Precision Military Components Made with CNC Swiss Lathes

The defense industry has long driven -and been driven by- Research and Development.  Modern militaries have capabilities even Q couldn’t dream up for James Bond.  Seeing through walls, shooting around corners, and 20/20 night vision are moving into standard military use.  Breakthroughs come consistently in drone technology, weapons guidance, and disruptive technologies like sound-based weapons and “invisibility”.  Much of these technologies hinge on the incredibly precise interpretation of various signals, and that calls for precision-machined components like nothing the world has known before.  Many of those components can only be produced on the most remarkable machine in the CNC shop -the Swiss turning machine.

A Brief History of Time

Also known as Swiss lathes, Swiss turning machines were originally developed by a Swiss watchmaker in the 1800s to manufacture the almost microscopic screws and other components for watch movements.  These hand-cranked machines weren’t designed for speed, but they delivered levels of precision never seen before.  That kind of precision has only improved, and as you might expect, the speed is just a tad better now.

Smarter And Better

Here at Macfab, we’re quite proud to have recently added to our arsenal of Swiss turning machines.  The work we do in the defense industry gets more challenging all the time.  There’s been a trend toward improving the information available in the field.  If they can learn the precise location and surroundings of a target, they can best decide how to deal with the target while avoiding collateral damage.

Military actions have become quite smart.  Anti-missile technology was long considered impossible but now is deployed routinely.  Even a few years ago, directed energy weapons were a pipe dream.  Today soldiers can disrupt incoming drones kilometers away and bring them down safely without firing a projectile.  These groundbreaking technologies often depend on parts formed in Swiss turning machines.

Thinking Small is a Big Job

Swiss turning machines work by overcoming one crucial problem when shaping materials.  Very small raw stock is difficult to hold and even harder to hold rigidly.  Swiss turning machines best this by feeding the stock through the center of a chuck that can both spin and feed the stock in and out as needed.  The shaping tools are held within a few millimeters of the chuck, and work on the stock as it comes out.  The tiny distances prevent the stock from vibrating as it’s shaped.  The result is fine parts sometimes smaller than grains of sand.

Miniaturization allows us to produce components to help fighter jets fly in ways jets have never flown before.  It is allowing for the development of self-guiding bullets.  Positioning that is critical enough to be affected by the speed of light is allowing the development of abilities to watch individuals through solid walls.

Macfab is very proud of the work we’ve done with the defense industry.  The work is always very challenging.  That’s why we always maintain state-of-the-art Swiss turning machines and invest regularly in the continuing training of our operators.  If you’re working on defense industry projects, Macfab can meet all of the machining requirements, along with all of the testing and documentation protocols.  As a one-stop shop with a long history of this kind of work, let us show you what we can accomplish for you.

 

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One-stop Machine Shop for Your CNC Machining Solutions

There’s real business value in keeping things simple.  Complicated arrangements in manufacturing introduce possible points of failure, delay, and hidden costs.  That’s perhaps the most compelling argument for working with a quality one-stop CNC machining solutions shop like Macfab.  If a problem arises, you know exactly whom to call.  If your production needs change, a call can address the changes.  Not only that but when you’re dealing with a one-stop shop, there’s no debate about whom is responsible for what.

Checking Our Work

Since 1987, Macfab has set out to be a one-stop CNC machining shop.  We have invested heavily in cutting-edge technologies all along.  We don’t just focus on machining, though.  We have a full complement of metrology equipment.  From all the standard micrometers, profilometers, and surface plates, on up to 5-axis coordinate measuring machines, we can measure every dimension and specification on your parts.  We’re fully AS9100 certified, of course.  We are happy to run any inspection requirements you have, right up to full inspections on each part.  Our long history of producing medical devices means we’re quite familiar with making sure every part meets every spec, and our documentation software creates reports to satisfy any regulatory requirements you may face.

Finishing What We Start

Providing one-stop CNC machining solutions means we also handle parts finishing.  Painting and powder coating are simple enough, of course, but we go well beyond that.  Our finishing department can provide mirror polishing and chemical polishing to improve microscopic surface defects where bacteria or other contaminants can hide.   Mirror finishing can also improve the wearability of parts by reducing friction.  It also makes parts look good if that’s a concern.

Simplifying Your Inventory

Once individual parts are manufactured and tested, we can assemble them for you, including brazing and welding of parts that have to be produced separately.  As a one-stop shop, Macfab has clean room facilities to handle your assembly needs, up to and including the micro-assembly of incredibly fine parts.  Simplify your inventory by letting Macfab turn individual parts into prefab assemblies for your own assembly lines.  You can save valuable line space and time.  We even have the facilities to package your parts or assemblies however you need them.  You can get your work from us protected from damage or contamination and arranged as you need them for your own assembly lines.

