Online Metal Suppliers

Hi All,

We have a local metal supplier who gives us a great deal on building materials. However, his aluminum selection is quite limited. We’ve historically bought the remainder of our material from McMaster, due to their amazing turn-around time and material availability.

This season, I’ve discovered the website www.onlinemetals.com , and I’m wondering if anyone has used them as your metal supplier? Their prices are 1/2 of what McMaster charges, and they show an equally excellent stock on hand. (Not to mention they can cut pieces to shorter lengths.)

Pros/Cons? Any issues with shipping or material availability? TIA.

Ben
Team 228

Being a home shop hobby machinist I have purchased small quantities of metal from www.onlinemetals.com and www.metalsdepot.com. I don’t usually need large quantities of metal. www.onlinemetals.com usually has better prices than www.metalsdepot.com and will ship up to 8’ lengths easily. www.metalsdepot.com has higher shipping costs and really get you for anything over 6’ IIRC but either way shipping is the killer buying small quantities online. I usually prefer www.onlinemetals.com over www.metalsdepot.com but they do carry slightly different stock so check both. Here is the way it usually works out:

  1. Use McMaster-Carr if you need something really fast but they are expensive. They will get it delivered to you in usually 1-2 days and have just about everything you can think of.

  2. If you need a lot of something particular buy from your local metal supplier. FIRST teams don’t usually need several hundred feet of a particular item so this is not always the best option for FIRST teams. Don’t expect your local guy to bend over backwards when you come in and say we need 2’ of this, 4’ of that, and a 3’x3’ piece of diamond plate. They want large orders and usually have minimum quatities and/or $ amounts and charge a premium for cut fees. Sometimes they have a scrap bin of small stuff they will sell by the pound. If possible get to be buddies with a local supplier and snag their scraps as a donation.

  3. Use the online places (www.onlinemetals.com, www.metalsdepot.com, others) if you need small amounts and can wait for UPS ground or other slow boat delivery. Again, not always the best option for FIRST teams. They are cheaper than McMaster-Carr but but IIRC www.onlinemetals.com ships from near Seattle. They are happy to cut to order (+/- 1/8") but you pay more than if you bought 100’ of it from you local guy but usually less than McMaster-Carr. Again, shipping is the killer.

Of course, the best solution is to grab as much stock before build season as possible.

I use onlinemetals for my “home” projects - they have not let me down yet. The only drawback is the shipping time. But I’ve always been happy.

If you have time, check out their RAQ. Rarely Asked Questions. Funny stuff…

We’ve used Online Metals often in the past, though they are local to my team and we pick our materials up as will-call, so I can’t speak about their delivery service. They have been very accomodating of us in the past, however, allowing us to pick materials up as soon as 30 minutes after ordering them. They weren’t thrilled about it, but they did oblige us.

Ben:

I’ve used online metals for the past couple of years before switching to a local metal supplier. My experience with them is… they’re okay if you’re not in a hurry. Plan ahead and order early with these guys. They’re good, but sometimes it takes a little nudging to get things expedited. I had a problem where I ordered several hundred dollars worth of metal and a few pieces weren’t in stock, so they held the whole order (without telling me they were doing so!)

I found it best to work with a live person instead of their online system. Finally, make sure you know how long you’ll really need your pieces - shipping 8’ long stock gets expensive very quickly!

Edit:
They’re based out of Washington State, and I see you’re in Connecticut. With the massive shipping costs (‘costs’ include both time and dollars in FIRST!) I’d really double check things locally.

