No material is perfect for every CNC machining situation. To be useful, the right material must check off all of the necessary boxes for your particular job. If you are manufacturing a part that must be highly conductive, for instance, it may be that only copper will do. Likewise, if you need a material that absolutely resists corrosion, you might need to go with titanium.

One metal, though, tends to tick off more boxes than any other: aluminum. Aluminum has a number of useful characteristics. It is a relatively affordable metal, and is lightweight but also extremely durable. As it happens, aluminum is also especially well-suited to the CNC machining process. In fact, with so much going for it, it’s no surprise that aluminum has become the go-to metal in CNC machining.

Aluminum’s Qualities

Many CNC aluminum properties make it ideal for industrial manufacturing. To begin with, it is non-toxic, which means it is safe enough to be used to manufacture cooking appliances and utensils. It is non-magnetic, which makes it perfect for electrical shielding in computer products. Aluminum is also non-sparking and is excellent at absorbing both sound and shock, all useful qualities in automotive engineering. 

In fact, one of aluminum’s best qualities is its versatility. On the one hand, for example, aluminum conducts heat well. At the same time, it is also an excellent heat sink, meaning heat can be drained away from it rapidly. And finally, because of its reflective properties, it can also be used to repel heat and light.

Aluminum’s most important property is its high strength-to-weight ratio. Aluminum is exceptionally light—only about one-third the weight of steel. Yet, many aluminum alloys are, pound-for-pound, stronger than steel. Aluminum is also resistant to corrosion and, unlike steel, and shows increased strength at low temperatures. In fact, its lightweight durability has made it an essential material for the military and in industries like aerospace.

Perfect for Machining

Aluminum also has qualities that make it particularly suitable for the CNC machining process. 

First, aluminum’s malleability and low density make it easy to shape. Additionally, aluminum chips easily. Together, these two properties make aluminum easy to work with, which ultimately means you can produce better final products at a lower price. In fact, aluminum prototypes made with CNC machining can reach tolerances of up to .01 millimeters. With that kind of precision, part production becomes repeatable. 

Best of all, aluminum is among the most cost-effective metals you can work with. It has a low raw material price to begin with; it saves additional money because it is so easy to work with; and because it is 100% recyclable, little money is lost to waste. In fact, aluminum can be recycled for just 5% of what it takes to produce initially. 

Many people look to aluminum first when they are considering their CNC machining projects simply because it is so cheap to purchase. After all, we’re all looking for ways to cut costs. In most cases, people wind up choosing CNC aluminum because it has so many valuable qualities