man in a hard hat looking at building plans

Aluminum and Stainless Steel Tolerance: Why it Matters

Perfection is something that seemingly every single person on this planet seeks to achieve. Yet, we all know full well that we will never get there. For every game Michael Jordan scored fifty points in, there are far more times he barely reached double digits.  Often, the difference between those box scores is his shot being mere inches off.  We always have to account for margins that can still improve ourselves while meeting the requirements we demand of whatever task that is set in front of us. The materials we utilize in those endeavors can occasionally mean the difference between that aforementioned goal being met, exceeded, or badly missed.

Construction workers and fabricators know this far too well, and as such need to know what works wonderfully for whatever worksites they are winding up for.  Two rather popular substances among fabricators are aluminum and stainless steel, but using one of these in place of the other can lead to drastically different outcomes because of how they respond to being handled.

Effectively, aluminum’s malleability allows it cover wider tolerance ranges, while stainless steel can provide more strength and structural integrity in exchange for requiring more effort to become flexible during manufacturing.  That said, taking a closer look at what tolerance means for both tool and machine can help business owners, customers, and workers alike understand which combination of things can lead to a project being closer to perfect.

Even though the world’s technology is rapidly improving, it is important to remember that even those machines are made by people and, as such, occasionally deviating in their performance.  Every computer that aides in manufacturing, from the office computers to the computerized lathes and bending machines wear down over time, causing inaccuracies or requiring higher tolerances during the creation process.  Those hard drives suddenly stop reading certain sectors.  Machines get jammed.  If anything can be learned from working with machines, it is that no tool lasts forever.  Projects can require extremely long lifespans while still keeping moveable, flexible aspects capable of easily fitting particular forms.

This is where aluminum becomes an enticing ingredient for fabrication companies, as it can more easily be manipulated to fit those extra few millimeters necessary to fit a schematic.  Likewise, the ease in which aluminum can be altered allows it to be trimmed back more quickly. While its flexibility makes it an intriguing and valuable fabrication material, keep in mind that the tensile strength of aluminum can pale in comparison to other choices.  Stainless steel can offer a considerably higher tensile strength than aluminum, but this comes at a steep cost in regards to detailed tolerance coverage.  The amount of work and particular tools required to shape stainless steel can require extremely keen measurements to account for tolerances.  After all, even metals can react to temperature changes, which need to be accounted for in all builds.

Though it seems easy to get mired in the pros and cons regarding each of these metals, the basic concept remains simple.  Accounting for machine wear and how certain materials react to external manipulation – be it by tools or the outside world – can give you an upper hand in drawing up your project and making it as close to perfect as possible in the first attempt.  When you’re ready to make a blueprint into a blue-ribbon construction, contact Engineered Mechanical Systems.