Cutting is one of the key steps in stainless steel fabrication.
In this guide, you are going to learn the art of stainless steel cutting techniques. Whether you want to mill, drill, turning, saw or grind stainless steel – you will find all information right here.
Stainless Steel Cutting Processes
Stainless steel cutting is an essential metal working process in shaping and designing stainless steel parts.
These parts include bars, sheets, wires, plates and tubes finding use in various applications like making appliances, manufacturing equipment, and utensils.
There are different approaches to stainless steel cutting each with its own advantages and limitations. Some of the common stainless steel cutting processes include:
Mechanical Cutting Stainless Steel
Mechanical cutting stainless steel results in the production of chips utilizing processes such as milling, turning, sawing, and drilling. Mechanically cutting stainless steel involves bit by bit removal of material (chips) from the workpiece.
Milling Stainless Steel
Milling involves material removal from stainless steel workpieces by utilizing a cutting tool capable of rotation. A milling machine features a spindle and a worktable for workpiece support allowing you to cut and shape stainless steel grades.
The milling process commonly uses a rotary cutter that rotates fast travelling across the workpiece surface while carefully removing material. Several cutting tool orientations can be used to shape and feature the workpiece differently.
Some typical milling processes include:
i. Face Milling: Here, you utilize a large-diameter cutter to remove material from a flat surface of the workpiece. The cutter often has several teeth that grind away material as it revolves.
ii. Peripheral Milling: With peripheral milling, material removal involves moving the cutting tool around the workpiece’s edge. Finds use where the stainless steel workpiece requires features with straight edges like keyways and slots.
iii. Slot Milling: A small diameter cutter allows you to create a groove in the workpiece with this milling process. The cutter removes material as it moves back and forth along the slot’s length finding use in creating narrow opening features.
Advantages of Milling Stainless Steel
Milling offers you several advantages as follows:
- Efficiency: When undertaking large scale stainless steel works, a milling machine can consistently create high-quality parts rapidly.
- High Precision: Milling machines currently can achieve high accuracy levels and precision required to create items with precise tolerances.
- Highly Versatile: Milling is a very flexible machining process that can create a broad variety of stainless steel forms and features.
Disadvantages of Milling Stainless Steel
Milling as a stainless-steel working process is limited in the following ways:
- Complexity: Milling machines can be challenging to use, requiring competent operators for successful utilization.
- High Initial investment: Milling machines can be costly to buy and operate, making them a major investment choice for many organizations.
- Usage Restriction: It may be difficult to producing parts with intricate internal geometries and complex features despite its versatility.
Drilling Stainless Steel
Drilling allows you to make holes in stainless steel workpieces by using special tools called drill bits. Drill bits have a pair of spiral flutes that grinds away material on rotation. You secure the drill bit in a drill press and is often driven by an electric motor.
Factors to Consider when Drilling Stainless Steel
When drilling stainless steel, you need to consider the following:
When selecting a drill bit, go for High-Speed Steel (HSS) since it has sharp edges capable of penetrating stainless steel. You can also consider carbide drill bits and cobalt drill bits due to their strength and wear properties.
Speed and Feed
The drill speed and feed are important considerations when drilling stainless steel as they can cause work hardening. It is important to use slower speeds when drilling stainless steel with higher feed rate for efficient chip removal.
Lubrication and Cooling
Since stainless steel is a high strength material, drilling can generate a lot of heat. Lubricating the tooling and workpiece and staggering the drilling process prevents heat build-up thus enhancing the cutting result.
Advantages of Stainless Steel Drilling
Stainless steel drilling has several benefits. They include:
- Aesthetic Quality: Due to stainless steel’s impressive surface quality, drilling does not deface or hamper its appeal.
- Biocompatibility: Stainless steel can easily be cleaned and used in applications requiring high hygiene levels such as food production and medical equipment.
- Corrosion Resistance: Drilling stainless steel allows its use in applications requiring high level of corrosion resistance.
