Material Handling Equipment Material Showdown: Aluminum vs Steel vs Plastic

There are a variety of materials used to build carts, platforms, and other equipment for the material handling industry. The three most commonly used are plastic, steel, and aluminum. Let’s break down each of them in terms of cost, longevity, durability, and customizability to determine their overall benefits and weaknesses.  
The cost of building material handling equipment varies greatly depending on construction material. From an upfront cost perspective, plastic is by far the most economical of these three options. Steel and aluminum are similar in cost, and stainless steel is the most expensive. Recently, the price of steel and aluminum has been volatile due to the worldwide issues during recent times. Once there is an improvement in the efficiency of these supply chains, there should be a stabilization and drop in the price of aluminum and steel. Not everything is as it seems, though. Although plastic might be the cheapest at first glance, there’s more than what meets the eye. Its overall durability and product longevity are no match for its counterparts making the overall cost not nearly as low as it seems.
The durability needs of an organization’s equipment are based on what type of products they will be handling. With lightweight products, plastic carts might be enough, though over time they will bow and warp. The weight capacities that plastic can handle are limited. Steel and Aluminum offer similar weight capacities to one another but will vary depending on how they are constructed. Aluminum is about one third the weight of steel without giving up durability, which provides ergonomic benefits. With better durability comes product longevity to truly decrease the overall cost of products since they don’t need to be replaced nearly as often.
Truly, one of the greatest benefits of Plastic and Aluminum is rust and corrosion resistance. Plastic is non-reactive, therefore food safe and can be cleaned using harsh chemicals without pitting. Plastic is great for any application where consumables will be in direct contact with equipment. Stainless Steel is also good for direct contact with consumables, though harsh chemicals will eventually pit the Stainless Steel. Non-stainless steel and aluminum are not utilized if coming in direct contact with raw consumable product. Steel will rust, and Aluminum gives off aluminum oxide which affects the chemical makeup of food and pharmaceuticals.  
Plastic carts are mostly modular, arriving knocked down and configured to your liking. Steel and Aluminum can be built as adjustable or fully welded. Adjustable options give up just a little weight capacity but offer flexible configuration over time. Many Steel options use plastic clips to retain shelves. This makes adjusting them simple but gives up some of their durability and weight capacity. Aluminum options typically use set screws to retain shelf placement, maintaining durability and weight capacity.  When durability is a key factor, all welded units are ideal.  
When choosing which material is best for you, make sure to do your research. Many manufacturers offer catalog or stock items and a handful of custom ones. Some will customize products as well. New Age Industrial is the leading aluminum extruder and fabricator of storage and transportation equipment in the United States. We design and manufacture heavy duty, yet lightweight aluminum products to meet your exact needs. We work with various industries including foodservice, supermarket, and material handling. For more information, contact us today, and our team will help find you the perfect product that fits your needs.