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Ferrous vs. Nonferrous Materials in CNC Machining

Aug 6, 2021 ·
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Computer numerical control (CNC) machining is a manufacturing process that uses preprogrammed software in computers to guide the movement of machines. Different products are produced for a variety of industries with this method.

There are many different materials used in CNC machines, including a range of metals. These can be divided into two categories known as ferrous and nonferrous. The simple definition of these is that ferrous metals contain iron (from Latin: ferrum), while nonferrous metals do not.

Keep reading to find out more about these two categories of metals and how they’re used in CNC applications.

Ferrous Metals

So what exactly is ferrous metal? Metals categorized as ferrous contain a large amount of iron. Metals containing only trace amounts of iron (many do) do not receive the classification.

Some of the main types of ferrous metals include:

  • Stainless steel: Stainless steel is able to resist corrosion better than other ferrous metals, thanks to high levels of chromium. There are many different subgroups of stainless steel, which are used in a range of applications, including appliances and food-grade equipment.
  • Alloy steel: These types of metals are formulated for specific purposes. A range of elements from copper to tungsten might be used with alloy steel to tailor them to fit a certain application. Alloys are often used in tools and machining equipment.
  • Cast iron: There is a higher amount of carbon in cast iron than most other ferrous metals, which gives it a lot of strength despite being relatively brittle. You’ll see cast iron used for things like cookware or small components, like gears.
  • Carbon steel: One of the most common types of ferrous metals, carbon steel has a chemical composition of over 90% iron. Carbon steels are often used in automotive components, as well as for furniture and other structures.

Advantages of Ferrous Metals

There are many advantages to working with ferrous metals during the manufacturing process, including:

  • Durability: Many ferrous metals are used in a range of applications thanks to how long they’re able to last. The composites making up these metals are durable, which is necessary for many industries.
  • Versatility: Ferrous metals are used in a range of applications, from larger-scale industrial projects to smaller and simpler endeavors. This also has to do with the range of desirable properties found in many of them.
  • Heat-resistant: When manufacturing tools or parts designed to handle large amounts of heat or for fireproof structures, ferrous metals are the way to go.

Nonferrous Metals

What is nonferrous metal, and how is it defined? As we said before, nonferrous metals contain only trace amounts of iron or none at all.

Many nonferrous metals are used in manufacturing, and more common ones include:

  • Nickel: Nickel is a nonferrous metal known for its toughness and the ability to perform in a range of temperature environments. Nickel is often alloyed with other elements and not used in its pure form. Applications include hot-section aerospace equipment and tank production.
  • Copper: Many applications that employ the use of copper include electrical components like wire and terminals, pipes, and currency coatings. When tin is alloyed with copper, it’s known as bronze; when alloyed with zinc, you get brass.
  • Aluminum: As a widely used type of nonferrous metal, aluminum is often found in aerospace equipment, beams and rails in construction applications, and cookware. The composition can change as alloying elements are added to make it pliable and stronger, and it’s lighter than steel.

Advantages of Nonferrous Metals

  • Rust and corrosion resistant: One of the main benefits to using nonferrous metals is that they are rust and corrosion resistant. This helps them last longer and gives them the ability to be used in products that are exposed to the elements.
  • Lightweight: Being able to utilize metals that are lightweight gives them the ability to be used in a range of applications and to be put into different positions that won’t compromise the integrity of a structure.
  • Malleable: An added benefit of nonferrous metals is their ability to be molded and shaped. They can be machined, welded, cast and forged into different shapes to suit a variety of purposes much easier than ferrous metals.

Learn About Different Metals in NASCAR Tech’s CNC Program

The CNC Machining Technology program offered at NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, North Carolina, can help expand your knowledge of the different materials used in the manufacturing industry.

Specifically, the Mathematics, Materials and Maintenance course teaches students about the compositions of ferrous and nonferrous metals. They learn heat-treatment methods, hardness-testing methods and how to use measurement scales.

This knowledge, along with everything else covered in the 36-week program, can help give students the experience they need to begin an entry-level career as a CNC machinist.1

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