- High Strength: Because stainless steel is a strong material, the holes created from drilling process share the same quality.
Disadvantages Stainless Steel Drilling
Drilling stainless steel is a challenging task that requires appropriate tooling and execution. When drilling stainless steel, you encounter some difficulties as follows:
- Work Hardening: Caused by high speed drilling at slow feed rates resulting in increased tooling stress and thus short service life.
- Heat Build-Up: Heat dissipation in stainless steel is slow given its low thermal conductivity occasioning heat build-up during drilling. If not addressed, the heat build-up can cause thermal stress on tooling and subsequently damage.
- Hardness: Stainless steel being a steel type demonstrates incredible strength that makes it tough to drill. The difficulty in chipping stainless steel can lead to material accumulation and structure weakening.
Turning Stainless Steel
When turning, you rotate a stainless-steel workpiece on a lathe while tactically using cutting tools to remove material off its surface.
A tool post holds the tool and creates a desired finish on the surface when contact is initiated with the rotating workpiece.
On the other hand, the stainless steel workpiece is secured in a chuck during the turning process as it is rotated. The unwanted material is removed from the workpiece’s surface by feeding the cutting tool into the material and establishing contact.
Advantages of Turning Stainless Steel
You can employ traditional lathes or CNC controlled lathes to conduct turning to the following advantages:
i. Accuracy: Turning stainless steel accommodates tight tolerances resulting in highly accurate parts.
ii. Good Surface Finish: The finishes resulting from turning are superior which makes the need for secondary machining unnecessary.
iii. High Efficiency: Working on stainless steel with CNC lathes is highly efficient given the nature of task capable by adjusting process parameters.
iv. Versatility: Turning stainless steel can accommodate different part designs depending on the application especially when using CNC lathes.
Disadvantages of Turning Stainless Steel
When turning stainless steel, you encounter a few drawbacks as follows:
i. Access Restriction: The ability of the cutting tool to reach specific sections of the workpiece are restricted by geometry. It is especially of concern when creating intricate designs with interior cavities or deep features.
ii. Safety: If not used correctly, turning machines such as lathes pose risk for serious injuries.
iii. Shape Limitation: You can only turn stainless steel into circular or rotational forms while incapable of producing squared or triangular shapes.
iv. Tasking Set-Up: Choosing and installing the right cutting tools and fixtures can take some time when presenting a turning operation.
Sawing Stainless Steel
Sawing is a simple cutting process in which you employ serrated blades to cut through stainless steel. The cutting occurs along a line of action through forward and backward movement cutting through the depth of the material.
Types of Saws for Stainless Steel Cutting
There are different saws with which you can cut stainless steel workpieces. They include:
i. Band Saw: This saw type is typically electric with a sharp and long blade fashioned from toothed metal between multiple wheels. They can execute curved or irregular stainless steel cuts and make uniform cuts thanks to its even teeth configuration.
ii. Hack Saw: Usually handheld, it consists of a blade with fine tooth configuration held under tension within a frame. The blade is secured with screws in the frame and can be replaced while a pistol grip serves as a handle.
iii. Jig Saw: Typically consists of an electric motor and reciprocating blade (cutting action is via a back and forth movement). A jig saw can make irregularly shaped cuts of stainless steel.
iv. Miter Saw: This saw type utilizes a circular blade with carbide tips to cut though stainless steel workpieces usually rods. Using a miter requires making slow progressive cuts to prevent damaging the blade and can be mounted or handheld.
Shearing Stainless Steel
Shearing is a metal cutting process that does not implement heat in the operation or result in chipping. In this method, a blade pushes onto a stationary workpiece resulting in material removal by blunt force.
Common shearing processes are indicated below.
Punching Stainless Steel
In punching stainless steel, you cut out a tiny portion from the sheet material by utilizing a punch press. The cutting operation occurs from force application resulting in a hole with the cut out material (slug) discarded as waste.