Superior Service at all Stages

We offer many other services to take care of our customers.  If your parts require truly flat surfaces, we have full lapping capabilities.  When a flat surface is required, there is no higher standard.  We offer plating to protect your parts from oxidation or provide a tougher surface.  Our Swiss turning machines can produce custom screws or other tiny components.  Our expertise in cleaning and packaging has saved more than one critical project from failure when other shops couldn’t solve their problems.

We have always worked to provide every service our customers need, no matter how precise the work may be.  In fact, the more precision it calls for, the more we enjoy the challenge.  After 35 years and literally centuries of CNC machining experience among our crew, we take great pride in being able to overcome every challenge that comes through the door.  That’s the kind of expertise that a one-stop CNC machine shop can bring to your next project.

 

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Achieving the Best Surface Finishing for CNC Machined Part

It goes without saying that you want a good finish on your CNC machined parts.  If they’re painted or powder coated, you want a nice, shiny defect-free finish.  If they’re passivated, plated, anodized, or even bare metal you want to see parts that look like care was taken and attention was paid to making them.  What you may not realize is just how much attention it takes to produce CNC-machined parts that look professionally made.

Before the Chips Fly

Planning for the surface finish starts before the bit ever touches metal.  With few exceptions, rough cutting and finish cutting are performed with different tools.  Roughing in is often done at higher speeds, with larger bits or inserts.  Like Michelangelo removing everything from a block of marble that didn’t belong in his statue, CNC machining tends to make fast work of removing the bulk of the raw stock to get down to what your finished part will actually look like.  When it comes to cutting the part down to finish dimensions, finer bits, and slower speeds are generally used to minimize tool marks and avoid deflection of the metal, which would distort the part.

Seeing It Through

That’s just the beginning of the exercise.  Bits or inserts need to be swapped out regularly to maintain fresh edges for finish cutting.  Ideally, bits are designated specifically as roughing or finishing bits, even if they’re the same size.  Operators have to watch out for anything that can cause an interruption.  During surface finishing, if a bit has to stop for any reason -even if it just starts right back up it will leave a trace on the part.

Chips have to be carefully controlled during finishing as well.  Operators need to make sure clean coolant is washing chips out of the work area to avoid scratching the part.  Using free-machining (or “free-cutting”) steel for the parts can help as well, as the chips break away cleanly and are less prone to interfere with the bit. That introduces other considerations.  For instance, free-machining steel can’t be heat treated (though it can be case-hardened).  Some parts require heat treatment after CNC machining.

The Right Finish

Our customers in mission-critical industries like defense, aerospace, and medical fields all bring special requirements with their parts.  Aerospace, for example, is particularly complicated because if two pieces of metal happen to rub against each other and rub off whatever type of finish is applied -from paint to anodizing- those parts will fuse together in a heartbeat in a process called cold welding.  More than one spacecraft has suffered the effects of losing functionality because of faulty finishes.

Macfab has a long history of working on parts with critical surface finish requirements.  We’re obsessed with checking the finish to ensure it meets tolerances, just as we double-check dimensional tolerances.  Honing, surface grinding, sanding, and polishing all have different effects on the surface.  For some critical applications, those effects lead to poor performance or early part failure.  Even polishing to a mirror surface, which would seem to be the most perfect finish, can result in microscopic metal flakes that can break off, and contaminate with polishing compounds.  We know how to handle these situations, though.

Macfab has the CNC machines to produce the most complex parts.  We have the expertise to do it efficiently.  We handle all of our own metrology and reporting in-house.  Our cleaning regimens are second to none, and our finishing services are exacting.  Producing CNC machined parts that will pass every test and perform at least as well as required doesn’t happen by accident.  It’s something we love to do.

 

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Benefits and efficiency of horizontal CNC machining

You may think it doesn’t matter to you what kinds of machines your CNC machine shop has, but it should.  There are distinct differences between horizontal CNC machining and vertical CNC machining and those differences can save you money.

Keeping a Clean Work Area

Horizontal CNC machining has some serious advantages over its vertical cousin.  When a vertical mill cuts on top of a part, swarf (cuttings) can pile up.  That doesn’t stop the mill from doing its job, but it can keep the operator from seeing a problem.  Chip buildup can also lead to surface scratches, especially on plastic parts.  Horizontal mills have fewer such problems because they cut on the sides of parts, allowing chips to fall away from the cutting area.

Cutting Faster and Smarter

Horizontal CNC machining is also faster than vertical milling -often much faster.  One feature of the horizontal mill is the ability to spin the part around on the table.  This allows the part to be milled on all sides without the operator having to reorient it manually.  Not only is that considerably faster; but it is also far more accurate than if an operator has to reposition the part.

