Aluminum machining combines the speed, repeatability, and accuracy of computer numerical control (CNC) machining with the strength and resistance properties of aluminum and aluminum alloys to manufacture precision components. Learn more about aluminum CNC machining, optimal aluminum materials for the process, and the integral role of these machining services in a broad spectrum of industries.
What Is Aluminum CNC Machining?
A subtractive manufacturing method, CNC machining utilizes computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs to control tooling and equipment during production. Common CNC machining processes include milling, turning, and drilling, and these methods produce precision parts by cutting material away from a blank to shape the stock material into the desired configuration. CNC machining allows manufacturers to enhance speed, production output, part uniformity, and accuracy while enabling greater design control than manual processing.
Aluminum and aluminum alloys offer many benefits in CNC machining, including:
- High strength-to-weight ratio. Aluminum is strong yet light. This gives it an advantage over heavier, denser metals like steel and weaker materials like plastic.
- Resistance to corrosion and chemicals. This material has excellent corrosion and chemical resistance properties. It’s also more economical than other corrosion-resistant metals, such as stainless steel.
- Electrical and thermal conductivity. Aluminum features high conductivity for electricity and heat, with better heat transfer than stainless steel.
- Excellent machinability. A soft, malleable metal possessing optimal physical characteristics, aluminum is both simple and affordable to process. Also, its low density allows for faster machining.
- Heat and light reflection. Reflecting heat and light helps reduce energy consumption and is also beneficial for safety equipment applications.
- Recyclability. Aluminum is highly recyclable and, more importantly, it doesn’t lose its beneficial properties when recycled.
- Affordability. Compared to other metals, aluminum and aluminum alloys are cost-effective alternatives. Aluminum is highly accessible due to its abundance in the Earth’s crust.
Types of Aluminum for CNC Machining
Aluminum alloys for CNC machining typically fall into three categories:
- Cast aluminum. This category involves alloys that form when manufacturers heat aluminum until it’s molten and then pour it into a mold for shaping and cooling.
- Aluminum lithium (Al-Li). These alloys have the distinction of being supremely light because lithium has the lowest density of the elemental metals.
- Wrought aluminum. Unlike cast alloys, these are in a solid state when they take shape. While the material starts in a molten state, it takes the form of slabs or billets before manufacturers roll, extrude, forge, or stamp it into the desired configuration.
Two aluminum grades ideal for CNC machining are:
- Aluminum 6061. Alloying aluminum with silicon, magnesium, and trace quantities of copper, this alloy is extremely strong for applications like scaffolding, aerospace and industrial components, and more.
- Aluminum 6063. Another magnesium and silicon alloy, aluminum 6063 is moderately strong and features a smooth, corrosive-resistant surface that manufacturers can weld, anodize, and heat-treat.
Aluminum CNC Machining Applications
Aluminum CNC machining is a versatile process that can lend its speed and precision to numerous applications. Common examples include:
- Aerospace. The aerospace industry requires rugged components for mission-critical applications. Aluminum’s optimal strength-to-weight ratio makes CNC machined parts of this material ideal for aircraft and aerospace fittings, gears, and more.
- Automotive and transportation. For shafts and other automotive parts, this industry uses aluminum CNC machining for the material’s strength, corrosion resistance, and light weight.
- Construction. Construction is another industry for which aluminum machined parts are well suited for their durability, strength, and capability to withstand environmental conditions.
- Cryogenics. Cryogenic applications rely on aluminum because, given its thermal resistance, it retains its mechanical properties even when an application exposes components to sub-zero temperatures.
- Electrical and telecommunications. As aluminum is a good conductor, aluminum CNC-machined components are ideal for incorporation into electrical devices and appliances.
- Food and beverage. Aluminum is non-toxic and odorless, making it a good choice for use with consumables.
- Medical and pharmaceutical. These sectors use aluminum for medical devices, surgical equipment, and more as it rarely has a reaction with organic substances.
- Recreation. Aluminum CNC machining plays a role in manufacturing sporting and recreational equipment, such as aluminum baseball bats, bicycle parts, and whistles.
Aluminum CNC Machining Services From Richardson Metals
Richardson Metals Inc. specializes in turnkey extrusions and secondary machining. Our team works with aluminum and its alloys for its durability, corrosion resistance, softness, and affordability. We have machining capabilities for tolerances of ±0.002 inches, and we utilize one 4-axis and two 3-axis CNC machining centers to reduce setups and offer lower per-part pricing. Additionally, our pallet-shuttling and dual-station capabilities enable us to use spindles during part fixturing, which also decreases cycle times so that we can deliver your products quickly.
Contact us for more information on our aluminum CNC machining solutions, or request a quote today.