There are different versions of punching depending on the hole design and location. When punching stainless steel, you can utilize one of the following major punching operations:
i. Lancing: Utilizes shear application through one strike to initiate bending in a stainless steel sheet allowing creation of features like vents and tabs.
ii. Nibbling: Allows complex pattern creation on stainless steel sheet material by combining several punching operations.
iii. Notching: Typically employs multiple steps to remove material from a stainless steel sheet to form notches useful in bending operations.
iv. Perforating: Punching process utilizing unique tooling to create several closely packed small holes on a stainless steel sheet.
v. Piercing: Employs extrusion to produce a single hole or slot in a stainless steel sheet by combining typical forming and cutting processes.
vi. Slotting: Creates a rectangular cut out in stainless steel sheet by utilizing rectangular tooling.
Advantages of Stainless Steel Punching
Using punching as a cutting method for our stainless-steel sheets affords you the following advantages:
- Accuracy: Punching produces holes that are uniform in shape and size, making it perfect for high-volume or mass production.
- Cost-Effective: Automating punching makes it less reliable on labor as observed with other cutting methods.
- Speed: Punching swiftly and effectively creates holes in stainless steel metal sheets, making it a quick technique compared to other methods like drilling.
- Versatility: Punching is effective for a variety of applications as it can produce a wide range of hole sizes and designs.
Disadvantages of Punching Stainless Steel
Some of the drawbacks you can encounter when using punching to cut through your material are discussed below.
- Formation of Burrs: Punching can leave the stainless steel sheets with burrs, or rough edges, which may need to be smoothed down.
- Hole Shapes: Punching can only produce regular shaped holes thus redundant when it comes to furnish complex hole designs.
- Material Thickness: Punching is more successful on thinner sheets of stainless steel with the difficulty increasing with the material thickness.
- Tooling Costs: Punch and die sets have an initial high cost making such an investment expensive not including the maintenance required.
Stamping Stainless Steel
Stamping utilizes a die in shaping a piece of stainless steel sheet into a desired formation. Stamping includes a design stage and finishing to eliminate edge roughness like deburring, polishing or trimming.
Advantages of Stamping Stainless Steel
Some of the benefits of stamping are mentioned below.
i. Accuracy: The process of stamping results in the consistent and uniform production of parts shaped as the die.
ii. Automation: You can automate the stamping process resulting
iii. Economical: It is a cos-effective technique when producing many stainless steel parts and/or components.
iv. Speed: The die action is quick making the process fast and thus with a short turnaround time.
v. Versatility: Stamping is a versatile procedure as it allows you to make a wide range of forms and designs.
Disadvantages of Stamping Stainless Steel
Stamping as a metal working technique is limited in the following ways:
i. Design Restrictions: The capabilities of the press and die system in stamping place a limit on the complexity of designs.
ii. High Initial Investment: Undertaking stamping for limited production runs and can be expensive due to the high tooling costs.
iii. Material Limitations: Stamping is conveniently performed on thin stainless steel sheets with thicker sheets posing a problem.
Blanking Stainless Steel
In blanking, a punch and die tooling set allows you to cut out a piece of stainless steel from a larger sheet. The cut out part, unlike in punching where it is scrap, is the useful part while the remaining sheet is considered waste.
The shape of the punch in blanking is ideally the desired shape of the blanked material. It is possible to have varied shapes from simple formations like circles and rectangles to more sophisticated ones.
Advantages of Stainless Steel Blanking
Blanking has the following factors in its favor:
i. Accurate: The cutting method of blanking is precise given the tooling setting allowing unchanging repetitive actions.
ii. Low Cost: Blanking is a cost-effective way to produce many parts or components from a single sheet of stainless steel.
iii. Speed: Executing a blanking process is fast allowing for large scale part production.
iv. Versatility: When blanking, you can produce various patterns and shapes depending on your tool design.
