Hydroforming Aluminum: The Ultimate Guide

Probably, you are wondering what hydroforming aluminum entails. Well, this guide explores all fundamental aspects on hydroforming aluminum. So, before starting your next project, read this guide.

What Is Hydroforming?

Hydroforming is a kind of die creation which uses the hydraulic fluid to thrust operational material of room temperature into a die. It is the economical method of moulding malleable metals such as stainless steel, aluminium and brass into robust, lightweight and rigid pieces.

History Of Hydroforming

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Hydroforming was advanced to provide an economical way of processing parts with asymmetrical or irregular contours or a small number of components which does not confer to stamping.  Jones Metal discovered Hydroforming in 1956, and in 1957, bought the hydroforming machine; a brand new 32” Cincinnati hydroformed, and that’s when Hydroforming started. Hydroforming replaced the outdated draw presses and improved the metal stamping companies. Currently, Jones Metal has 11 Cincinnati Hydroform machines with a capacity of up to 32” diameter x 12” depth.

History Of Hydroforming
Advantages Of Hydroforming Aluminum

Advantages Of Hydroforming Aluminum

Cost-effective Tooling Cost

Tooling cost is reduced as the amount of tools cab be decreased due to the exclusion of punching and blurring processes and more minor sections.

Minimum Need For Welds

Metals can be turned into complex and lengthy shapes by Hydroforming with fewer welds, unlike the previous processes.

Time-saving

The process has fewer steps as many parts of the exhaust chain can be compounded into one ideal joint.

Reduced Waste

The process can be repeated; hence wastage from accidental bent or dented parts is eliminated, and less material is needed.

Reduced Weight

The process produces lighter products.

Disadvantages Of Hydroforming Aluminum

The following are the disadvantages of hydroforming aluminium:

Cycle time is comparatively slower; Aluminium hydroforming involves steps that need to be followed, which are relatively slower, slowing the whole process.

Equipment is costly; Tooling such as the material sheets or tubes and the hydroforming machines needed for the aluminium hydroforming process is expensive to purchase and run.

Lack of extensive knowledge base for the process and tool design; Operators of the hydroforming process may lack substantial knowledge on how to use the machine and carry out the process and procedures for the parts.

Disadvantages Of Hydroforming Aluminum

Aluminum Vs Steel Hydroforming

Aluminum Vs Steel Hydroforming
Aluminum Vs Steel Hydroforming

Even though aluminium and steel can be used in Hydroforming, they have differences. The following are the differences between aluminium hydroforming and steel hydroforming:

Weight Measure

Aluminium hydroforming produces lighter parts than steel hydroforming; thus, aluminium is considered suitable for many industrial applications where lightweight components are mainly considered.

Cost

Aluminium is four to five times more expensive than steel; hence tooling cost for aluminium hydroforming will be pretty costly compared to steel hydroforming. Costs incurred in purchasing aluminium hydroforming materials will be high even though it produces lighter parts.

Forming Characteristics

Typically, aluminium is considered easier to form than steel. As much as aluminium can be stretched and bent comparatively easily, extreme deformation diminishes the material until it cannot meet production requirements.

Aluminum Stamping Vs Aluminum Hydroforming

Aluminum Stamping
Aluminum Hydroforming

Working Mechanism

Hydroforming uses the hydraulic fluid to thrust operational aluminium of room temperature into a die.  Metal stamping is where a flat aluminium sheet is placed in a coil or blank form in the stamping press to create the desired shape.

Tooling Cost

Tooling cost for stamping is repetitive and expensive, while Hydroforming is one-time hence economical.

Production Quantities

Stamping is uneconomical for prototyping or short runs, while Hydroforming is economical for medium, large and short production runs.

Flexibility

Hydroforming is versatile with design changes, unlike stamping, which is rigid once tooling is done.

Lead Times

Stamping has long lead times compared to Hydroforming, even with large-scale production.

Material Wastage

Stamping produces high wastage, unlike Hydroforming which makes no or less scrap.

Hydroforming Aluminum Sheet Vs Hydroforming Aluminum Tube

Hydroforming Aluminum Sheet
Hydroforming Aluminum Tube

Hydroforming Aluminum Sheet

In the case of aluminium sheet hydroforming, metal is placed on the hydroformed press. An aluminium sheet is a blank on which pressure is applied that pushes the blank into the shape of the die below it.

It is a flexible method as various parts can be created and is versatile with different designs. Sheet hydroforming is majorly used to form parts with complex shapes (provide precise shapes and surfaces). Aluminium sheet hydroforming is used in commercial lighting, healthcare, land-based power generation and aerospace.

