Billet gears, billet housing, billet everything! You know you want it, you know it’s stronger, and you know it looks good. But do you really know all that, or is that just what you’ve heard? Ok, you can tell it looks good just by seeing it yourself. But when it comes to strength, the story is a little more complicated.
Let’s slow down and take a minute to look at what it means to make something out of billet, why you would make something out of billet, and what difference it actually makes. Some people have some misconceptions when we say a part is made from billet aluminum or billet steel. Let’s clear those up.
Just in case you don’t want to read the rest, here’s the short version: billet is stronger and worth the money, but the reason why might surprise you.
Some people seem to think that billet has to be a specific kind of metal. Specifically, that it has to be aluminum. That’s not quite accurate. Billet aluminum gets most of the attention, has the shiniest finish, and is advertised more, but that doesn’t mean aluminum is the only thing made from a billet.
Steel can be machined from a single billet block just like aluminum. Our GDP Portal Gears are machined from billet steel for example.
Merriam-Webster has a simple definition for billet—a bar of metal. They also have a bunch of less simple definitions but this is the one I want you to keep in mind.
The point is, billet doesn’t have to be aluminum.
Billet does tend to be stronger but it’s not necessarily true that a part made from billet aluminum is always stronger. Like I said, calling something “billet” doesn’t tell you what material is used, it just tells you how it was manufactured. If you made a transmission out of billet tin and compared it to a cast aluminum transmission, there’s no question that the aluminum would be better than the tin one.
That being said, if you have used identical materials to make a cast and billet transmission, the billet would come out stronger. That’s because cast materials are heated and cooled more by the time they become a finished product which changes the structure of the metal itself. Every heating and cooling cycle has to be carefully controlled to maintain strength, but the process isn’t perfect. The result is weaker metal because every step has the potential to introduce flaws to the material like tiny air pockets or a weaker crystal structure. That makes billet materials more consistent.
Having two identical materials to choose from—one cast and one billet—is rare, though. That leads us to the main reason why billet material tends to be stronger. That is, alloys that are better for machining tend to be stronger while alloys that are better for casting tend to be softer.
The alloys that cast better are usually not the toughest or hardest metals—they just fill in the mold better and more consistently. When you machine something from a solid billet, you can choose stronger metals with higher yield strengths. You’re not limited by that material’s ability to flow when it’s melted.
So even though it’s not true to say billet is always stronger than cast, billet will be stronger for a given product.
Alright, this one’s not a myth. Billet does look pretty sweet; we just wanted an excuse to talk about how cool it is. We love spraying all the dust and grime off our billet portal boxes and letting the metal shine.
At ride parks, it’s fun to look around at everyone’s custom UTVs and see their billet aluminum diffs and tie rods and whatever else looking gorgeous. You know they shelled out whatever it cost for their top-of-the-line parts.
Speaking of cost, why are billet parts more expensive than cast? Primarily it has to do with scale. Machining one part from billet isn’t too expensive. The problem is that it doesn’t get cheaper per part to machine one hundred parts, or one thousand parts, because you can still only make one at a time. With casting, the more parts you want to make, the cheaper it gets because you can cast multiple parts at the same time using copies of the same mold.
The other thing about machining is that it requires more material than the part actually needs. You start with a big billet, then cut it down to size. When you’re done, you’re left with a big pile of scrap that has to be recycled.
Finally, running a CNC machine requires skilled workers. Unlike casting, sculpting a perfect part from billet materials isn’t really an on-the-job training sort of position.
Billet costs more for good reason, it’s not just a buzz word. It’s worth the price.
I know some of you have qualms with what we’re calling billet and how we toss it around. So before we go, we need to address some of the issues the word “billet” causes.
“Billet” can mean a lot of different things depending on the context. Merriam-Webster has no fewer than four definitions for “billet” that concern metal and manufacturing. And those definitions are way down the page! So, if we’re not using “billet” exactly the way you feel like it should be used, just remember that there are people that think you’re wrong too. We don’t want to hear about your blooms and slabs either.
One more thing: I’m sure there are some of you that cringe every time we say “billet aluminum” instead of “a billet of aluminum.” We get you, but we prefer the short version. It’s quicker, it’s what everybody else is already saying, and, most importantly, you know what we mean.
It turns out the reasons why you want billet parts are pretty much spot on, but now you know what makes billet better. This was a pretty quick explanation. There are a whole lot of factors that go into making metal weaker or stronger from the time the scrap is melted down to the time a part is installed on your vehicle. But basically, this is it.
It’s time to get rocking with some awesome looking, super strong billet parts and take your UTV’s style and strength up a notch. We have billet differentials, billet portal gear lifts, billet radius arms, and more stuff coming all the time.
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