Disadvantages of Blanking Stainless Steel
You may experience the following drawbacks when employing blanking:
i. Burrs: Blanking can result in blanks with rough edges requiring further processing before completion which increases costs and process time.
ii. Design Limitations: While you are capable of blanking different shapes overly intricate shapes are difficult to blank especially with very fine tolerances.
iii. Material Depth: Blanking works well when the stainless steel sheets are thin and the process increases in difficulty as the thickness increases.
Abrasive Cutting Stainless Steel
Abrasive cutting entails methods that employ erosion of material in the cutting process like grinding and waterjet cutting. Abrasive cutting offers many advantages such as improved edge quality and operation speeds.
When it comes to these stainless steel cutting techniques, you can try any of the following:
Grinding Stainless Steel
Grinding utilizes abrasive particles in the material removal process of cutting stainless steel workpieces. It uses a grinding wheel as the principal tool in the removal of tiny metal chips from the surface of the workpiece.
To achieve an impressive finish and high dimensional precision, proper consideration for the grinding wheel and grinding conditions should be made. The size and shape of the grinding wheel must match the contour of the workpiece with the speed carefully managed.
Types of Grinding Methods
There are different grinding methods applicable in cutting stainless steel such as:
i. Surface Grinding: Especially utilized for large sheets of stainless steel as a finishing process removing excess material by forward and backward movement.
ii. Cylindrical Grinding: Used in material removal by grinding along the length of the surface of usually secured cylindrical stainless steel workpieces.
iii. Centerless Grinding: Supports grinding of cylindrical stainless steel workpieces in the absence of centers utilizing instead workrest blade and regulating wheel.
Advantages of Grinding Stainless Steel
Some of the advantages in cutting stainless steel material using grinding include:
- Efficiency: Grinding is a fast cutting method with high accuracy that can be duplicated for large productions.
- Dimensional Accuracy: Using grinding on your stainless steel results in finished components or parts with great dimensional accuracy.
- Good Surface Finish: The surface outcome of abrasive grinding is a good finish achievable with less cutting stress.
Disadvantages of Grinding Stainless Steel
When undertaking abrasive grinding, the following drawbacks are probable:
Cost: Abrasive grinding requires unique equipment and skilled operators for successful execution making it relatively costly.
Thermal Stress: The abrasive nature of the process can result in heat generation during cutting resulting in potentially damaging heat build-up.
Safety: The abrasion process results in the production of stainless steel dust that can be harmful thus requiring safety measures.
Waterjet Cutting Stainless Steel
Waterjet cutting utilizes a water stream under high pressure and speed to cut material such as stainless steel. A pump subjects the water to high pressure via a nozzle head and can include abrasive particles to improve cutting performance.
Advantages of Waterjet Stainless Steel Cutting
Some of the factors that make waterjet cutting a reliable cutting method are as follows:
i. Automation: You can automate waterjet cutting thus allowing large scale use.
ii. Economical: You can collect the water and abrasion material after the waterjet cutting process for reuse making material savings.
iii. Environmental Friendly: Compared to flame or plasma cutting, waterjet cutting has no production of toxic fumes.
iv. Quality: Using waterjet cutting results in parts with uniform edges making the need for secondary processes unnecessary.
v. Thermal Distortion: The absence of thermal energy generation in waterjet cutting means damage resulting from heat build-up or stress is avoidable.
vi. Tight Tolerances: The cutting outcome of waterjet cutting is capable of achieving tight tolerances without need for further finishing procedures.
Disadvantages of Waterjet Stainless Steel Cutting
There are a few limitations when using waterjet cutting:
- Material Thickness: Where you have thick stainless steel material, using waterjet cutting is an arduous task. In such an instance, the cutting speed is greatly reduced while the quality of the cut is compromised.
- Initial Cost: While you can save costs by reusing water and abrasive material, the initial cost of equipment for waterjet cutting is relatively high.
