A material is economical if the sum of the cost of purchase or material costs and the operating and maintenance costs over the whole utilisation period (including recycling or disposal of the product) is lower, or at least not greater than that of another material equally suitable for the application in question. For many tasks today (and probably more so in the future) there are usually several materials that can be used, for example aluminium, wood or plastic for window frames. In the end, what is important for the choice, besides subjective reasons, is the overall economic efficiency, which compares the material costs with the benefits achieved.
The price of aluminium may be higher than that of competitive materials such as wood, plastics and steel. However, this disadvantage is compensated for in applications of the metal by taking advantage of one or more of the following properties:
- cheaper manufacturing thanks to simpler processing
- lower maintenance costs thanks to its corrosion resistance
- lower operating costs thanks to material-saving design and low specific weight, which in the case of road vehicles. for example, manifests itself in energy savings as a result of lower weight
- protection of foodstuffs, medication and cosmetics from external influences and extension of the shelf life by packaging made partly or completely from aluminium
- lower erection costs thanks to profile systems (for example, erection of rail vehicles within hours instead of several days with steel construction) and thanks to low weight
- high scrap value.
In addition, there are possibly costs for the environmental impact associated with the production, processing and disposal of a material to be added to the total costs detailed above. Here aluminium has the advantage of its recyclability.