Machining aluminum and brass with a CNC machine
CNC machines provide increased productivity and efficiency in a wide range of applications for both hobbyists and professional tradesmen alike. One of the most popular and effective uses of CNC machines is in working with aluminum and brass (Non-Ferrous) , where the added capability and precision allow complex work to be completed on an accelerated timeline without sacrificing quality.
In certain cases, you may not have a choice as to what material you work with, but if you do, aluminum and brass are both great options for several reasons. Whether at home or in a professional shop, here are some key points to know when using a CNC machine to machine aluminum and brass.
Aluminum is a relatively soft yet durable material that is both lightweight and malleable. It is nonmagnetic, meaning it doesn’t easily ignite, and is a popular choice for creating prototypes as it is flexible and durable.
It does, however, have a tendency to stick to the edge of the cutting tool, which can degrade the ability and longevity of the tool. This needs to be taken into account when cutting, as tool material and tool coating can both factor into remedying this issue. You should also be sure you’re clearing chips constantly, as failing to do so can result in the cutter breaking.
Proper lubrication will help keep chips from sticking to the cutting edges. Using a mister to provide air blast and coolant mist is effective, easy, and inexpensive. You also want to ensure the core strength of the tool is sufficient to withstand the cutting forces without breaking.
It should be noted aluminum and other metals have a much smaller sweet spot for optimal feeds and speeds than do wood or plastic. When using a CNC router to machine aluminum, you’ll also want to use cutters specifically made for aluminum – and/or cutters with a small diameter – as this will help provide a bump to your RPM.
Brass is a metal alloy made of copper and zinc and is one of the most highly used materials in the world. It is also one of the easiest materials to machine, especially in comparison to aluminum. Where aluminum often sticks to the tool, brass seems to want to get out of the way.
And yet, U.S. machine shops are underutilizing the machinability of brass by up to 85 percent. Its relatively low melting point and flow characteristics make it fairly easy to cast, and it is often used in electrical work, medical, plumbing, and more – but there is certainly room for growth.
Benefits of brass
Brass is inexpensive and durable, resistant to corrosion, and can withstand extreme temps. It cuts much more easily with faster speeds and feeds without having any negative impact on tool wear, surface finishes, and chip formation.
It is also entirely recyclable, minimizing waste and ensuring you’re making the most of the materials in your shop. Brass is commonly used in musical instruments and in the manufacturing of electrical components due to it being a highly conductive material.
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