Unleash Power: Best Thermal Expansion Calculator!

2 months by cncdivi

Unleash Power: Best Thermal Expansion Calculator!

Quick Answers

Thermal Expansion is a property affection all materials that causes them to change their dimensions as temperature changes.  As the temperature goes up, they get longer, for example.

Machinists care about thermal expansion because it can affect their ability to hold tolerances.

A Thermal Expansion Calculator, also called a Temperature Expansion Calculator or a Heat Expansion Calculator, will tell you how much thermal expansion is happening with your project.

The easiest and most complete Thermal Expansion Calculator is our G-Wizard Calculator.  Sign up for a 30-day free trial and the Thermal Expansion Calculator will keep working for life.

Start Using G-Wizard Now, It’s Free!

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Learn more about Bob Warfield here.


For the deep dive on thermal expansion, keep on reading below.


What is Thermal Expansion?

Whenever an object is heated or cooled, its length changes by an amount proportional to the original length and the change in temperature.

Thermal Expansion is important to machinists because they’re trying to manufacture parts within tolerances.  In many cases, thermal expansion can change the dimension of parts sufficiently that it should be compensated for.

Thermal Expansion Calculator

G-Wizard’s Thermal Expansion Calculator is capable of calculating two types of thermal:

  • Linear Thermal Expansion:  This is suitable for basic measurements of long objects.
  • Ring Thermal Expansion:  This is helpful when considering thermal expansion of bores.

G-Wizard’s Thermal Growth Calculator…

It’s pretty simple to use:

Select a material, and it will enter the Coefficient of Thermal Expansion for that material. Keep in mind the note at the bottom–it uses the average of thermal expansion coefficients across many alloys. For more precision, look up the exact coefficient for your material and enter it.

I’d wait to see what the average reveals and if it’s within a factor of 2x or so of worrying you, look up your exact material’s coefficient.

Next, pick a temperature unit system, Fahrenheit or Celsius. Enter your Reference and Target temperatures. The standard temperature for measurements is 20 degrees C, and if you push the “Std Ref Temp” button that is what you’ll get.

The reference temp is also referred to as the initial temperature and the target as the final temperature.  Thermal Expansion is always calculated relative to a temperature change–the delta between the initial and final temperatures.

Lastly, enter the object’s length and/or a radius.

As soon as you enter each variable, G-Wizard will tell you how much the temperature differential between the Reference and Target will move the material in length or radius.

You can get a 30-day free trial of G-Wizard, and even after the trial expires, your Thermal Expansion Calculator will continue working.

Start Using G-Wizard Now, It’s Free!

Thermal expansion equation

You can find the Thermal Expansion Equation in our article on  Thermal Expansion Equations.

Calculate Thermal Expansion of Steel

Let’s consider a simple problem you might use the calculator for. Too much bearing preload drives up temperatures, and in the worst case, it leads to thermal runaway which will destroy the bearings in a hurry. They get hot, they expand, that increases the preload, which raises the friction, which makes them hotter, so they expand more, yada, yada.

We can use G-Wizard to see how much expansion we’re talking about.

The screen shot shows the scenario. Imagine we want to run our spindle bearings up to the point where they’re at 140 degrees. I’ve come across a number of references calling for this as a good goal or maximum for bearing temperature. Less and you don’t have as much preload as you could. More, and you may have the thermal runaway situation or break down your bearing grease.

We can see that for a spindle 12″ long (object length) and 2″ in diameter, if we assume we’re starting from the reference temp (initial temperature) and running up to a final temperature of 140 degrees, we will see that spindle grow 0.006″ longer and 0.001″ larger in diameter. That’s pretty significant when bearing tolerances are measured in tenths!

Or, consider a CNC machine’s leadscrew. Let’s say it is 30″ long. It is precisely calibrated at the reference temperature, but we’re running the machine on a hot day and we’re spinning the heck out of that lead screw. So it creeps up to 98 degrees final temperature or so. How much longer did it get?

Turns out it grew about 0.0063″. Heck, even if you’re only machining a part that requires you to use 6″ of travel, that’s a difference of 0.0013″ in length that goes against the accuracy of your handwheels or of your calibrated CNC servos or steppers. That’s a lot of error!

Hence manual machines benefit from DRO’s that tell how far the axis really moved and CNC machines benefit from scales that are essentially DRO’s telling the controller the same thing.

In some cases the CNC may rely on a temperature sensor to estimate, but the scale is a better solution because it tells how far the axis really moved and allows you to ignore thermal expansion (for the most part).

Aluminum Thermal Expansion Calculator

Aluminum has a much higher Coefficient of Thermal Expansion than Steel.  Since we are often machining aluminum, this can have a real impact on our tolerances.

As you can see from our thermal expansion calculator for aluminum, just a warm summer day can impact aluminum almost as much as our 140F bearing calculation above:

Use this aluminum heat expansion calculator to figure out what’s going on in your aluminum parts due to temperature effects.

How to Reduce Thermal Expansion

When doing high-tolerance machining and manufacturing work, it is important to reduce thermal expansion as much as possible.

There are 4 basic ways to reduce thermal expansion or its impact:

  1. Reduce contact with heat sources.
  2. Control the environment.
  3. Allow thermal stabilization.
  4. Correct for thermal expansion.

Note that your own body heat is a thermal source that can cause thermal expansion.  In terms of reducing contact with heat sources, try to avoid:

  • Body heat
  • Equipment that generates heat
  • Windows
  • Sunlight
  • HVAC vents
  • Objects with a different temperature.

Heat will flow from a warmer object to a colder object until it reach thermal equilibrium.  The larger the temperature difference, the faster the heat will flow between the two.

The best Metrology Labs use a controlled temperature room.

Lastly, place the objects you will be working with together in the temperature-controlled environment so that they can reach thermal equilibrium.


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Recently updated on April 19th, 2024 at 03:25 pm