Horizontal CNC mills cut at feed rates you simply don’t see on vertical mills.  At Macfab, we use this additional speed to take lighter cuts.  Rather than hogging out large amounts of metal with one pass on a vertical mill, we can take several passes with the horizontal mill and approach the finished surface with greater precision.  Taking less metal off with each cut means there’s less chance for chatter in the bit, and you get a finer surface finish.  The speed of a horizontal mill over a vertical mill is genuinely something to see.  Even taking multiple passes where a vertical mill might take one, the horizontal mill is still faster.  The savings on wear and tear on the tools extend their lives significantly.  Maintaining light-cutting passes can mean completing a job with one bit when the same job would have eaten several tools on another type of machine.  Not only that, but the light passes also mean the horizontal CNC machining can yield a better surface finish in less time.

Keeping the Parts Moving

Four and five-axis horizontal mills like those we have at Macfab allow us to set up a part for milling while one is already being milled.  We can also change tools while milling operations are underway.  Both of these features make the horizontal mills faster than their counterparts.  Our operators and the mills have less downtime.

Horizontal mills are far more expensive than vertical mills, but they pay for themselves with the sheer volume of parts they can output.  Along with our prototyping and small job work, MacFab also does mid-volume production for our clients.  Our horizontal mills are instrumental in giving our customers the precision CNC machining they require in the numbers they need.  Macfab has a long history of investing to stay ahead of our customers’ needs.  Our ongoing investment in horizontal CNC machines is just part of that commitment.

 

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Benefits of Onshoring and Localization of CNC machining in North America

Every year tens of thousands of new products are released to meet the needs of niche markets. These may be new medical devices, the newest features from the automotive industry, or the latest device to harvest sunflower seeds. If you’re producing the next big game console, you probably have to look overseas for CNC machining cost savings, but if you’re not planning to sell millions of your new product, you have options closer to home which is a lot more cost-effective.

It seems counterintuitive. Manufacturing is cheaper overseas; that’s where you manufacture. Of course, not all manufacturing happens overseas. Approximately $3 Trillion was produced by manufacturers in North America last year. There are economies of scale which overcome the hurdles of overseas production. Unless you’re about to release the next big game console or must-have kitchen gadget, you’re probably better off keeping your manufacturing closer to home.

Out of Sync

Having your CNC machining services in a time zone 12 hours away creates serious problems. When you’re at work and want the latest numbers, the plant is either closed for the night or if they’re running shifts, you can only reach the night managers. The people who call the shots over there are in the office when you’re asleep. It’s frustrating. Depending on the specifics, there may be no worktime overlap between you and the manufacturing management. Never mind conference calls; even simple phone calls can be a logistical nightmare. Do you really want to Zoom with someone 8000 miles away at 9 pm just to resolve a supply problem?

Out of Step

Smart owners are involved. They keep close tabs on every aspect of the business -especially manufacturing. It’s not exactly convenient to hop on a plane for a 14-hour flight to check out how the line is running. If the CNC machine shop is across town, or even a few hours away, that’s doable, and that can stave off problems that can go unnoticed by managers who aren’t as invested as you are. Having your CNC machine shop close also makes it easier for your engineers to work closely with their engineers.

Out of Spec?

If you’re using CNC machining services in Canada, shops like Macfab are AS9100 certified. There are serious questions about similar certifications at some overseas facilities, and no one seems to know for sure just how extensive the problem is. Regardless, companies relying on overseas manufacturers are well advised to do their homework. Canadian machine shops that claim AS9100 certification should have no problem providing all of the required documentation.

Manufacturing is cheaper overseas on a cost-per-unit basis. That saving comes with its own price, though. There are obstacles, inconveniences, and uncertainties. No company can mitigate them entirely. If you choose to source your manufacturing overseas, all you can do is adjust and learn to work with them. Experience and conventional wisdom say there will be some tradeoffs no matter what you do, and that often shows up in the quality of the final product. Keeping your CNC machining services in Canada gives you the best control over quality and the most information as far as supply chain, production, finishing, QA -in short, every aspect of getting your product to customers. The products may cost more per unit, but you also don’t have to pay to ship them halfway around the world and wait for them to arrive. There are a lot of ways to measure value, and you need to consider them all very carefully before sending manufacturing overseas.

 

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Our Latest Multi-Million Dollar Investment in CNC Machines

You don’t stay on top of your game by sitting still.  For CNC machine shops, that means keeping up with the latest technology and maintaining the latest abilities for your clients.  Macfab has just completed a multi-million dollar round of investments in CNC machines to make sure we can continue to provide the most advanced products for our customers.  Here are some of the highlights of the new machines you now have at your disposal.