Hydroforming Aluminium Tube

Aluminium tube hydroforming involves applying the pressure fluid to the inside of the tube that forces the metal out into the environment. The process produces various tubes of different shapes, lengths and weights. This method forms lighter and safer parts and can quickly achieve stiffness, dimensional accuracy and strength. Aluminium tube hydroforming is majorly used in the automotive industry.

Considerations In Tubular Hydroforming Aluminum

Considerations In Tubular Hydroforming Aluminum
Considerations In Tubular Hydroforming Aluminum

Tubular Hydroforming has become popular in various industrial applications as it allows for producing robust, lighter and unique parts designs. The following are the considerations that need to be put in place in tubular hydroforming aluminium:

Elongation Restrictions

Typically, aluminium is considered more malleable than steel and less intense. As much as aluminium can be stretched and bent comparatively easily, extreme deformation diminishes the material until it cannot meet production requirements.

Compared to steel alloy, aluminium has no elongation principles; hence its level of expansion is limited.

Before structural coherence is tempered, aluminium can only tolerate 20% elongation, while steel can handle up to 50% elongation tolerance. Depending on the grades of aluminium and steel, elongation will vary. By splitting the hydroforming process into various steps and annealing the metal, the physical properties of an alloy, aluminium, can be replaced.

Alloy Tempers

The available tempers for aluminium tubular hydroforming are W. T and O.

T-grade aluminium; is aged, heat-treated and suitable for structural applications such as roll bars and automotive pillars that require rigidity and strength.

W-grade aluminium; is heat-treated but not aged naturally or artificially, thus softer and majorly used for applications that consider structural uprightness as the main course, such as decorations tube hydroforming applications.

O-grade aluminium; is very soft and annealed and is used together with W-grade aluminium for decoration tube hydroforming applications.

Restrictions On Corners

For the tube to be formed in the desired shape, equal pressure is applied over the tubular workpiece in a closed die. Extensive pressure is needed to stretch a workpiece into a mould with small, concave corners.

Right corners are almost non-viable to attain even with steel, even when gradual hydroforming sequences and larger dies ease these restrictions. Parts with sharp corners are considered impossible, given aluminium’s relative elongation restrictions.

  • Aluminium is typically four to five times as expensive as steel and about a third as light.
  • It’s important to note that using aluminium instead of steel will never be an apples-to-apples substitution. Often, you will need to use more aluminium to thicken walls so that an aluminium part will achieve the same structural integrity as a corresponding steel part.
  • In most cases, a part made via hydroforming aluminium will be more in the neighbourhood of 8–10 times as expensive as comparable steel when assessing raw materials alone.
  • Timing for punching

Holes must be punched in parts so fixtures can be installed or components can be fastened to others.  It is good to punch the aluminium work parts while still in the Hydroforming die as it is the most straightforward and most economical mode to administer the arrangement of the holes. Tube Hydroformed parts can be punched after the process of Hydroforming is done, if necessary.

Material Costs

Compared to steel, aluminium is costly to purchase for tubular Hydroforming; thus, more aluminium must be used to thicken the aluminium wall parts to achieve the same degree of structural coherence as steel.

When evaluating the cost of raw material for tubular Hydroforming, partly made through steel hydroforming is cheaper than aluminium hydroforming.

Applications Of Aluminum Hydroforming

Automotive industry
Automotive industry

Hydroforming is used to fabricate parts for radiator supports, instrument panel supports, frame rails and other car parts.

Lighting Industry
Lighting Industry

Hydroforming is used in the lighting industry to produce parts such as ballast housings, outdoor and indoor lighting reflectors and outdoor covers for electrical boxes.

Land-based Power Generation
Land-based Power Generation

Hydroforming is used to produce parts for power generation.

Military Industry
Military Industry

Hydroforming is used in the defence field industry to make parts used in military components such as the helicopter, tanks and stealth bombers.

Healthcare
Healthcare

Hydroforming gives healthcare equipment a consistent and smooth finish for easier cleaning and disinfecting. Hydroforming is used to design medical equipment such as lighting fixtures and surgical trays to specific shapes and size

Aerospace Industry
Aerospace Industry

Hydroforming produces quality parts that are used in the aerospace industry. The following are the parts made by Hydroforming:

  • Pressurized containers.
  • They used to form Hydroformed parts and heat treatments for air repair stations.https://kdmfab.com/medical-equipment/
  • Oil filter pans, lens retainers and gyroscope, are produced through aluminium hydroforming
  • Portable water tanks.
  • They form parts for nose cones, cowls, and nozzle systems.
  • Jet engine parts.
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