Computer numerical control machining, or CNC machining, is an advanced manufacturing process that utilizes a computer to guide the motion of a cutting tool to remove material. This technology is used in a variety of machine tools including 3- and 5-axis mills, lathes, laser cutters, wire EDM, and others.
CNC machining is extremely versatile, making it an option for a variety of applications and industries that use a wide range of materials to create essential products.
This article explores the advantages, disadvantages, and special considerations for a range of CNC machinable materials.
CNC machining can create a wide variety of components made from steel, aluminum, plastic, and other materials. Below we address primary considerations and applications for some of the most common materials Metalcraft Solutions uses in CNC machining.
Steel is one of the most durable materials available, and Metalcraft Solutions offers many types to ensure our customers have access to the right characteristics needed for their project. Each offers unique benefits, though there are some important distinctions.
Commonly used for medical device component manufacturing, PH 17-4 stainless steel is precipitation-hardened and is often referred to as “surgical stainless steel.” However, this steel is also used across a wide range of industries, including aerospace, food processing, fuel systems, hydraulics, or any industry where exposure to water-based fluids or volatile materials may occur.
PH 17-4 stainless steel’s name comes from its composition: 17% chromium and 4% nickel. It also contains between 3% and 5% copper.
No matter the industry, PH 17-4 stainless steel is best utilized in components that need high levels of hardness and/or corrosion resistance at temperatures of up to 600°F (316°C).
Metalcraft Solutions manufactures the following PH 17-4 stainless steel components:
Often chosen for its rugged durability and superior strength without sacrificing ductility, 18Ni300 is also an excellent alloy for a variety of components and industries. Common applications include tooling, engine components, and landing gear systems.
18Ni300 maraging steel’s strength comes from the precipitation of intermetallic compounds, and contains between 15 to 25% nickel, followed by a combination of cobalt, molybdenum, and titanium. In most applications, 18Ni300 components can handle excessive heat up to 750°F (400°C), showing only slight softening.
While this type of magnetic steel offers dependability and durability, 18Ni300 maraging steel is not stainless and will rust and/or corrode after prolonged or intense exposure under wet conditions.
Metalcraft Solutions CNC machines the following 18Ni300 maraging steel components:
Tool steels are a family of carbon and alloy steels with distinct characteristics such as hardness, wear resistance, toughness, and stability at elevated temperatures.
Tool steels comprise carbide-forming elements such as chromium, vanadium, molybdenum and tungsten in different combinations. They also contain cobalt or nickel which improves their high-temperature performance. They are generally heat-treated to improve the hardness and used for stamping, forming, shearing and cutting materials, and forming plastics.
Metalcraft Solutions CNC machines the following Tool steel components:
Mild or low carbon steel has a broad range of applications due to its high versatility. Mild steel is not an alloy steel; therefore, does not contain large amounts of elements besides iron. It is typically more ductile, machinable, and weldable than high carbon and other steels. However, it is difficult to harden and strengthen through heat treating. Mild steel is magnetic and not corrosion resistant.
Metalcraft Solutions CNC machines the following mild steel components:
This magnetic material is a super alloy and is made up of chrome, cobalt, molybdenum, nickel, and other metals. Cobalt chromium is preferred for its high wear resistance and biocompatibility. It offers a higher modulus of elasticity and cyclic fatigue, making it a go-to material for those in the dental tools and prosthetics, medical devices, and implants industries.
Cobalt chromium is quite heavy compared to alternatives, yet is corrosion and rust resistant, making it a solid choice for applications that can hold up under wet conditions.
Metalcraft Solutions CNC machines the following Cobalt Chromium components
While the aerospace and medical device industries rely heavily on aluminum due to its superior weight-to-strength ratio, its lightweight applications extend to many other industries.
Aluminum is relatively easy to machine and offers high thermal conductivity, is non-magnetic, and increases in strength as the temperature drops. While aluminum cannot rust because it contains no iron, it can oxidize over time.
Metalcraft Solutions CNC machines a wide variety of aluminum components for the following industries:
CNC machining can handle a wide variety of materials including plastics. Plastics are generally favored for their inexpensive cost, durability, and light weight characteristics.
Metalcraft Solutions machines PEEK, Delrin, and Ultem plastics. Each has special benefits and considerations depending on your unique application or industry.
PEEK, or polyetheretherketone, is an organic thermoplastic polymer that offers several desirable mechanical and chemical resistant properties. It is often used in the medical device, aerospace, automotive, and electrical industries for its relatively low weight, lubricity, and high temperature resistance (up to 662°).
Metalcraft Solutions CNC machines the following PEEK plastic components:
Polyoxymethylene (POM), commonly sold under the brand name Delrin, is an engineering thermoplastic that is trusted across a variety of industries for its high strength, hardness, and rigidity. Because of these three traits, Delrin is widely used for several high-load, demanding applications, and is trusted for its low-friction and high-wear resistance.
Delrin is relatively easy to machine, incredibly flexible, and flame resistant, making it exceptionally versatile.
Metalcraft Solutions CNC machines the following Delrin components:
Another thermoplastic, polyetherimide (PEI) under its brand name Ultem, offers exceptional flexibility, versatility, and processability. Ultem also offers excellent flame and solvent resistance for medical devices, aerospace, automotive, and food processing applications.
Ultem delivers lower impact strength and usable temperature threshold, which may limit some applications. Still, it offers broad chemical resistance, and is a trusted CNC manufacturing material.
Metalcraft Solutions CNC machines the following Ultem components:
Want to find out how Metalcraft Solutions’ CNC machining capabilities can ensure you get the components you need to keep your business moving? Reach out to us today to talk about your project with one of our experts. With dozens of materials to choose from, we can help you with each phase of your project and ensure you find the right materials for your needs.