machinist looking at end mill trying to understand nickel alloys

Understanding Nickel Alloys: Popularity, Chemical Composition, & Classification

Nickel-based alloys have been a cornerstone of manufacturing for decades, desirable for their broad range of varying resistances to heat, oxidation, and corrosion. Nickel alloys also have a high strength-to-weight ratio and superior electrical conductor abilities. Because of these mechanical and chemical properties, they are primarily used in aerospace, oil, electrical, and chemical industries.

Understanding this valuable metal and how to properly machine it is imperative to delivering an optimal final part.

Nickel Alloy Chemical Composition and Classification

Nickel is commonly found in the form of an alloy, as its crystalline structure allows the element to be paired well with other metals. These atoms are arranged in a face centered cubic lattice; this structure is shown in figure 1 below.

Lattice structure of Nickel. Image source: PriyamStudyCentre.com

According to Priyam Study Centre’s Learning Chemistry, an open face lattice has the highest atomic packing number (the number of atoms per unit volume) of any metallic lattice configuration, with an atom present at each of the 6 faces and 8 corners of the cube. This structure is largely responsible for nickel’s strength and ability to create strong metallic bonds to chromium, cobalt, iron, and molybdenum, the most common metals found in these alloys.

According to City Special Metals’ article on Machining Nickel and Nickel Alloys, nickel alloys are organized into five main categories: Groups A through E. These groups are determined through the percentage of nickel present, as well as the most prominent metal that the nickel is chemically bonded with.

Table 1 displays the breakdown of these groups, showing each group’s chemical composition and a few examples of common types of nickel alloys found in that category.

GroupPercentage of NickelPaired MetalsExamples
Group A95% and greaterAlmost pure nickelNickel 200, 201, 205, and 212
Group B29% to 42%CopperMonel 400, Invar 36
Group C70% to 75%Chromium and ironInconel 600, Monel K-500, and Nickel 270
Group D50% to 56%Chromium and ironInconel 718, Inconel 625, and Hastelloy C-22
Group E63%Copper and ironMonel R405 is the only Nickel alloy in this category
Table 1: Categories of nickel alloys and their chemical compositions. Table data source: Machining Nickel and Nickel Alloys: A Guide from CSM; Nickel Based Alloys: Everything You Need to Know.

Understanding your workpiece material is just as important as understanding your machinery and tools. According to Global Market Insights (GMI), the nickel alloy market has been growing over 4% each year since 2017, and this growth is seeing an upward trend. As these alloys increase in popularity and demand, knowing the chemical compositions and classification of your specific workpiece will play a key role in successfully machining it.

Fabricating products made of nickel alloys present common struggles in every machine shop. Learn how to select proper tooling and implement machining techniques to overcome these challenges by reading CNC Machining Nickel Alloys: Avoiding All-Too-Common Mishaps.

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