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Mild Steel Vs Aluminum: 5 Differences You Should Care About

mild steel vs aluminumIn metal fabrication and manufacturing, material choice can make a big difference in real-world outcomes. One comparison you’ve probably made before is mild steel vs aluminum.

Although it’s generally referred to as carbon steel, mild steel is actually just one grade of carbon steel. It’s a low-carbon steel typically made of 0.1%-0.3% carbon, while medium-carbon and high-carbon steel will obviously have higher carbon concentrations.

Mild steel is generally considered to be a good all-around engineering material. For example, A500 steel properties make it perfect for structural tubing materials because of its ability to be welded, bent, and formed easier. While a hard grade of aluminum and mild steel might seem interchangeable, there are some key differences that could affect the final product outcome:

Mild Steel Vs Aluminum

Price Differences

Although the costs of steel and aluminum fluctuate based on demand and other factors, the lower amount of alloying stuff generally used in mild steel makes it more affordable compared to other steel grades. Mild steel is generally considered very cost-effective for everyday products, such as home and garden tools.

Aluminum is likely to be more expensive. You’ll have to gauge its project-specific value in other categories to determine whether it’s worth using.

Weight Differences

The big trade-off here is that steel may be strong and less likely to warp, but it’s typically much heavier and denser than its aluminum counterparts.

Although mild steel is lighter than medium or heavy steel, aluminum may be lighter yet. So the choice often depends on a careful balance of weight and cost requirements.

Durability Differences

With its low carbon levels, mild steel generally has poor resistance to corrosion unless it’s finished with the proper coating. So yes, there are ways around this weakness, but they have their limits too.

RELATED: Best Aluminum Finish for Corrosion Protection

Aluminum’s greatest attribute is that it simply doesn’t rust. It forms a self-protecting layer as it corrodes. Just remember that aluminum is soft and won’t offer great impact resistance.

Formability Differences

Because it has a lower carbon level, mild steel is typically highly:

  • Ductile
  • Malleable
  • Machinable
  • Weldable

However, it can’t be hardened and strengthened using standard heating and quenching techniques. Mild steel tubing has a high ductility, which makes it much easier to bend than its heavier carbon colleagues. Steel is generally more rigid, but aluminum can be quite malleable and can often be formed into shapes that steel cannot.

Product Differences

When specifying mild steel vs aluminum, engineers need to consider strength and stiffness requirements. While strength is a measure of the stress that can be applied to a material before it permanently deforms or breaks, stiffness relates to how a component bends under stress while still returning to its original shape afterward. In automobile manufacturing, for example, manufacturers use a careful combination of sheet metal and aluminum to balance:

  • Cost
  • Appearance
  • Dent resistance
  • Vehicle handling
  • Overall weight
  • Sufficient passenger protection

Which is Better, Mild Steel or Aluminum?

The answer depends on what you are trying to accomplish. An all-in-one metal fabrication shop that understands the properties of each type of material can help make the choice that is best for your specific design, product, and cost needs. In other words, it helps to have a base level of knowledge, but seeking design advice from the guys doing the actual work can prevent manufacturing mishaps in the long run.

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