Stainless Steel Cutting by Heat
Thermal cutting operations employ high temperature streams to eat away material along the cutting line of action to make cuts. The most common thermal cutting operations are: plasma cutting and laser cutting.
Laser Cutting Stainless Steel
Laser cutting employs a powerful light beam capable of high heat production to eat away material through vaporization in the cutting process. You can employ computerized control to your laser cutter, to execute multiple cutting designs on your stainless steel material.
Advantages of Laser Cutting Stainless Steel
The popularity of laser cutting is own to the following reasons:
i. Accuracy: The accuracy achieved in laser cutting is unmatched given the precision levels and process reliability.
ii. Material Wastage: There is less waste generated when employing laser cutting given its high accuracy in execution.
iii. Speed: Using a laser cutter is fast compared to other cutting approaches even when faced with a complex pattern.
iv. Tooling Needs: The tooling requirements for laser cutting are non-existent since the cutting process is light controlled.
v. Versatility: With a laser cutter, you can achieve virtually any different shapes and patterns from simple to complex without difficulty.
Disadvantages of Laser Cutting Stainless Steel
When considering going with laser cutting for your stainless-steel project, it’d be wise to remember the following limitations:
i. Large Investment: Investing in a laser cutting machine costs a small fortune making it unsuitable for small scale application.
ii. Maintenance: The cost of maintaining a laser cutter can be high and time consuming given their frequent needs and high energy input.
iii. Material Difficulties: Using a laser cutter on a polished stainless steel surface can result in reflection of the beam making it difficult.
iv. Safety Issues: The laser beam can cause severe physical harm and damage requiring an elaborate safety system set-up when in use.
v. Thickness Limits: You can only effectively use laser cutting to cut stainless steel materials to a certain depth beyond which it becomes ineffective.
Plasma Cutting Stainless Steel
Plasma cutting uses a high energized stream of ionized gas (plasma) to cut metal such as stainless steel by melting. In creating plasma, a gas is released via a nozzle before being subjected to a high voltage that causes ionization.
Commonly applied gases in plasma creation are argon, nitrogen and oxygen. When using a plasma cutter, a narrow and precise cutting arc is generated and guided over the stainless steel material.
The precise nature of the arc allows you to make complex cuts in intricate patterns. The melted material is thereafter blown away using a gas stream at high speed leaving behind a clean cut.
Advantages of Plasma Stainless Steel Cutting
Plasma cutting is preferred over conventional cutting methods such as flame cutting for the following reasons:
i. Fairly Uniform Edges: The cutting edges resulting from using plasma cutters feature few burrs allowing use without secondary processes.
ii. Fast Execution: In comparison to other conventional cutting methods like mechanical cutting, plasma cutting is relatively faster allowing quick turnarounds.
iii. High Accuracy: The cutting performance of plasma cutter o stainless steel materials of medium thickness is exceptional.
iv. Multiple Usage: Plasma cutting is not just effective for stainless steel metal but other conductive and non-ferrous materials.
v. Thermal Build-Up: The heat affected zone in plasma cutting is much smaller which reduces the chance of thermal induced stress causing damage.
Disadvantages of Plasma Cutting Stainless Stain
Plasma cutting is not without its limitations as follows:
i. Capital Intensive: Given the equipment required in executing plasma cutting, you find it relatively expensive compared to cutting methods like flame cutting.
ii. Depth Limitation: Use of plasma cutters is limited to medium thickness beyond which achieving the desired cut becomes ineffective.
iii. Safety Issues: The high working temperature and high energized features of plasma cutting make it susceptible to safety concerns.
Oxy-fuel Cutting Stainless Steel
Also known as oxyacetylene cutting and flame cutting, this method combines oxygen and a gas fuel (acetylene/propane) to form a flame. The high-temperature flame cuts the stainless steel metal by melting after which an oxygen stream removes the melt by blowing.
