Are you a metal working enthusiast? Do you relish the prospect of creating intricate pieces of art, signs, or logos using metal? Are you in the industry and want to mark or simply work metal for various use cases?
Welcome to the various applications involved in this industry. In this article, we will focus on the latest technologies as applied in metal cutting. At the end of this article, you should be able to differentiate between the terminologies, and also choose the right application that suits your needs.
From metal marking, engraving, stamping, and etching to grinding and milling, we will introduce some of the options that are out there. We will also direct you to other blogs and sites where you can learn more about these applications. You can follow the links we provide here for amazing blogs and YouTube videos.
What is metalworking?
Metalworking is the application of various processes to metals to create desired parts, line assemblies, or wholesome large-scale structures. Many large-scale projects from oil rigs, ships, and bridges to small parts of things like engines, and all the way to jewelry are made through metalworking.
There is therefore the need to use a wide range of skills, processes, tools, and when working with metals to get desired results. The processes can be categorized into three main categories, namely forming, cutting, and joining.
Cutting involves processes in which material is brought to a specified form by removing material using various kinds of tools. The finished part should fulfill set specifications in terms of dimensions, artwork, design, and aesthetics.
Cutting produces two products, the waste, and the finished part. After cutting metal the waste is called metal chips, or excess metal. Cutting processes further fall into three major categories:
- Those which produce chips, also known as machining
- Those that burn, oxidize or vaporize material
- Miscellaneous; a mixture of both, or other processes like chemical cutting.
Drilling a hole in a metal part is the most common example of a chip-producing process. Using an oxy-fuel cutting torch to separate a plate of steel into smaller pieces is an example of burning. Chemical milling is an example of a specialty process that removes excess material by the use of etching chemicals and masking chemicals.
Many technologies exist for cutting metal. Sample a few:
- Manual technologies: e.g. sawing, chisel, shearing
- Machine technologies: e.g., stamping, grinding, and milling
- Welding/burning technologies: burning by laser, oxy-fuel burning, and plasma
- Erosion technologies: by water jet, electric discharge, or abrasive flow machining.
- Chemical technologies: Photochemical machining or etching.
As can be seen, there are many types of cutting metal work, and collecting reading resources is a good start point to enable you to harness all the available technologies for a good grasp of this amazing field.
you can also check artmachining.com for laser cutting services, learn more information about aluminum or stainless steel CNC laser cutting
A look at some metalworking techniques
We cannot be able to cover all these technologies in one article. However, we will select six of these techniques and explain what they are, their respective tooling, and possible use cases.
Direct Part Marking (DPM) is a range of technologies that are used to create permanent markings on metal for the purposes of part traceability, labeling industrial pieces, ornamentation, or any other purpose.
Marking metal is as old as the invention of smelting techniques when man started using metal tools like axes and spears. However, current technologies have evolved to allow man for the first time to create high precision and intricate marking for all conceivable use cases. Marking is achieved through various techniques, including engraving, embossing, die casting, stamping, etching, and grinding.
Engraving is a technique that is used mainly to either incise patterns, wording, drawing, or coding on a metal surface, in order to have a permanently marked product or to enable the use of an engraved metal to print engravings on paper.
Engraving is achieved through the use of two main technologies, which are laser and mechanical engraving.
Are you researching how to engrave metal? Do you want solutions for different applications you are interested in? A suitable laser metal engraving machine could be just what you are looking for.
Despite being very versatile and easy to use, laser technology gives you the highest quality in metal engraving because it is computer-aided, and its application is precisely predetermined on various surfaces for best results.
Mechanical engraving can be done by hand, or through the more reliable use of pantographs or Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. We found a collection of such machines at Gravograph. It has many advantages including replicability and low operating costs.
However, it is pricey, as the equipment and computers used may come at a price of around $75k-$100k. Also, it is not as versatile as laser engraving, and die breakage or outage may mean losing a half-engraved piece.
You can read more about laser metal engraving and its use cases from our related blog. We use metal engraving for;
- Fine Art
- Print-plate making
- Existing 3D engravers
- Personalized Jewellery
- Photopolymer laser imaging
- Industrial Marking Technologies
- Engraving trophies in sporting competitions
Metal Stamping is not a subtractive process. It uses dies to fold flat metal sheets into shapes.
Mostly, household appliances like pans, spoons cooking pots, and plates are made using a combination of casting and cutting. There are mechanical and hydraulic metal stamping machines.
Metal sheets of up to ¼ inch made of stainless steel, aluminum, zinc, and copper are cast, punched, flanged, and cut by these machines into 3D objects. They have very high product turn-over rates due to the relative ease with which they carry out the casting and cutting.
Presses can be arranged in series to work on metal stock, converting them to very specific parts using different synchronized operations until the finished parts are cut off and dispensed from the processing line.
The presses can be used in many applications because of the wide range of items they can produce. They come in different sizes and designs, and most are for industrial use.
Precious metal stamping machines also exist. There are many in this industry. In the US, for example, you could try Norstan in Wisconsin, Nesper in Georgia, or HPL Stampings Inc, from Illinois.
Usually, what you want is to send your artwork and metal sheets (or specification thereof), to a company that does metal stamping, and then get the product of your liking.
The presses are used to make roofing materials, household utensils, medical equipment, machine parts, and even coins. Their products are used in as diverse industries like medical, electronic, electric, automotive, military, HVAC, pharmaceutical, commercial, and machine-build markets. There is much more information about these machines on Thomasnet.com.
Etching can be achieved either through photochemical or laser processes.
Are you in search of the latest technologies in metal etching? Laser etching is what you need then.
