Aluminum Smackdown: 5052-H32 Takes on 6061-T6 for Custom Sheet Metal Fabrication Superiority

Last updated on December 14th, 2023 at 08:06 am

If you’re accustomed to selecting 6061-T6 aluminum for machining, you may find yourself automatically requesting that same material for your sheet metal parts. But 6061 aluminum isn’t typically the best choice for a sheet metal part. For aluminum fabrication, we usually recommend 5052-H32 instead.

Here, we’ll outline the differences between 6061 and 5052 and explain why 5052 is the superior choice for sheet metal fabrication.

Key Differences Between 6061-T6 vs. 5052-H32 Aluminum

While both aluminum alloys are lightweight, strong, corrosion-resistant, and weldable (with some potential for heat deformation), the two materials are not interchangeable.

Choose 6061-T6 for machined parts

6061-T6 aluminum is heat-treated and very hard, so it machines beautifully!

However, 6061 does not play well with forming processes, as the alloy is highly likely to crack when formed to 90 degrees or beyond. If you must have a 6061 aluminum part with a 90-degree bend, we recommend making the internal radii equal to at least 2x to 3x the material thickness.

Cosmetic issues such as scratches and dents are also considerations when using 6061-T6 for aluminum fabrication. These cosmetic concerns can be managed, but be aware that fixing surface blemishes may increase both cost and lead time.

The properties of 6061-T6 aluminum include:

  • Yield strength: 241 MPa (35,000 psi)
  • Ultimate tensile strength: 290 MPa (42,000 psi)
  • Primary alloying elements: magnesium and silicon

Common applications for 6061-T6 include:

  • Aerospace
  • Aircraft
  • Bridges
  • Rivets
  • Train cars
  • Towers
  • Transportation operations
  • Vehicle frames

Choose 5052-H32 for fabricated parts

Because 5052-H32 aluminum is not heat-treated, it embodies high fatigue strength and elasticity, making it ideal for forming. Approved Sheet Metal provides crack-free aluminum fabrication for high-quality 5052 sheet metal parts with surprisingly smooth surface finishes.

And at approximately $2 less per pound than 6061 aluminum, 5052-H32 makes more sense for your fabricated parts based on price alone!

The properties of 5052-H32 aluminum include:

  • Yield strength: 193 MPa (28,000 psi)
  • Ultimate tensile strength: 228 MPa (33,000 psi)
  • Primary alloying elements: magnesium and chromium

Common applications for 5052-H32 include: 

Custom Aluminum Fabrication at Approved Sheet MetalApproved Sheet Metal 6061-T6 vs 5052-H32

Our customers often request 6061-T6 aluminum for enclosures or boxes with lids—a totally reasonable material callout. Yet when the customer’s design specifies tight radii, we’ll almost always recommend a material swap to 5052-H32 aluminum. The cracking and breaking risks posed by 6061 frequently makes 5052 a significantly better choice, and we will highlight this substitution as an exception in your quote.

When you need to see for yourself…

We get it: engineers and buyers are visual learners. So please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss a material swap we’ve recommended for your project. We’re happy to show you examples of parts formed from both aluminum alloys. You’ll be able to see for yourself how 6061-T6 can crack during aluminum fabrication.

Even when reviewing a simple 90-degree bracket design for 6061-T6 fabrication, we almost always recommend a material swap to 5052-H32 so we can ensure optimum quality and prevent potentially costly complications.

When you’ve read that 6061-T6 is “easy to form…”

A quick online search will surface articles suggesting that 6061 aluminum is easily fabricated—and it’s true that aluminum fabrication with 6061 is possible! To ensure the material holds up to the forming process, however, additional considerations invariably apply.

We may need you to increase the internal bend radii, or it may be necessary to begin with a T0 temper and then heat-treat the finished part. No matter how we’ll need to prep your 6061 material, you should anticipate a longer lead time and additional costs.

When a material swap isn’t possible… 

When you need your parts formed with 6061-T6 aluminum, Approved Sheet Metal can help. Contact us to discuss your unique needs, learn how we’ll approach your project, and review any major concerns. Whenever possible, we’ll do whatever we can to get you the part you need made just the way you need it.

Get a quote for your next custom aluminum fabrication project.

5052-H32 Versus 6061-T6 for Sheet Metal Fabrication FAQ

6061-T6 aluminum is strong and suitable for machining but prone to cracking when formed to 90 degrees or beyond. In contrast, 5052-H32 aluminum, while less expensive and not heat-treated, excels in forming processes due to its high fatigue strength and elasticity.

5052-H32 offers better formability without the risk of cracking during fabrication, making it an ideal choice for parts requiring tight radii or extensive forming. Additionally, its cost-effectiveness at approximately $2 less per pound than 6061 aluminum adds to its appeal for fabricated parts.

For 6061-T6, its strength and machinability are notable, but potential cracking, cosmetic issues, and the need for larger bend radii are crucial considerations. Conversely, 5052-H32's formability, smoother surface finishes, and cost-effectiveness make it a preferable choice for fabricated parts.

6061-T6 finds use in aerospace, bridges, transportation, and structural applications due to its strength, while 5052-H32 is favored for panels, enclosures, marine equipment, and medical devices where forming requirements are critical.

In cases where 6061-T6 is specified but tight radii or extensive forming is necessary, it's advisable to discuss a material swap to 5052-H32 with the fabricator. Approved Sheet Metal typically recommends this change to ensure better quality and prevent potential complications during fabrication.

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