Aluminum is one of the most popular alloys for CNC machining. The element itself – pure aluminum (Al) has poor mechanical and machining properties – which is why it is rarely used for milling and turning. Also – it is hard to use that alloy as a construction element (softness), and can cause problems during formation (can produce long and problematic shavings and require better chip clearance).
Because of that clients often choose different aluminum alloys that have better properties and offer rigidity for use in bigger machines. That is why pure aluminum is a suboptimal material for machining – different metal compositions can improve its performance and qualities. Also from the perspective of production – different alloys can make aluminum CNC machining easier and more efficient. It is worth mentioning – although most people used to say "aluminum”, the vast majority of aluminum-based elements and parts are made out of some alloy.
Does the aluminum alloy something new?
Although aluminum (as an element) is common and was known for years, its industry-wide usage became common in the late 1890s. The metal itself was known for many centuries – ancient Romans mention its existence as a "silver metal from aluminum”. In the early 1800s aluminum was popular for more home-centric applications – eg. Napoleon Bonaparte was known for serving food on aluminum tableware.
In other words: in the 1800s aluminum was chic, but not popular as a material to produce parts for the industry. That changed in the late 19th century when new ways of aluminum processing were discovered and the material itself became useful for industrial use. Today we can tell that aluminum elements and parts are very common. The element itself is obtained in the process of reduction of the impurities and bauxite ores and deoxidizing.
That process gives a pure aluminum, sometimes called "series 1xxx”. To improve material properties, aluminum is alloyed with other elements such as copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), silicon (Si), magnesium (Mg), and zinc (Zn). These additives give the alloy wanted properties that allow the use of aluminum alloys in many industries. Currently that alloys are crucial building and construction materials, used commonly in machining processes like CNC milling and turning.
What are the properties of aluminum alloys?
Among many features of aluminum alloys we can highlight a few that are crucial from the perspective of CNC machining:
- light, but strong and rigid – aluminum alloys' resistance for stretching (from 70 MPa to even 700 MPa) makes them a perfect construction material. Low temperatures do not decrease their mechanical properties, contrary to steel. The long-term materials science studies show that the real service life (durability) of aluminum-made parts can reach up to 80 years (prof. Michael Stacy studies aluminum window frames). Such properties are uncommon and almost no other metal alloy provides similar durability,
- resistance to corossion – during contact with atmospheric air on the surface of aluminum creates a thin layer of aluminum oxide that provides good corrosion resistance, even in a mildly sulfur-rich environment. Even when corrosion shows up on the surface, it does not impact the aluminum structure but only the aesthetics of the part. To provide that aluminum can be anodized or powder coated as a form of surface finish,
- easy to process and machine – such a process allows producing complicated aluminum profiles with a fixed geometry,
- provides a good temperature and electrical conductivity – is vastly used as a conductor (very popular and efficient material for many types of radiators),
- it is ecological – aluminum can be reused almost without decreasing its mechanical and physical advantages.
How does CNC machining aluminum change the automotive industry?
One of the most innovative vehicles in the world right now is the Tesla Model S. Its body is made of aluminum which decreased the overall weight of the car significantly. In addition to better acceleration speed and balance, a lighter body also has an impact on the average range of that electric car.
Aluminum as a material is also more and more popular in the railway industry. The production of rail cars in Alstom uses heavily CNC-machined aluminum profiles to decrease the mass of the whole car and to allow modular assembly. Such an approach to production allowed a decreased cost of production and further repairs. It is estimated the demand for aluminum parts and elements in the automotive industry will increase approx. 30% yearly.
High precision of machining and unique design
Aluminum is popular not only for its technological advantages but also for aesthetics. White and silvery color, decent light reflection, and an interesting selection of colors achieved by anodizing process make that material perfect not only for construction purposes but also – for the designers. The aluminum surface can be easily bettered not only in the final stages of aluminum milling or turning but also in the abrasive treatment. Glass-blasting, satin-finishing, brushing or oscillation can better the part surface and make it almost glass-like.
That is why aluminum CNC machining inspires many designers and engineers to use that material not only for construction purposes but also for its aesthetics. A good example of said approach can be the tablet wall frames Displine which combines functionality and perfect design. A similar approach to aluminum is visible in industrial style – a popular trend in interior and furniture design.
How do aluminum alloys fit into ecology?
Due to increasing needs and continuous development of technology and overall well-being, we can also focus on sustainability and ecology. Aluminum alloys are not only a perfect material for many innovative designs and industry 4.0, but their usage has some significant – and positive – impact on the environment. The material itself can be reused, melted, and cast many times without losing its properties. Also – remelting aluminum consumes only 5% energy required to produce the same amount of alloy from the ore.That can have a significant impact on the reduction of energy consumption in many industries.
On the other hand – aluminum as a material is commonly used in the modern renewable energy sector. The construction parts of photovoltaic power stations and wind farms are made of aluminum alloys due to their weight and corrosion resistance. That is one of many examples that show aluminum is relevant material even for the most modern application.
How do we machine aluminum alloys in RADMOT?
From our company's perspective, one of the key components of our work is a good selection of suppliers. We evaluate the quality of provided materials on a daily basis to ensure the delivered material is perfect for the applications of our customers.
That is why we perform quality control not only on machined aluminum parts but before we start to work with the material to check its quality. For the parts that should be anodized, we perform an additional spectrometer check of the raw aluminum block to ensure the chemical composition matches the specification.
That approach allows us to maintain the highest quality of produced aluminum parts. Machined elements are cleaned in industry-standard washcloths with selected detergents. Precise aluminum turning and milling requires not only a machine park but also an experienced team of operators. Our specialists know how to perform CNC milling and CNC turning to produce the highest quality machine parts and other elements, required by our customers.
Technological details like the selection of cutting tools, depth of cuts, feed rate, material removal rates, or other parameters that are significant from the operator's perspective (like tool material and the tool life) are optimized for each order and process.
In RADMOT we perform aluminum machining on the most modern CNC machines. Our machine park contains over 80 CNC mills, lathes, and other devices (including 5-axis mills) that allow us to produce the highest quality parts from a vast variety of materials – from aluminum and steel to other alloys.
To sum up: we are aware that aluminum is a material of the future and the quality of machined parts is more important than ever. That is why we are still perfecting our processes to provide the best quality for our customers.
Aluminum machining – contact us and get highest quality services.
At RADMOT, we can offer CNC milling services, CNC turning services as well as many additional services, including washing, aluminum anodizing, laser marking and assembly.
Contact us and tell us what you need. We have been providing CNC services for almost 40 years. Our quote is completely free. And if you have any doubts about what technology will work best for you, our expertise is at your service.