Steel Material for CNC Machining: The Complete Guide

by | Nov 22, 2022

CNC machining is a method and manufacturing process in which pre-programmed codes and software control cutting tool movement. Steel is among the extensively prioritized materials in CNC machining. It undergoes the machining process on an industrial scale for manufacturing various instruments and machinery products, exhibiting greater accuracy and precision. This guide is all about the use of steel material for CNC machining

No doubt, steel is a commonly used material for CNC machining. It is a good choice for machining because of its appreciable properties. But, instead of having excellent machining characteristics, you may need some help throughout the manufacturing process.

To successfully machine steel parts, you must know all the advantages and difficulties of using steel in CNC machining. Here are the common benefits and challenges you may face while machining steel through a computerized controlled machining process.

Benefits of using steel in CNC machining

The main benefits of selecting the steel material for the CNC machining process are discussed below.

  • Cost-Effective

One of the major reasons behind using steel in CNC machining for various industrial products is its economical use. It can be machined as thinly as possible according to the requirements of other materials. It is great for manufacturing products with much lower thicknesses, such as pipes. It makes it a very cost-effective material. So, if you want a budget-friendly material for CNC machining, steel is a must-to-go material.

  • Higher Durability

Steel is a very strong material that automatically enhances its durability. So, steel is a very durable material, a main requirement for the CNC machining process. It is shock-resistant, so it doesn’t break when an unexpectedly greater force is applied. The CNC-machined steel parts show long-term functioning. You can confidently use it as a durable material for plumbing and buildings and as a supporting road source.

  • Recyclable

In comparison to most materials, steel shows greater recyclability. It can be easily machined into desired structures and forms. Any damage to the steel part during machining does not end up with any loss. This loss is because it can easily recycle. As it is recyclable, it is considered an eco-friendly material. It does not cause any damage to the surrounding environment.

  • Easily Handled

Steel can easily handle during machining without extra equipment and effort. Mishandling of the material during cutting can result in an undesirable product. Thus it can lead to a false end product and a waste of time. It is not the case with steel because you can safely run the machining process because of its easy handling.

  • Excellent Surface Finish

Steel is a great choice for CNC machining because of its excellent surface finish. You can enhance this surface finish by various physical and chemical means, e.g., polishing treatments.

Challenges of using steel in CNC machining

Challenges you may face while machining steel parts may vary according to the type of steel. Here are some common challenges.
  • Complex Geometry:
Most of the steel grades have complex geometries. Therefore, the machining of such steel grades is quite difficult. They may have asymmetrical shapes or other varying geometric patterns, which are harder for the machine.
  • Heat Sensitivity:

One of the main challenges you may face while machining steel parts is their heat sensitivities. The steel may be exposed to heat during the cutting. Many steel grades are very sensitive to high temperatures. Thus, they may undergo melting and deformation on exposure to heat, resulting in their destruction.

  • Tool Breakage:

Machining of the steel parts can cause tool breakage if they are not handled properly. This breakage is due to the reason that various steel grades are tough.

You must set an appropriate force and speed for the tools and choose them accordingly during steel cutting; otherwise, they will break.

  • Longer Production Time
Steel machining may require a longer time because of its poor machinability. It can directly affect its production time. Thus, it takes more time to produce the end products.

Types of steel materials you need to know

1. Stainless Steel:

Stainless steel is a type of steel, and it contains 10.5% chromium, 1.2% carbon, and different alloying elements. It shows a wide range of surface finishes and excellent mechanical properties. It is highly resistant to fire and heat. Moreover, it is easy to clean and can be easily recycled. It is widely known for its automotive, medical, and kitchen applications.

2. Tool Steel

Tool steel is high-carbon chrome steel having carbon content ranging between 0.5%-1.5%. It also contains varying amounts of vanadium, cobalt, molybdenum, and other elements. This type of steel is suitable for the manufacturing of tools. Tool steel is well known for its toughness, heat, hardness, and wear resistance.

