You Can't Bend the Rules
by Jesse Carson
Product Manager - PanelCrafters
Since PanelCrafters' humble beginnings as a custom plate & panel provider, we've been tied directly to Aerospace manufacturing. Most of what we were came from custom panels for equipment testing –patch panels and test system control panels for use on Racks. We've come a long way from those days, but have one specific holdover from the old days.
1/8" 6061T6 <- Aircraft grade aluminum alloy. This is our standard material of choice for a variety of factors. For us, the root value is rigidity. Our line of fabricated plates & panels, from smaller 3 Gang plates, to the giant custom-sized panels – is made using this alloy. We find it to be the best mix of strength and weight. We've produced panels as large as 3' x 3', and 6061T6 provides the back-bone structure possible to keep these plates flat throughout production.
So if 6061T6 is used for rigidity, the opposite holds true for 1/16" 5052. We find the 5052 alloy offers the best mix of strength and formability. 6061 will “crack" when bent to tight radiuses, but 5052 will hold a smooth, consistent surface at 90 degrees and beyond. This allows us to make extremely detailed radius bends so we can create custom plate solutions for special floor box projects. As a rule – if we're going to put a bend or flange on a panel – the material we specify will be the 5052 alloy. We also use 1/8" 5052 aluminum for smaller plates where rigidity isn't as much of a concern (5" x 5" and smaller, in general).
What do the numbers mean? The number designation refers to the composition of the aluminum alloy with the first digit indicating the major alloying elements. 5000 series are alloyed with magnesium. 6000 series are alloyed with magnesium and silicone. The “T6" designation refers to the temper. It is heat treated and artificially aged, adding to it's strength.
What about Stainless Steel? Aluminum is a clean, brushed look that we feel is aesthetically superior to Stainless. We do offer standard gang plates in Stainless Steel, but cannot produce custom sized products. We have various steel plate suppliers that are creating the blanks for us – we offer basic machining and decoration options or these pre-made blanks.
Cold rolled steel is often used for boxes or welded assemblies. Steel is fantastic for durability and rigidity, but that inherently makes the raw material difficult to use on quick turn custom products. Steel typically requires 40% less thickness to achieve the same relative stiffness as aluminum, but it weighs approximately three times as much. Aluminum is much easier to machine and engrave so it remains our material of choice when applicable.
Click Here to learn more about PanelCrafters' manufacturing process.