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This article explains some of the key advantages of aluminum CNC turning — reasons why it is one of our most widely requested prototyping and production processes — but also suggests machining alternatives to aluminum.
Other metals and plastics can provide similar benefits to aluminum, in addition to the unique benefits of their own.
One of the main reasons why engineers choose aluminum for their machined parts is because, quite simply, the material is easy to machine. While this would appear to be more of a benefit for the machinist manufacturing the part, it also has significant benefits for the business ordering the part, as well as the end-user that will eventually use it.
Because aluminum chips easily, and because it is easy to shape, it can be cut quickly and accurately with aluminum CNC milling. This has some important consequences: firstly, the short timeframe of the machining job makes the process cheaper (because less labor is required from the machinist and less operating time is required from the machine itself); secondly, good machinability means less deformation of the part as the cutting tool goes through the workpiece. This can allow the machine to meet tighter tolerances (as low as ±0.025 mm) and leads to higher accuracy and repeatability.
Different aluminum grades differ greatly in their resistance to corrosion — the degree to which they can withstand oxidization and chemical damage. Fortunately, some of the most popular grades for brass CNC turning are the most resistant. 6061, for example, offers excellent corrosion resistance, as do other alloys on the lower end of the strength spectrum. (Strong aluminum alloys may be less resistant to corrosion due to the presence of alloyed copper.)
Alternatives to aluminum in CNC machining
Businesses may seek alternatives to aluminum for brass CNC milling for any number of reasons. After all, the metal has a few weaknesses: its oxide coating can damage tooling, and it is generally more expensive than alternatives like steel, partly due to the high energy costs of aluminum production.
In addition to being an all-in-one manufacturing process, stainless steel CNC turning can be used to refine or modify parts made using other machinery. Extrusion, casting and forging processes can each be complemented with the machining process to make better aluminum components.