3. Alloy Steel

Alloy steel comprises carbon, iron, and other elements such as chromium, copper, manganese, etc. Its composition contains 5% of alloying elements. Alloying elements enhance its corrosion resistance and machinability. It is commonly used for the manufacturing of pipes and heating appliances.

4. Carbon Steel

Similar to stainless steel, carbon steel contains carbon and iron. Carbon steel differs only due to the alloy content. The alloy content in carbon steel is under 10.5%. There are three sub-categories of carbon steel.

  1. Low-carbon steel (0.03-0.15% carbon)
  2. Medium-carbon steel (0.25%-0.50% carbon)
  3. High-carbon steel (0.55%-1.10% carbon)

It is a perfect option for a wide range of construction projects because of its low cost and relative adaptability.

Mostly used steel materials in CNC machining

Types of steelDescriptionBenefitsDrawbacksUses
8630Low Alloy SteelKnown for its hardness and greater strengthBetter response to thermal treatmentsNeed thermal treatment before or after the machining processUsed in valves, crankshafts, gears, etc.
4140Low Alloy SteelHave low contents of manganese, molybdenum, and chromiumShows greater machinability at the annealing pointPost-thermal treatments are essential in some conditionsUsed in spindles, bolts, nuts, etc.
8620Low Alloy SteelIt is ductile and has greater strength. It is responsive against hardening.It is resistant to wear and has greater strength.It doesn't respond well to induction or flame hardeningUsed in chains, fasteners, piston pins, etc.
1144Medium Carbon SteelIt is a desulfurized carbon steel that contains sulfur and manganeseShows resistance against wear and deformation.It cannot use properly welded.Used in rods, screws, gears, etc.
1018Mild Carbon SteelIt is perfect for carburized components.Provides greater surface toughness and machinability.It is less pliable and offers lower strength.Used in studs, anchor pins, chain pins, machinery parts, etc.
1045Medium Carbon SteelIt is the most popular steel type containing sulfur, phosphorous, and carbon.Exhibits high strength and good machinability and Weldability.It has limited mechanical properties due to the absence of alloying contents.Used in casters, pinions, machinery parts, etc.
SS 303Stainless steelIt is austenitic stainless steel.Durable, corrosion, and heat-
May rust and pit in marine environmentsUsed in shafts, gears, bolts, etc.
SS 304Stainless steelContains 18% chromium, 8% nickel, and 0.08% carbon.Oxidation and corrosion-
resistant, durable
It may corrodeUsed in industrial and household applications.

Design consideration for steel in CNC machining

CNC machining is a subtractive method used to fabricate precise and accurate parts. You need to consider some common considerations while using steel and want to develop machined parts.

The main design and material considerations you must keep in mind for the proper functioning of steel are:

  • Stainless steel has different grades or alloys, which have different ratios of corrosion resistance. Finding the most suitable grade takes time. Make sure you are using the suitable and correct type of grade for your project.
  • Ferritic stainless steel includes 400 grades and is the most recommended grade due to good corrosion resistance and easy-to-machine capabilities. This grade has high thermal conductivity.
  • Austenitic stainless steel includes grades 302 and 316. These grades have many applications and are used for household items and mechanical parts. These grades have good corrosion resistance.
  • Stainless steel is considered a good choice where we need strength to weight factors such as it is required for the aerospace industry. So steel is good to use for aerospace parts manufacturing.
  • Due to its self-healing surface features, stainless steel is most commonly used in hygiene, and sanitary applications as any surface damage heals naturally by a chromium oxide film.

Is steel the right choice for your project?

Choosing a certified, expert company and steel for your project can be the perfect decision because of the excellent properties of steel alloys. Different types of steel alloys are well-suited for manufacturing various products.

Its excellent mechanical properties, machinability, higher strength, and greater workability make it suitable for industrial, construction, and infrastructure industrial plans. Moreover, its low cost makes it the right choice for small-scale projects demanding lower costs.

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