Aluminum tube bending is a precision process for forming aluminum tubes without damaging the material or compromising the internal dimensions of the tube. Experienced tube benders can manage complex bending projects without allowing the metal to develop cracks, kinks, or misshapen interior dimensions that may restrict the flow of fluid. As a strong, lightweight, and highly workable metal, aluminum provides a top choice for producing parts that need to undergo precision metal forming techniques.
Considerations When Bending Aluminum
When you’re determining which tube stock material to use for different manufacturing projects that require tube bending processes, consider the following:
Different metals and alloys offer varying degrees of formability. Some are hard and brittle, while others are soft and pliable. Aluminum alloys, in particular, offer a good balance between strength and formability—characteristics that are often at odds with each other in other materials. For projects that require bending with tight radii and multiple bends, you may need to prioritize formability over strength and other characteristics. But for projects with mild bends, stronger and less workable alloys will often work just as well.
Thickness and Bend Radius
Like many other metals, aluminum alloys will experience work hardening as they undergo fabrication processes. That’s important to keep in mind for projects with extreme bends. Small-radius (sharp) bends put the metal at risk of cracking, especially if the metal is thick and beginning to harden.
Percentage of Elongation
A metal with low tensile strength has restrictions on the degree to which it can be bent. The higher a metal’s tensile strength, the more resilient it is under stress and the better it can handle tube bending processes.
Best Aluminum Alloys for Bending
Knowing the characteristics of your chosen alloy is just as important as knowing how many bends and what degrees of bend are required for a project. Some of the best aluminum alloys for tube bending include:
- Series 3003. Series 3003 aluminums have a 25% elongation rate, making them extremely workable and resilient. These metals respond well to cold working and feature excellent strength characteristics.
- Series 5052. Series 5052 metals provide an ideal material for cold forming processes. While not as bendable as Series 3003 metals, this series offers higher strength and resistance to corrosion.
- Series 6061. These metals can be heat-treated or cold-formed and offer excellent elongation and tensile strength properties.
Aluminum Tube Bending Methods
Metal fabricators may use multiple processes for aluminum tube bending, such as:
This tube bending process uses fixed die sets to shape the outside of the metal tubes. Operators employ mandrels in conjunction with the dies to preserve the interior dimension of the tubes. Mandrels get inserted into the length of the tube adjacent to the bend so the tube can’t crimp shut. Rotary bending is a popular choice because it gives fabricators significant freedom while designing the die set. It can also be used on hard or thick metals with minimal risk of failure.
Compression bending is a fast, cost-effective method of tube bending. The tubes are moved around a stationary die to bend it into shape. While this process is fast and doesn’t require much initial investment for tooling, it can be labor-intensive. It also can’t be used to create complex designs or designs that require a mandrel to preserve the interior shape.
In this process, the metal is heated and softened so it can be forced into a bend. This removes the need for high-cost tooling, and works well for production orders of any volume. However, it can only be used with metals compatible with heat forming methods.
E Tube & Wire Custom Tube Bending Capabilities
At E Tube & Wire, we offer complete bending, finishing, welding, and assembly services for metal tube projects. We work with a wide variety of metal alloys and can accommodate complex custom orders. For complex projects, tubes must be in T4 or T0 condition, as T6 tubes such as 6061 T6 can’t always be bent. Contact us today to learn more about our capabilities or request a quote to start your next bending project.