Strategic Material Selection for Cost-Effective CNC Machining

22 February 2024
material selection

Report by Danny Weller

Unlocking the full potential of CNC machining for cost-effective production hinges on strategic material selection. This article navigates the complexities of optimizing CNC machining, emphasizing the profound impact material choices have on the bottom line.

While machinery remains a critical aspect, our exploration underscores the nuanced influence of material selection on overall cost-effectiveness. Gain insights to make informed decisions that enhance efficiency and resource utilization for your CNC operations.

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Impact of Material Costs on Machining Efficiency


Metal costs fluctuate significantly, with raw material expenses varying based on the chosen metal. As of September 2023, aluminum averages slightly above $1 per pound, while copper exceeds three times that amount. Affordability remains relative, and the disparity in prices becomes even more pronounced with premium metals like titanium.

For CNC machines to optimize cost-effectiveness, it’s crucial to consider these material cost differentials. Some metals, including those more prone to price volatility, pose challenges in accurately estimating material expenses over an extended period.


Machining Requirements


Beyond upfront material costs, the overall efficiency of metal production hinges on varying machining requirements. Some metals pose greater ease of machining, influencing the total manufacturing cost of the product. Surprisingly, a higher upfront cost for raw materials may translate into more cost-effective machining.

Key factors, such as a material’s hardness and thermal conductivity, play a significant role, with additional qualities influencing machining ease. For instance, while aluminum’s malleability facilitates easy cutting, its low melting point can lead to fusing and warping during intense machining. In contrast, steel, despite higher upfront costs, exhibits greater resistance to such issues, making it a more reliable option in certain manufacturing scenarios.

material selection
Image: Alfonso Navarro


Beyond their machining properties, CNC machining metals differ in their recyclability ratings. Despite precision cutting, some scrap waste is inevitable in the subtractive process. Opting for easily recyclable metals presents an opportunity to offset future raw material costs by recycling chips or turnings.

In the U.S., manufacturers recycle 60% of processed titanium, compared to 47% for steel and one-third for copper. Despite higher upfront costs, the abundant recycling of titanium facilitates access to cheaper recycled sources. Additionally, recycling your own titanium scrap provides a further cost-cutting avenue.

Given the multifaceted impact of metal selection on costs, strategic planning is essential to identify the optimal CNC machining metal for your specific needs.

Strategic Steps: Determining Product Needs


Initiating the process involves precisely defining the material qualities essential for your end product. Consider factors such as electrical conductivity, strength, weight, and any application-specific needs, as they significantly narrow down material options. For instance, outdoor applications demand metals with high corrosion resistance, while medical devices benefit from antimicrobial properties.

Prioritize meeting end-user requirements, emphasizing factors crucial to your product’s functionality. Whether it’s electrical conductivity, strength, or corrosion resistance, understanding these needs is paramount before delving into cost reduction strategies for CNC machining materials.

5 axis machining
5 Axis machine

Assessing Equipment and Workflows


Refining your material selection involves a meticulous evaluation of your CNC equipment and workflows. High-efficiency five-axis machines empower the use of tougher metals, while slower or error-prone equipment may necessitate more easily machinable materials.

Consideration of post-machining processes is equally vital. Some metals are more conducive to plating, and opting for a corrosion-resistant alloy can eliminate the need for additional treatments. Conduct a thorough review of your workflows, identifying opportunities to streamline or eliminate steps by strategically choosing materials compatible with your equipment and processes.

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Image: Getty Images

Anticipating the Future

Acknowledging the dynamic nature of metal costs is essential for informed decision-making in CNC machining. Metal values exhibit fluctuations on a weekly and yearly basis, with some materials more prone to volatility. Staying abreast of these trends is crucial.

Products with higher profit margins can better weather price volatility, but low-margin manufacturing benefits from metals with historically consistent prices. When choosing a metal for milling, turning, or other manufacturing processes, it’s imperative to assess potential future changes and factor these anticipated shifts into expense calculations. Proactive consideration of evolving metal values ensures a more resilient and cost-effective manufacturing strategy.

material selection
Image: Getty Images

Reduce Costs with Workflow Adjustments

Upon completing the material selection process, you may discover that your product necessitates a pricier metal. In such cases, adapting the machining workflow becomes imperative to offset elevated costs.

Prioritizing efficiency in design offers a formidable solution. Leveraging AI-assisted generative design allows for recommended product changes, leading to structurally similar designs that demand less material. Organizations implementing this approach have successfully reduced part costs by up to 20%, showcasing the potential of innovative design strategies in mitigating the impact of high metal expenses.


material selection

A Strategic Approach to Material Selection


Achieving cost-efficient machining begins with the judicious selection of materials. Understanding the profound impact of material choices on the bottom line empowers informed decision-making regarding resource allocation. By following these steps, you can identify the ideal CNC machining metal, enabling the production of exceptional products while strategically minimizing costs.


About AMFG


AMFG is a leading provider of MES software for manufacturing. Our software solutions empower manufacturers, allowing them to manage their workflows and achieve streamlined, automated processes.

With over 500 successful implementations in 35 countries and across a range of industries, we specialize in enabling companies to successfully integrate our software for AM and CNC production, into their wider manufacturing processes and scale their operations.




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