How To Machine Aluminum: The Ultimate Guide

When you want to make a strong and light metal, there is no better choice than Aluminum. Aluminum is easy to machine, and it has a wide range of uses in both the consumer and industrial worlds.

This manual will teach you how to machine Aluminum like a pro. We’ll talk about everything, from how to pick the appropriate tools to techniques for getting the best results.

So whether you’re a professional machinist or hobbyist, This article contains everything you require to get started.

First Off, Why Consider Aluminum?

aluminum plates

Aluminum is a metal that has several properties that make it ideal for milling. For one, it is soft and malleable, which means it can be easily shaped in a machine.

Furthermore, Aluminum has emerged as a preferred material for prototypes as it is inexpensive and easy to work with.

It is also lightweight, strong, and corrosion-resistant. These properties make Aluminum an excellent choice for various applications, including automobile parts to aircraft construction.

In addition, Aluminum is also non-magnetic and has a high thermal conductivity. This makes it ideal for electrical applications where heat needs to be quickly dissipated.

Overall, Aluminum is an excellent choice for milling due to its combination of properties.

What is The Process Of Milling Aluminum?

Milling aluminum is removing material from an aluminum workpiece using a milling machine. There are many types of Aluminum, and each type has its own aspects that must be taken into account when milling.

There are numerous considerations to make when selecting the ideal material for a project. For instance, you’ll be required to consider the material’s strength and how easy it is to work with.

Aluminum is available in two major types: cast and wrought. Wrought Aluminum is stronger and can handle heat better than cast Aluminum, but it is also more expensive.

Cast Aluminum, on the other hand, is more flexible but less strong. In the end, the aluminum type you use will rely on what your project needs.

When milling Aluminum, it is important to use the correct cutting tools and strategies to avoid damaging the material.

The Right Tools and Know-How Make Milling Aluminum Quick and Easy

Tools Geometry

Regarding tooling, there are a few different coating options available. One of the most chosen options is ZrN, a gold-colored coating.

Another option is TiB2, a less well-known but highly effective coating. Both of these coatings help to improve the lifespan of the tooling and increase its efficiency.

Furthermore, they can also assist in enhancing the overall performance of the tooling by reducing friction and wear. Eventually, the choice of coating depends on the individual requirements of the tooling application.

But the primary factor to high performance when machining aluminum is the right flute count and helix angle for your job.

milling auto parts

Flute Count

For milling aluminum, there are two main types of end mills that you can choose from 2 flutes and 3 flutes.

The debate over whether to use a 2-flute or 3-flute end mill for Aluminum has raged on for years. Both have pros and cons, but it comes down to personal preference.

Different operations and rigidity can also affect the choice of tool. 2 flutes are the best choice for Aluminum because of the big chip it leaves behind.

But 3 flutes are better for finishing tasks and can work well as roughers with the right settings.

It is always up to the person to determine which option is optimal for him.

Helix Angles

An instrument’s helix angle is defined as the degree to which the tool’s longitudinal axis deviates from a straight line perpendicular to the cutting edge.

The optimum helix angle for a given application depends on several factors, including the material being cut and the desired finish.

For conventional roughing and slotting, a 35 or 40 degrees helix angle is typically recommended. These angles provide a good balance between cutting speed and chip clearance.

However, a higher helix angle (45°) is often used for finishing operations. This provides more aggressive cutting action and helps to reduce harmonics and chatter.

When choosing a tool for aluminum machining, it is important to select one with the appropriate helix angle.

Higher helix angles (40° or above) are typically best for this material, as they provide better chip clearance and help to prevent premature tool wear.

Options For Tooling

Most of the time, 2-flute or 3-flute standard tools are enough to machine aluminum. But for some application domains and machine arrangements, there are a few more tooling choices to consider if you want to get even better results.

Chipbreaker Tooling

When machining aluminum, chip evacuation is essential to keep in mind. Two- and three-flute end mills can do a good job removing chips, but using a 3-flute chip breaker tool can produce even better results.

The chipbreaker’s offset geometry creates smaller chips that are easier to remove while leaving a smooth surface.

Another important tool for machining aluminum is High-Efficiency Milling. This technique uses specialized toolpaths to increase material removal rates while reducing wear on the cutting tools.

CNC machining for aluminum parts

As a result, milling can help reduce machining costs and improve part quality. We will discuss this tool more later.

Combined with the right chip breaker tooling, it can help create an efficient and effective process for machining aluminum parts.

High Balance End Mills

These are designed to improve performance in machining centers that are already well-balanced and can run at high RPMs and feed rates. These tools are perfectly balanced for machining aluminum at high speed (up to 33,000 RPM).

Helical Solutions has both standard 2-flute and coolant-through 3-flute high-balance tools.

The coolant-through 3-flute tools reduce heat, improve chip removal, and increase material removal rates. Like the chipbreakers, these tools are also a great option for High-Efficiency.

Milling Toolpaths

High-balance end mills can help improve productivity in any machining center, but they are especially well suited for aluminum machining.

With their perfect balance and high-speed capabilities, these tools can help you get the most out of your machining center.

Running Parameters

When machining aluminum, setting the right parameters to get the most out of your work is important. Some broad guidelines should be observed, although the parameters for each job also depend on many other factors.

For cast aluminum alloys like 308, 356, and 380, the surface footage should be between 500 and 1000 SFM. The RPMs should also change based on the diameter of the cutter, using the formula (3.82 x SFM) / Diameter.

In wrought aluminum alloys, like 2024, 6061, and 7075, the surface footage should be between 800 and 1500 SFM.

There are many other factors to consider when setting parameters for aluminum machining jobs, but following these general guidelines is a good place to start.

High-Efficiency Milling

High-Efficiency Milling, or HEM, is a machining strategy that is becoming increasingly popular in manufacturing.

It is a roughing technique that uses both a high ADOC and low RDOC (a high Axial Depth of Cut and Radial Depth of Cut) to take full advantage of the tool’s cutting edge.

This allows for greater efficiency, extended tool life, and better performance overall, especially when machining aluminum.

Many CAM programs now offer HEM toolpaths, though any machine can technically perform HEM if the CNC controller features a fast processor.

Challenges Of Milling Aluminum

Milling aluminum is a challenging process because Aluminum is a sticky material that can easily melt and fuse to the tool.

To mill Aluminum effectively, it is important to keep the tools very sharp and to be careful when cutting.

Additionally, Aluminum is a difficult material to mill due to the amount of friction and heat generated during the process. This friction and heat can damage the tool and the workpiece if not managed properly.

aluminum bar

The aluminum chips produced by the milling process can also be very dangerous if they are inhaled, so worker safety is a major concern.

The use of a well-planned process and using high-quality tools can help prevent these issues.

With proper planning and execution, milling aluminum can feel like a worthwhile and productive endeavor.

Aluminum Machining Tips

Use sharp tools: dull tools will cause excessive wear on your tools and machine.

Use high-speed steel or carbide tools: these materials are able to withhold the extremely high temperatures that are produced during aluminum machining.

Use coolant: coolant helps to dissipate heat and prevents chips from sticking to the cutting tool.

Use a lighter touch: because Aluminum is a soft metal, you don’t need to apply as much force when cutting or shaping it.

With these tips in mind, you can make the most of your aluminum machining and achieve the best possible results.

To Sum It Up

Aluminum is a versatile material that can be cut and shaped easily, but you should pay attention to it. To achieve the outcomes you desire, you will need to know the best ways to deal with them.

To stay ahead of the competition and make your shop run more smoothly, you must ensure that your tool crib, machine setups, and toolpaths are all optimized for Aluminum.

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