Stainless steel and aluminum. Both serve many functions in metal tubing fabrication. Each has pros and cons that help you determine which metal is best for your needs.
There are numerous applications for both stainless steel and aluminum tubing (especially in industries like HVAC, lawn and garden, and solar energy). Generally, the best material is obvious based on the application.
However, sometimes both materials are a viable option. In those instances, cost is the common deciding factor.
Costs of Stainless Steel Tubing vs. Aluminum Tubing
Aluminum Tubing Cost Considerations
- Aluminum typically costs more per pound than stainless steel, partly because of its energy-intensive production process.
- However, it’s also lighter. This means you get more aluminum for the price by total volume. Certain applications will receive much more value for the cost.
- Raw material costs, fabrications, and finishings need to be considered as well.
All other things being equal, aluminum is preferred for its light weight and attractive natural finish. If your application requires either of those, aluminum is a good choice.
For other applications, aluminum will probably be more expensive. So, if you don’t need aluminum, stainless steel might be the better option.
Cost of Stainless Steel Tubing
Stainless steel is definitely the stronger, cheaper option for metal tubing.
However, due to its density, you will likely get fewer parts out of the same material volume. Despite this, its low cost-per-pound can be appealing.
The weight of stainless steel brings increased strength and durability. Its alloy composition allows it to resist scratching and corrosion. This easily adds to the value of stainless steel, balancing out the possible negatives of its weight or conductivity.
Another consideration is weldability. Stainless steel is much easier to weld than aluminum. It can be welded with traditional tools and less experience, which makes a huge dent in labor costs.
How to Choose
Naturally, there are many different factors that decide the cost effectiveness of aluminum or steel tubing. Many of those are project-based, meaning the intended use will guide your choice.
Aside from project-based needs, you’ll need to consider:
- Volume of material needed
- Alloy considerations
- Fabrication, finishing, & secondary operations
- Cost per unit produced
These parameters should help you choose the best material for your metal tubing needs.
Ultimately, initial cost is just one of many factors to consider. If you choose the wrong material for volumes or fabrications, you can easily end up spending more than you bargained for.