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Steel Vs Aluminum The Great Debate

Only you can select the correct parts for your Jeep. Information posted on the internet is biased at best (this post included). I recommend using the following questions to help make a decision.

  • How do you intend to use the Jeep?
  • What is your budget?
  • What do you want to Jeep to look like once completed.
  • Design of the product in question. Will it perform the task it was built for?

We all have our own style and as car entusiasts typically express that through our vehicles. Our problem has always been finding balance between my budget and my desires.

When looking at any product it is important to logically analyze the products design to determine if it will perform the task you will be putting it to. Poor design is poor design no matter what material is used. Unfortunately, many products in our industry are not put through any sort of analysis or for that matter real world testing.

My last thought for this section is this: Very few vehicles are used as aggressively as their owners proclaim. While I am all for overbuilding a vehicle for its intended use (so you lessen the likelihood of a failure), spending money needlessly or adding unnecessary weight is just silly. Additional weight affects the braking and acceleration performance of the vehicle, as well as fuel economy. Also every accessory added will reduce the weight carrying capacity of the Jeep. Remember Jeeps are built on a 1/4 ton platform.

New Ideas vs. The Old School

Despite our best efforts to educate the jeep community, this is still a pretty hot topic and those on both sides of the argument have strong opinions. The arguments tend to focus on any negatives either material has. I will focus on the positives offered by each material and discuss the point made in this thread. Although a positive for one material may be a negative for the other.

Material Facts

In these sorts of discussions people fail to mention that aluminum and steel come in many different alloys, so discussing them in general terms is misleading. For this discussion we will base the discussion on the off road industry standard materials 5052-H34 Aluminum and Hot Rolled ASTM A36 Steel Plate.

  • A36 steel plate is easy to weld, forms well, has moderate corrosion resistance and has the following properties
    Minimum Yield Point 36 ksi, and has a Tensile Strength 58 to 80 ksi. Weight per square foot 7.660 lbs.
  • 5052-H34 aluminum plate is very easy to weld, forms well, has very good corrosion resistance and strength. Minimum Yield point 39 ksi and has a Tensile Strength of 31-44 ksi. Weight per square foot 2.658 lbs

As you can see both materials are relatively easy to work with (this information was taken from Ryerson's Stock list guide 2003). Aluminum has better elasticity, it takes more to form it, which means it takes more energy than steel to change its shape. It also has much better corrosion resistance than steel and weighs close to a 1/3 as much. Steel takes the day when it comes to the ultimate failure point.

Design

One must take into consideration what material is being used when designing a product. For example if 3/16" (.1875") A36 plate meets the requirements of the design as a rule of thumb 1.5 times thicker 5052 Aluminum must be used. For this example that means the aluminum must be 9/32" (.2813") thick. So for equal strength the weight differential between steel and aluminum changes to 7.660 lbs/sqf vs. 3.987 lbs/sqf, respectively.

In short you can not just take a part designed from 3/16" A36 plate and make it out of 5052 Aluminum, it will not hold up to the same abuse. This is an error many manufacturers in our industry make. At Nemesis Industries we design with the intent of using aluminum from the products inception, therefor our products are stronger than any of our competitors offerings.

A great article on this topic can be found here http://www.kastenmarine.com/alumVSsteel.htm. The author Michael Kasten discuss the strength of aluminum vs the strength of steel as it applies to boat building, but the main points cross over.

Galling

There is no way around it A36 steel plate will hold up to abrasion better than 5052 aluminum. The same argument can be made for abrasion resistant (AR) plate vs. A36 plate. This was one of our major concerns when we decided to be the company that pushed aluminum. So we ran several tests at the shop and on the trail. In the shop the test were Mythbuster like with equal force applied through several different points of contact (varying from knife like to round pieces of granite.) along with the steel and aluminum test plates being moved at equal rates of speed. As you may have already surmised the sharper test pieces of granite did more damage to the test pieces of material. Analysis of the data showed that the sharp granite left a deeper gouge in the aluminum, with an average depth differential of .037", a little over 1/16". Next we built some outer Billy wraps out of steel and aluminum to see what will happen in the real world. The off road test provided similar results with the damage to the aluminum outer wraps being marginally more than what the steel outer wraps experienced. In short the difference is minimal and the benefits of aluminum far out way this one draw back.

Corrosion

No matter the material used corrosion is an issue. This is why we always recommend best practices when installing any aftermarket accessories:

  • Always use anti-size or a good caliper grease on all hardware. This stops or at least slows galvanic reaction between dissimilar material. This is true no matter what material your parts are made of.
  • Placing a rubber liner between accessories and body panels does work to slow a galvanic reaction, but it also traps and holds water between panels which will cause more damage to your Jeep. We tested rubber liners over a Colorado winter (they now spray mag-chloride on our roads. Nasty stuff) and within 6 months the Jeep body was starting to rust. We recommend placing textured under coating on the back side of body armor. Not only does it protect against galvanic corrosion it also allows air to pass between the panels, thereby allowing it to dry. No moisture no rust. We submitted this method of panel protection through the same test and there were no signs of rust after 6 months.
  • Improperly grounded electrical accessories will speed up galvanic corrosion, so make sure your electrical system is in top shape.

In summary employ best practices when installing parts and your will dramatically decrease the liklihod for issues.

Nemesis Industries Billy Rockers (the game changer)

  • The dimple died ellipses placed on the side of the rockers as mentioned add rigidity to the rockers and reduce weight. While we could have added rigidity other ways we chose not to for several reasons: We did not want the additional weight, additional material and welding increases cost, the dimple died ellipses work as well as the other methods mentioned ( Yep we tested them), and we like the way they look.

    We have heard the argument of the ellipses allowing sticks, rocks or other items to enter and stop a vehicle over and over. Let me assure you the chances of this happening are on par with being struck by lighting. Once again we have tested this over and over and are yet to get a stick or rock to hold up forward momentum or even stick in an ellipse.

  • There is not another rocker on the market that will hold a candle to the protection that the Nemesis Industries Billy Rocker provides. It does not matter what material it is made of. The unique design of the Billy Rocker places 3/4" of material between an object and the factory rocker. The unique design of the space frame not only provides air space for events to be absorbed it also displaces the point of impact over the entire factory rocker panel and under body, thereby reducing the energy of an event to manageable levels.

    Another misconception is that our rocker is a body mounted rocker. To some degree this is true. However, this argument is typically taken by people that do not know the first thing about our products. There are three components that make up a Nemesis Industries Billy Rocker the Titan Armor, Space Frame and the outer Billy Wrap.

Titan Armor is made of 3/16" aluminum and attaches to the side of the Jeep wrapping from the door sill to the angled portion of the tub above the pinch weld.

The Space Frame is made of 3/16" aluminum and attached to the angled portion of the tub under the door sill (same bolts as the Titan Armor) and wraps under the Jeep where it ties into a body channel (same channel the factory Rubicon Rails mount to)

The Billy Wrap is made of 3/16" aluminum and attaches to the Space Frame then wraps under the Jeep to grab the body mounts. Thereby attaching the the rocker to the frame and body, yet by attaching to the body mounts the Billy Rocker is still free to move with the body. This design allows the body and frame to move independently of one another as they are designed to.

To those of you that are using our products, have spent the time to understand how our designs are different, stopped by the shop to learn more, have stopped by our display at the over 25 events we attend a year, and spent time with us on the trail I find your support humbling and would like to thank you for your continued support.

If you have the time I would like for you to stop by the shop, come to an event we are attending or go wheeling with us sometime, so we can discuss your concerns in greater detail and demonstrate the prowess of the Billy Rockers and the amazing amount of protection these aluminum Rockers provide.

How Does Powder Coating Work?

When it comes to purchasing powder coated products the buyer needs to be aware of what they are paying for. While the end result is a powder coated part the processes used to get there vary greatly from manufacture to manufacture. As with a quality automotive finish preparation of the surface is vital to creating a quality finish that will stand the test of time.

To ensure a powder coat finish that will last for many years to come considerable effort must be spent preparing and cleaning the part. To this end we employ a four (4) step process

Sandblasting

This pretreatment process is undertaken to remove the mill scale and any carbon deposits, which laser and plasma cutting systems leave behind. Each and every steel part we powder coat is sandblasted. This process provides a smooth textured surface to which the powder coat can adhere to.

Phosphate Pressure Wash

This pretreatment process is done to degrease, clean and etch the surface. Once again we are working to ensure the powder coat will have a clean textured surface to adhere to. After the parts are phosphate washed they are put into the oven at 300 degrees to dry them out.

Zinc Rich Primer

Is used to protect steel surfaces from corrosion. Unlike regular paints or epoxies which resist corrosion by forming an impermeable barrier between the metal and atmospheric moisture, zinc rich primers provide corrosion protection by electrical means. The zinc and the steel form a tiny electrical - cathodic cell that protects the steel at the expense of the zinc. Of course the zinc primer also provides a little ‘barrier' protection as well. Once the zinc rich primer is applied the parts get another trip in the oven to affix the primer to the part.

Color Top Coat

The final step in the process is applying the top color coat. To ensure that the color holds up to UV and other environmental concerns we use Cardinal Polyester Polyurethane powders. They are used because they have very good adhesion characteristics, corrosion resistance, and exterior durability. One more trip to the oven is required to cure the primer and top coats.

Completion

Once the parts have cooled each part is wrapped in a 6mil plastic bag to protect the finish. All of this work is done to ensure that you receive a part that will not only look good when it is first installed, but years down the line. Parts prepared using the above four step process have survived a 1800 hour salt spray test without showing and discernable corrosion or damage to the finish. All of the parts we powder coat carry a two year warranty. Please, see our warranty policy for additional information