Understanding the Difference between Steel and Iron in CNC Machining(plasma cutting aluminum Andrew)

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CNC machining is a vital process in various industries, responsible for creating precise and intricate parts. One crucial aspect of CNC machining is the choice of materials, with steel and iron being two commonly used options. In this article, we will explore the differences between steel and iron, their properties, and how they are used in the manufacturing process.

1. The Basics of Steel and Iron:

Steel and iron are both alloys primarily consisting of iron but differ in composition and properties. Iron is a strong metal element widely found in nature, while steel is an alloy made by combining iron with carbon and other elements such as manganese, chromium, nickel, or molybdenum. The presence of these elements improves specific characteristics of steel depending on its intended purpose.

2. Properties and Characteristics:

a) Steel:
- Strength: Steel exhibits exceptional strength, making it suitable for applications requiring durability and toughness.
- Versatility: Due to its diverse range of compositions, steel offers different variations with varying strengths, corrosion resistance, heat resistance, and magnetic properties.
- Machinability: Steel possesses excellent machinability, enabling CNC machines to shape and form the material effectively.
- Weldability: Most steels possess good weldability, allowing for easy joining and fabrication processes.

b) Iron:
- Brittle Nature: Pure iron is relatively brittle compared to steel, which limits its use in high-stress environments.
- Magnetic Qualities: Iron has inherent magnetic properties that make it ideal for applications such as electrical transformers or magnets.
- Softness: Iron is softer than steel and can be easily shaped or molded into desired forms.

3. Applications of Steel in CNC Machining:

Due to its mechanical properties, steel finds extensive usage in CNC machining processes. Some notable applications include:

a) Automotive Industry: Steel is extensively used to manufacture engine components, suspension systems, and chassis due to its strength, durability, and crash resistance.

b) Aerospace Industry: The aerospace sector relies on steel for manufacturing critical parts such as landing gear, turbine blades, engine components, and structural elements, owing to its high strength-to-weight ratio.

c) Construction Sector: Steel is an integral part of the construction industry, commonly used in erecting structures like bridges, buildings, and infrastructure due to its load-bearing capacity, malleability, and corrosion resistance.

d) Machinery Manufacturing: Machines requiring high precision, strength, and wear resistance often incorporate steel parts that undergo CNC machining. Industries such as agriculture, mining, and manufacturing rely heavily on steel machinery components.

4. Applications of Iron in CNC Machining:

Though less commonly used than steel, iron has specific applications where its magnetic properties and softness are advantageous. Some notable uses include:

a) Electrical Transformers: The magnetic characteristics of iron make it ideal for creating transformer cores, enabling efficient energy transfer.

b) Magnets and Motors: Due to its magnetoconductivity, iron serves as a crucial component in permanent magnets and electric motors used in various industries.

c) Decorative Elements: Cast iron is frequently utilized for ornamental purposes, such as fences, gates, decorative panels, and outdoor furniture, thanks to its ability to be cast into intricate shapes.


Steel and iron play essential roles in CNC machining processes, catering to diverse applications across multiple industries. While steel offers versatility, exceptional strength, weldability, and machinability, iron finds niches where its inherent magnetism or softness are desired. Understanding these material differences enables manufacturers to choose the most suitable option for their specific requirements, ensuring superior quality and functionality in CNC-machined products. CNC Milling CNC Machining