Technical Series: Steel vs Aluminium

In the final post of our series, we look at metal fabrication. The process of building structures from raw metal materials,  the main benefit of metal fabrication shops is the centralisation of these many processes that are often required on the same project. 

Our independent design approach ensures we use the right materials to suit your project’s aims and needs. Below, we outline the metals we most commonly encounter in retail design.
Mild Steel is the most commonly used metal for the retail industry as it is strong, durable and versatile. It can be processed and finished in a variety of ways and is available in a number of useful forms – most commonly, sheet and tube. It can be very easily welded which makes it ideal for fabricated assemblies. It is a heavy material so this should always be taken into account in the design process so that fixtures do not become too heavy to handle. It is also prone to corrosion but in most indoor environments this should not cause a problem.
Stainless Steel is widely used where contact with food or food preparation is a factor. It is also used simply because it has a desirable appearance – which can be finished from a matt or brushed look to highly polished mirror. It’s high strength and ability to be used without a coated finish makes it ideal for areas of impact or high wear – such as crash bars or hanging arms and rails (where continuous contact with metal hangers would mark a coated surface). It can also be coated and used as an alternative to mild steel in areas where mild steel might be vulnerable to corrosion.

Aluminium is about a third of the weight of steel so where weight is an issue it is an excellent alternative. Cost is similar to steel however welding aluminium is a more complicated process so for fabricated assemblies steel is usually the default choice. It is softer than steel so will be more easily dented however this softness can be an advantage when trying to achieve complex shapes. It can also be easily extruded into all kinds of shapes and there are many stock profiles available and the option to create bespoke profiles is simple and affordable. It can be finished in a number of ways but due to its corrosion resistance can also be used unfinished.

Fundamental to knowing why different materials are used, we’ve outlined the basic metals you may commonly come across, but there are many more options available. Which metal is the most sustainable option for your design depends on a wider criteria than just the material attributes. At Quantum4, our unique Quantum Zero sustainable design methodology empowers you to create a visually stunning, functional and exciting retail experience whilst ensuring that all aspects of sustainable design are considered from the outset. We will ensure you make the right choices for your design needs. For more information: