You may have heard of extruded aluminum framing. Some call it t-slot or t-slotted framing. Others call it extruded framing. No matter what you call it, using the framing members and accessories can be called an “adult’s erector set.” For convenience sake, within this article I’m going to use the short-hand moniker of t-slot.
Not everyone makes the same t-slot product or accessories
With all of the available choices on the market today, the hardest decision to make is; who’s to use?
Unfortunately, the profiles and accessories are not always identical from one brand to the next. However, there are a few that are close and can use some the accessories and fastening elements interchangeably.
Size matters, unless your customer has other thoughts
These profiles can be used for a wide variety of applications, including conveyors, enclosures, linear motion, machine bases, machine guarding, workstations, or other load carrying applications.
Most of the manufacturers will include the dimensions and moments so you can determine if the size of the profile is appropriate for the application. A couple have developed a deflection calculator to assist with the design. Sometimes customers have instructed me to use the largest possible profile size, and this will work, but may also increase the price of the machines we build significantly.
Accessories can be limited
Fasteners, brackets, end plates, casters, etc. are the basic set of accessories used no matter the application. However, some manufacturers have a wider array of accessories to go beyond the basic. Based on your application, this may lead you to use one manufacturer over another.
You can choose to cut it yourself or have your application provided as a kit
All of the manufacturers and their distributors will sell you lengths of profile and accessories in bulk to allow you to design and cut it yourself.
The profiles can be cut using a standard mitre saw with a fine-toothed, metal-cutting blade. Other machining can be accomplished with drill presses, end mills, or any other metal cutting tools.
Most, if not all, distributors offer kitting services where you provide a drawing, as simple as a sketch, and they will determine the bill of material needed to assemble your product and deliver the pre-cut pieces of profile and the fasteners needed to assemble.
Can be better than a welded frame, if you have the time
The selling point each manufacturer makes is that it’s easier and cheaper than fabricating the same frame from welded steel components.
In my experience, it is by far easier to assemble frames and tables using t-slot framing compared to welding, cleaning and coating steel frame components. This is of course because I had the time to wait for the distributor to cut and kit the projects I was working on. If you are short on time, you may get better results from welding, but not from a pricing standpoint.
Overall, I like using t-slot framing for making prototypes of production units or one-off products because there are many resources available for assistance and decide on the manufacturer based on the application and their ability to fit the need. Since I use 3D design software, I can easily import profiles, or profile sketches, in order to design the product, send it to the distributor to get pricing, and perform structural analysis to make sure the design meets all necessary safety requirements.
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