How many times has a machine shop no quoted you for a project requiring materials that are difficult to machine? Even one time is too many as far as we’re concerned!
We get it. Not every machine shop has the right people, processes, and technology to confidently machine exotic materials. But we’re not just any machine shop.
Manufacturing complex machined parts is kind of our thing at Wagner Machine—that often means exotic materials are involved.
What Are Exotic Materials?
The term exotic materials is typically a reference to metals, plastics, laminates, and ceramics whose exceptional properties make them ideally suited for specific demanding applications. Those same properties can also make these materials especially challenging to machine. Here’s a brief overview of some of these materials:
High strength metals. There are many high-strength grades of aluminum and steel that are relatively well known, but when the ultimate strength to weight ratio is needed, most people think of titanium. Titanium is becoming more common because its unique properties make it ideal for high-performance applications. It is both tough and gummy, and work hardens if machined incorrectly. To efficiently machine it, special tools and specific cut strategies are required.
High temp alloys. High temp metals like Inconel, Hastelloy, Invar, and Kovar are known for their mechanical strength, wear and corrosion resistance, thermal expansion properties, and ability to withstand high-temperature environments. The high nickel content that gives some of these materials the nickname ‘superalloys’ also makes them resistant to machining. High-performance tools and inserts, rigid setups, and high-efficiency programming with no tool overload are required to machine high temp alloys. Even under the best conditions, tool life is very short when compared to other materials. One bright spot is that these materials cut great on a waterjet!
Engineering plastics. Materials like PEEK, PAI(Duratron), PTFE(Teflon), and Polysulfone are examples of high-performance engineering plastics. These can come in multiple variations, including some that are fiber-filled. These materials can be highly abrasive, extremely slick, brittle, soft, or a combination of those properties. These properties often make them hard to fixture or machine. Many of them also have special requirements for coolants to ensure that they aren’t contaminated or damaged.
Laminated Materials. G10, carbon fiber, and other laminated materials are known for their rigidity and lightweight. They also happen to be quite abrasive and prone to delamination if not machined correctly. These materials cut great on a waterjet, but you can’t pierce holes reliably, so pre-drilling is often required. When machining these materials, diamond-coated tools need to be used to prevent tool wear for extended runs. It’s also important to consider part orientation for either cosmetic or structural reasons since these materials are non-isotropic.
Machinable Ceramics. Macor and Boron Nitride are examples of machinable ceramics. These materials provide some of the key benefits of ceramic and engineering plastics in a form that is relatively easy to machine and that is dimensionally stable at high temperatures. Some benefits of Boron Nitride include thermal shock resistance, high electrical resistivity, high thermal conductivity, low coefficient of friction, and chemical inertness. Macor is an excellent electrical and thermal insulator with great high temperature and vacuum performance. It’s coefficient of thermal expansion is a close match for many metals and glasses used for vacuum applications, and it does not outgas. Like many other advanced materials, these properties come with some downsides. These materials are extremely abrasive and brittle, so tool wear and part chipping are common.
Why Wagner Machine Excels at Machining Exotic Materials
Wagner Machine has honed our processes and technologies to produce high-precision parts made from exotic materials quickly and cost-effectively. Here’s how we do it:
We have the right machine technology for small parts. Most shops that work with exotic materials use large, slow, heavy machines, but those machines aren’t always efficient at producing complex features on small parts. While rigidity is always important, there are other factors that must be considered for machining small parts. Our equipment is configured for small parts, intricate features, and tight tolerances.
Options such as high pressure through spindle coolant, coolant filtration, part probing, and broken tool detection are critical when working with small tools in difficult materials. 5-axis capability also allows us to reach tight spots with the ideal tooling.
We use the best cut strategies for small parts. Optimized toolpaths are critical when machining small parts and difficult materials. We regularly use high-efficiency machining to prolong tool life and maximize material removal without putting excess stress on our equipment, tools, or the parts we are machining. The correct cut strategy also minimizes work hardening, chipping, and internal stress while maximizing tool life. Our equipment can efficiently process code for trochoidal and other high-feed toolpaths to ensure consistent tool load and a reliable process.
Thread milling is also commonly used when dealing with materials that are difficult to tap or for parts with intersecting threaded holes. Thread milling allows specific chip load control so a process can be dialed in to run reliably with minimal burrs. We can thread mill holes down to 0-80!
We are problem-solvers. It’s not often that we’re stumped at Wagner Machine. We specialize in solving complex machining problems that other machine shops no quote. We are constantly testing new tooling and machining processes so we can apply the best process to your parts, no matter what material your application demands.
Don’t rely on just any machine shop for your next part or project. Trust an experienced team with the right people, processes, and technology to get your parts right regardless of complexity or material. Send us your toughest challenge and put us to the test!