When it comes to buying or designing an industrial work or access platforms, there are mainly two materials that come to mind; aluminium and steel. These metals are the perfect foundation for work platforms because of their weight, profile availability, strength, and corrosion resistance. There are plenty of benefits to using aluminium or steel and you won’t go wrong with either one of these materials. But the big question is, which one is better for creating work platforms?

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at a couple of factors that determine whether aluminium or steel is most suitable for your intended applications.

Weight

The first thing we need to consider is the weight. Aluminium weighs roughly 1/3 less than steel which makes it considerably lighter in all aspects. This means an aluminium work platform is easier to move, set up, and position compared to a steel platform. It only takes less than two people to move an aluminium platform and positioning it can be done by virtually anyone.

The good news is that despite being lighter than steel, aluminium has a higher strength-to-weight ratio compared to most other metals, meaning that the platform can be made thicker and stronger without necessarily adding excess weight.

We all know that steel is heavy, but this extra weight bodes well for steel platforms because it adds extra durability to the framework. Steel is roughly 250% denser than aluminium which makes it stronger and more durable. Steel platforms are also less likely to bend under heat or force, a key consideration for specific applications.

Profile extrusion

As an extruded product, aluminium offers more versatility than steel. Its wide range of profile complexities is one of aluminium’s mani advantages which results in various design possibilities for improved functionality. For example, solid and hollow cross-sections can be made complex and intricate using only thin walls. Aluminium can also be ribbed for added strength and traction, thus enhancing the usability of a work stand.

Not all of this complexity can be achieved with steel because its material behaviour during the extrusion process is quite different. Because steel has a lower ductility than aluminium, there are physical limitations as far as wall thickness and shape complexity is concerned.

Corrosion resistance

The third factor we need to consider is corrosion resistance as we want the work platform to be able to resist environmental deterioration. Untreated aluminium is capable of spontaneously forming an oxide layer on its surface. Even when damaged, the oxide layer repairs itself immediately which eliminates any risk of corrosion for that matter. This is a big deal when creating or designing industrial work platforms as any form of corrosion will compromise its structural integrity and contribute to potential safety issues.

Uncoated steel, on the other hand, is susceptible to oxidation and degradation, thus limiting its lifespan and affecting its usability in industrial work platforms. Coating the steel with polymer powders can improve its corrosion resistance, but the possibility of rust forming underneath the coating still exists.

To further improve steel’s corrosion resistance, galvanic coatings must be performed post-fabrication. However, this does not provide extra protection to areas modified on the work platform after it has been coated.

Since aluminium is a corrosion-resistant material, it’s more suited for industrial work platforms as it retains its properties in a wide range of situations and environments.

Choosing between aluminium and steel

Upon close inspection, you will notice that aluminium is ahead of steel in almost every aspect. From the weight advantages and corrosion resistance to its versatility as an extruded product, aluminium appears to be a clear-cut choice for industrial work platforms. However, there are a few key considerations to make before you choose between these two metals and these are:

  • Price – Aluminium is generally more expensive than steel. If you have the budget, then choosing aluminium is highly recommended. For those who are working with budget constraints, then steel is a good option. You just have to make sure that the steel is coated properly to ensure the structural integrity of the work platform does not get compromised in the long term.
  • Deflection – One of the main concerns with aluminium is deflection. Deflection is the degree to which the work platform is displaced under a load. With a proper structural design, this issue seldomly presents itself on aluminium work platforms. While not completely immune, steel work platforms rarely exhibit deflection simply because they’re denser than aluminium platforms.
  • Welding – Aluminium is more difficult to weld than steel due to the oxide layer on its surface. This makes it crucial that your work platform manufacturer adheres to the AS/NZS 1665:2004 standards to ensure the welds are consistent, reliable, and are of the highest quality.

With all things considered, aluminium is indeed superior to steel in terms of work platform applications. There are instances where steel is preferred over aluminium, especially if you’re working with extremely heavy loads. Make sure to refer to this information so you can make an informed decision when fabricating or designing industrial work platforms.