Advantages of Oxy-fuel Cutting Stainless Steel
Oxy-fuel cutting is one of the most common methods used in cutting stainless steel for the following reasons:
i. Capable of Regulation: You can adjust the flame intensity to regulate the speed of cutting relative to thickness.
ii. Convenience: Equipment for flame cutting can be easily transferred from one point to another without difficulty allowing on site use.
iii. Cost-effective: Using oxy-fuel cutting is relatively affordable given the lack of consumables, wide availability of fuel gases and inexpensive equipment.
iv. Efficiency: With oxy-fuel cutting, you can achieve a wide cutting thickness range from a few millimeters to hundreds of millimeters.
v. Relatively Fast: The cutting process is quickly executed once the melting process begins allowing large scale use.
Disadvantages of Oxy-fuel Cutting Stainless Steel
Flame cutting falls short in the following manner:
i. Environmental Issues: Oxy-fuel cutting releases fumes resulting from the fuels and flame which contribute to environmental pollution if uncontrolled.
ii. Low Precision Level: Compared to laser and plasma cutting, it offers low precision stemming from the wide cuts achieved.
iii. Safety: Since the fuels and gas used are capable of catching fire, oxy-fuel cutting poses considerable danger. Proper precautions such as appropriate storage and good ventilation are vital safeguards.
iv. Secondary Finishing Needed: The cutting edge finish in flame cutting is rough requiring secondary processes like grinding to straighten and smoothen.
v. Thermal Build-Up: Since heat is employed, this cutting process results in a heat affected zone which can induce thermal related inefficiencies. Such inefficiencies include: warping, distortion and physical property changes.
Electrochemical Cutting Stainless Steel
Electrochemical cutting utilizes grinding and electrochemical erosion to produce a fine tolerance cut with no burrs. Typically, the stainless steel workpiece is positively charged while in a conductive fluid with the grinding wheel is negatively charged.
Sodium nitrate and chloride are common conductive fluids employed where the surface of the workpiece is oxidized during material removal. Thereafter, the grinding wheel eliminates the surface’s oxide layers resulting from the process.
Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) Stainless Steel
EDM utilizes chemical reactions and electrical discharge to eat material away during the cutting process resulting in a clean cut. Here, you subject the workpiece to an electrolytic bath before connecting the electrode to a high voltage pulse.
The result is a plasma channel producing spark discharge that results in the dissolution of metal creating a hole. Process control is achieved by voltage regulation and pulse interval which influence the hole shape and size.
Advantages EDM Stainless Steel
When considering electrical discharge machining as your cutting approach in your stainless steel project, some of these factors should sell you:
i. Absence of Mechanical/Thermal Stress: Electrochemical discharge machine induces no physical contact or heat to induce mechanical or thermal stress respectively. Adverse effects of these stresses such as warping, cracking and distortion are therefore avoided.
ii. Cutting Flexibility: Since it employs a high voltage pulse instead of continuous voltage, EDM can make complex cuts and intricate patterns.
iii. Exceptional Surface Finish: The resulting finish from EDM is consistent and even eliminating the need for secondary processing.
iv. No Tooling: The lack of tooling in EDM eliminates the need of tooling related expenses such as maintenance and replacement.
v. Precision: The tolerances achieved in EDM are very fine allowing use in part production of sophisticated designs.
Disadvantages Electrical Discharge Machining Stainless Steel
A few shortcomings you can encounter when using electrochemical discharge machining in your project are:
i. Costly Process: Setting up an electrochemical discharge machining assembly is a costly venture given the uniqueness of the equipment. Additionally, use requires conductive fluid and high voltage application which come at a cost.
ii. Takes Time: The EDM cutting process is slow making it unfavorable where quick turnarounds are desired.
iii. Thickness Restrictions: This method is only suitable for thin stainless steel workpieces given the process of execution.
As you can see, there are many techniques you can use in stainless steel cutting process. The technique will depend on the stainless steel fabrication process.