This technology has evolved exponentially over time. It involves the process of creating high-precision designs by the use of coherent amplified light beams on a metal surface.
Laser is the cleanest mode of etching marking as it does not involve the use of corrosive reagents, bits, or noise-intensive abrasive processes. It is simply the laser beam vaporization of material to create exact images or texts as instructed through a computer program.
There are also emerging smaller and smaller equipment that can be used by researchers and enthusiasts for laser as the technological advancement allows for cheaper options.
The chemical enabled the process exposes parts of a metal piece to a strong acid (or mordant) to cut patterns on it and create a design in intaglio (or incised) in the metal. It is subtractive in nature, using etchant chemistry to produce complex, high precision metal components.
In a basic metal etching, the flat metal surface is covered with a special coating that is resistant to acid, and select parts of the coating are scratched away by hand or mechanical means. The metal is then placed in an acid reagent bath.
The acid erodes the part of metal not covered by the coating, leaving a pattern identical to the one scratched into the coating. The workpiece is then removed and cleaned, and inks can be used to print the pattern on paper, etc. Photoetching involves the photomechanical application of the acid-resistant layer on the metal surface.
The main difference between this method and other mechanical or hand scratching techniques before etching is that the acid-resistant layer applied is also treated with irradiation to create a photoresist layer and therefore assist in the production of highly precise and replicable patterns.
There is a wide range of machines in this field. Some of the best laser etching machines can be found at HeatSign. They range from Fiber laser, CO2, and UV machines.
We mention them here because their website is very easy to navigate and they have a very fast customer service chat that gives relevant feedback immediately you start chatting. Other brands can also be accessed from Alibaba, Amazon, and eBay.
Etching can be used together with scanning to produce replicas of artifacts for restoration. This replication is also used to create costumes and movie sets. Etching is an important part of jewelry making and the gift industry.
Metal grinding is a physical abrasion using a cutting tool, commonly used to finish off rough edges, deburr, smooth welds, remove chips, create sharp edges or create unique finished looks to a metal part.
It is mostly the last bit of operation to a part that has undergone engraving, stamping, etching, or any other forms of metalwork. Interestingly, this bit of metalworking is extraneous but labor-intensive. It can be mitigated by the use of a proper choice of design, material, and in-process operations.
There are six main types of grinding machines with different types of applications.
- Belt Grinder: basically uses a motorized belt coated with abrasive material which is then used on a metal surface to achieve the desired finish.
- Bench Grinder: These are very cheap and handy tools. They mostly involve a bench fastened motorized grinding wheel which when rotating can sharpen farmyard tools, round metal cut edges, etc.
- Cylinder Grinder: this type of grinder works mostly with cylindrical, elliptical, or combinations of these two. It consists of a rotating grinding wheel and an object manipulation system that feeds the workpiece to the grinder. Some models have inbuilt cooling systems to keep the workpiece as close to normal temperature as possible for best results.
- Surface Grinder: These are the most commonly used grinders. Surface grinding is mostly a finishing operation. The grinders use a rotating abrasive wheel to smooth flat metal surfaces and give them a more refined look or a desired functional surface.
- Bit Grinder: These grinders are mostly used to sharpen various types of drill bits.
- Jig Grinder: these machines are used used to finish jigs, dies, and fixtures. Their primary function is in the work of grinding holes for drill bushings and grinding pins. They can also be used to complete complex surface grinding to finish work started on a mill. These grinders allow us to make complex geometrical drill shapes in various tools with very high precision and accuracy.
As seen in the examples of grinders above, grinding can be used in many applications, including the making of engine blocks, aero, ship, and automotive parts, making dies for other metal applications, etc.
Milling shapes metal or other materials by shearing material off a metal surface to form the final shape. Milling machines consist of a milling cutter that rotates on a spindle axis and a worktable that can move in multiple directions with respect to the work surface.
The spindle usually moves vertically as the worktable moves along the X and Y axis to create intricate patterns as designed. Milling machines can be operated either manually or under computer numerical control (CNC).
They perform complex operations, including slot cutting, planning, drilling and threading, rabbeting, routing, etc. Two common types of mills are the horizontal mill and vertical mill.
Milling machines are mainly used for drilling, reaming, and tapping various metal parts. It is the primary operation used to make engine blocks, gear parts, threads, and male-female parts for metal joinery.
They are mostly used on flat surfaces, though they can also produce irregular surfaces. They can also be used to make drill bits, bore, cut gears, and produce slots. They also make grooved holes into which bolts can be fastened.
General Machine Purchasing resources
If you want to find machines to buy, here are some of the best resources to get your equipment;
eBay: Information on eBay for all these technologies is available. You can also find their offerings for marking, engraving, etching, grinding, and milling.
Alibaba: marking, engraving, etching, grinding, and milling options are also available in Alibaba.
Made-in-china.com: get a selection of grinding,
Possible Online Resources
If you are looking to expand your knowledge on any of these technologies, you can visit several online resources where finer details of these technologies are discussed, more detailed analysis of the outcomes of each technique carried out, and even pointers to upcoming updates of any of the technologies revealed.
Here are just a few;
The metal working world is diverse, with very many use cases for anyone who is interesting in working with metal. In this article, we have only been involved with mainly the cutting technologies that are used in the industry to create artful designs and other functional properties on metal.
From metal marking for traceability, milling, grinding, and engraving to stamping and etching, we have given you the starter material to what these techniques are so that you can delve deeper into any of them if you so wish.
And we have also given you several pointers on blogs and other materials you can either watch on YouTube or read. Hopefully, you will have a more pointed direction in your journey in metal working after you read this post!