Matt

I’ve used online metals many times with some independent robotics I’ve been involved in, along with many other projects. I must say their service is great, the prices are low, and their custom cutting service is excellent. I actually prefer them over McMaster Carr. They also have a “sponsership” deal. All you need to do is put their small banner on your website, and they will give you 10% off your first order, and then 5% after that.

well those who are looking for aluminum and many other types of metal should consalt Marshall Sales INC. they supplied us with all of our aluminum this year, as well asd last year, and now they are sponsoring us too, along side Delphi. they most likely will give teams aluminum in exchange that their robot have their compnay name(Marshall Sales INC.) displayed on it during and at all attending regionals, including nationals. many michigan teams around us have used them as thier source of aluminum. they do ship and since they are active within the FIRST community, they may just give it to you for free. dont take advantage of them though, ask nicely if they have any scrap aluminum that they are willing to part with and you may get it. if you cant get it for free, they will reduce the price dramatically. tell them Bo Walters mentioned their compnay name on the forums and taht you are looking for some help, they will understand. make sure you tell them that you are a FIRST team. Also, they would prefer to talk to your leader and not by student.

You can find a list of additional on-line metal suppliers here, including sources such as Metals Depot,
Principal Metals, Metal Express, Fazzio Construction, and Machinist Materials in addition to Online Metals. At one time or another, I have had an opportunity to use all of these distributors and have been pretty happy with them.

-dave

You can also try MSC. Look under “Raw Materials”. They may not have the selection a regular metal dealer would have but they do have some stuff and they are great to deal with and have prompt shipping.

I have never purchased metal stock through them but I have purchased a lot of other stuff between the account I use to order stuff for work plus my own personal account I have with them for my own needs.

Incidently, the KOP this year includes a CD from them. :wink:

As I mentioned above a couple of years ago I have mostly used Online Metals in the past for both my personal and our robotics team raw metal stock needs. Today I needed to order a few brick sized chunks of 1018 steel and a little bit of 6061 flat stock for a personal project and as usual started at www.onlinemetals.com. After finding most of what I needed the order seemed to total quite a bit more than I thought it should. I know metal prices have been on the rise but I wondered if I could get what I need cheaper somewhere else. I searched around and found the following list of online suppliers of metal that have a good selection and will allow small orders:

http://www.speedymetals.com/

http://www.metalsdepot.com/

http://www.discountsteel.com/

and of course http://www.onlinemetals.com/

After searching each of the above online metal suppliers for my list of needed materials and also comparing their prices on other metal stock we typically use on our FIRST robots I found Speedy Metals to be quite a bit cheaper than the other 3 suppliers in every case. Their shipping rates were reasonable as well.

I searched on CD for Speedy Metals and didn’t find any references so I thought I would let everyone know what I found. As far as I can tell Speedy Metals is a good source for metal at reasonable prices and shipping costs. They are by far cheaper than any other source I have found online and have a very good selection including sizes and types of metal I couldn’t even find at some of the other suppliers.

I would also like to mention that 80/20 gives all FIRST teams a substantial discount on all of their products. Many teams use quite a bit of 6061 aluminum 1” thin walled box tubing. It has been our experience that the 80/20 QuickFrame part number 9000 can be purchase through our 80/20 distributor much more cheaply than standard 1” 6061 from any online metal supplier due to the substantial FIRST discount. 80/20 QuickFrame part number 9000 is a 1” square thin walled (.060) box tubing made from 6105-T5 aluminum. It has nice rounded corners/edges and is clear anodized so it has a nicer finish than standard 6061 extruded box tubing. If you are using 1” 6061 thin walled box tubing (welded, riveted, bolted, whatever) look into the 80/20 QuickFrame tubing. You can probably get it cheaper than what you are currently paying for your 6061 and it can do everything standard 6061 1” thin walled box tubing does for you and more. We have made extensive use of the 80/20 QuickFrame products for 3-4 years now.

Speedy Metals seems to get good reviews over at www.practicalmachinist.com. However, always try to compare prices.

Another one:

http://www.metalexpress.net/ (Oops - already pointed out by Dave)

I’ve always found local suppliers for the aluminum we’ve used in the past. The cost was low enough that we would buy 20 ft. pieces of some commonly used stuff, and go through their cuts and drops to get shorter pieces of larger stock. They didn’t mind me walking around their warehouse (OSHA rules? What’s OSHA?) :ahh: