently, yet independently in France and the United States. Charles Martin Hall, based in Ohio, discovered the smelting process at the same time as Paul Heroult did in Gentilly, France. Both, having dissolved aluminum oxide in cryolite, extracted the aluminum by the process of electrolysis. However, it is Heroult who is officially credited with the discovery of the smelting process, because he filed a patent application earlier than Hall. 

Tests by Charles Martin Hall and Paul Heroult established modern aluminum smelting. Charles Martin Hall
and Paul Heroult

The success of Heroult’s discovery opened up a horizon of developments. In 1888, Karl Bayer illumined the scientific community by inventing an advanced process for churning out aluminum oxide from bauxite – the chief ore of aluminum today. No sooner did he invent the process than the cost of aluminum plummeted by over 80 per cent, making aluminum a commercial commodity. However, with the instant commercialization of the metal, questions arose as to how it would be put to use. The development of aluminum as a commercial product is a richly-woven yarn of scientific exploration and pioneering sprees.

Aluminum as a Commodity

Aluminum began to be developed as a product during the 19th century. With the commercialization of aluminum, the global enthusiasm about further discoveries was palpable. Interestingly, the craze was not confined to metals. Mankind came up with the first organic plastics toward the tail of the nineteenth century, followed by the establishment of rubber and plywood industries. 

However, aluminum production had to be aborted until corresponding markets were developed. Moreover, the manufacturing industry, adept at producing more traditional metals, was short of the skills necessary for fabricating high-grade aluminum products. Which is why a host of manufacturing units set up towards the fag-end of the 19th century failed to survive the demands of aluminum production. Still, the first few faltering steps were sufficient for sparking the era of aluminum production by the turn of the 20th century.

Uses of Aluminum

Alfred Nobel’s Le Migron boat and H. Junkers’s Plane, based on aluminum. A. Nobel’s Boat,
H. Junkers’s Plane

Le Migron, pioneered by Alfred Nobel, became the first passenger boat to use an aluminum hull. Furthermore, the American rail company, Hartford Railroad, began manufacturing passenger trains with aluminum seats. The feat was followed by Karl Benz who came up with the first sports car with an aluminum body at a Berlin exhibition. 

None of this compared to the feat of using aluminum in aviation. The famed Wright Brothers, having exhausted all other means for propelling their airplane, fell back on aluminum to create an entirely new engine. Towards the first decade of the 20th century, duralumin, an important aluminum alloy, was invented. Consequently, the first all-metal plane, pioneered by Hugo Junkers, used a duralumin hull. 

However, it was not until the Second World War that the global aluminum market witnessed a tectonic shift. With the warring factions counting on aluminum to gain the palm, the miracle metal proved indispensable to the production of tank and other automotive engines. In the middle of the 20th century, the aerospace industry turned to aluminum. The first artificial satellite launched by the USSR consisted of aluminum hulls. Ever since, no space vehicle could do without aluminum. Adjacent to exquisite feats in space, the global market saw the first aluminum can in the USA in 1958. Consequently, aluminum covered race cars and high-speed trains, such that by the end of the 20th century, aluminum production hit a staggering 19 million tons, with China ruling the roost. 

Evidently, the history of the discovery, production and use of aluminum is distinctive in more ways than one. Having remained a riddle for centuries of scientific exploration and testing, aluminum is one of the most sought-after metals today. 

Contact Bruker today for a one-stop solution to your aluminum verification or aluminum scrap testing needs!

Industries we Influence
Metallurgy, Aero Space, Scrap and Recycling, Food Processing, Plumbing, Petrochemicals Metallurgy, Aero Space, Scrap and Recycling, Food Processing, Plumbing, Petrochemicals

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