  • The Cincom Citizen Swiss turning machine brings twice the speed and double the accuracy of previous generations. It’s more energy efficient and able to run unattended (lights-out), which greatly speeds production times.
  • Several Hyundai WIA turning centers allow us to produce parts completely in one operation thanks to their mill turret and sub-spindle. They have the most up-to-date controllers and are the most efficient in class for simultaneous milling and turning on one machine.  Their design makes them notably more accurate than other models.
  • The HAAS UMC 500 can run as a 3+2 or a simultaneous 5-axis CNC mill. It brings a larger capacity, and the direct drive system improves accuracy and reduces wear.   The 30+1 tool holder is larger than most, and faster at loading tools.
  • Several new HAAS VF-4 SS is our newest production workhorses. These vertical machining centers run at higher speeds with improved accuracy over previous generations.  They’re more energy efficient, with larger tables and ultra-fast side-mount 30+1 tool holders.  They can handle multiple-part loading and feature next-generation controllers, image screens, and remote monitoring.
  • The Hoffman-American dynamic balancing machine provides a complete turnkey balancing solution for satellite rotors used for attitude control and navigation. Their permanent calibration eliminates calibration runs and speeds up production.
  • The Kitamura horizontal mill provides an extra-large work envelope with outstanding accuracy. It’s 30% faster than vertical mills.  Chips and debris fall away rather than having to be cleared manually.  We can load 4 parts at once and can change parts while the machine is working on another part.  That eliminates downtime for machine loading and unloading.
  • We’ve also invested in a new coolant recovery and recycling unit. This reduces the coolant that has to be disposed of.  Instead, we can clean it and return it to balanced specifications and reuse it.  This provides significant cost reduction and lowers environmental impact.

Probably the best thing about these specs is you don’t have to know them -because we do.  We didn’t just bring in these machines; we brought in their abilities.  These new machines allow our machine shop to cut production costs and speed production times, especially for mid-volume production runs.  We now have new capabilities in the level of detail we can provide, the tolerances we can meet, and the variety of complex CNC machine designs we can produce.  Macfab has a long history of bringing in the latest and greatest CNC machines, and you can bet this won’t be the last time.  There are always new needs and new capabilities, and Macfab is committed to keeping up with them.

 

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5 Tips to Design Machine Parts for CNC Machining

You’re designing a new part for CNC machining.  Design parts for CNC machining with cost savings in mind from the beginning. There are a few details you can address that can cut the cost of your CNC machined parts and speed up production.

Know Your Materials

Find out the standard size your raw materials come in and make your design fit well within those dimensions.  For example, if you’re going to have sheet metal parts CNC machined and you design them 3’6” long, only to find your raw stock comes in 10-foot lengths, you’re going to be buying a lot of waste material.  Get those stock dimensions and design your part to fit that with minimal waste to save money.

Cutting Recesses

If your part has recesses, consider the depth as a ratio to the diameter.  The rules aren’t hard and fast, but generally, the machining will go faster and easier if the hole’s depth is no more than three or four times the diameter.  You can certainly increase that, but just understand the deeper and narrower the pocket, the more care has to be taken when cutting it.

Also, design those recesses to have corner radii.  CNC machined parts manufacturers can certainly produce pockets with sharp corners, but that does call for extra work.  If your design can accommodate them, round those inside corners for quick cost savings.

Know Your Tools

On a related note, you’ll do well to know standard tool sizes.  For example, if you need a set of holes in a piece, designing them to be 0.625” will be notably cheaper than if they’re cut to 0.628” because 5/8” (0.625”) is a standard bit size.  Those holes can be drilled in one quick operation.  The very slightly larger holes are no problem to cut, but they do require a standard mill bit to cut a hole, then migrate around to ream it to the finished size.  It takes more time, so it costs more money.  Likewise, those inside radii mentioned above?  If your recess is 5” deep, designing a 1/8” inside radius won’t do you much good because 1/8” end mills don’t come that long.  Know your tools.

Watch the Details

It’s not difficult to get swept up in tiny details.  Remember those details can get expensive.  Design the critical features first -what the part needs to do the job.  Then you can come back and add the features you’d like to have.  That way you know you’re coming out with a functional part, and if it comes in over budget, you know which details you can scale back to bring costs back in line.

One detail that can get out of hand quickly is surface tolerances.  Of course, you’d like every feature to be accurate to a thousandth of an inch and shiny enough to see yourself.  But that’s almost certainly not what you need.  Reserve the critical tolerances for the critical points and use lower tolerances in other areas.  That speeds up machining.

Know Your CNC Machined Parts Manufacturer

That said, don’t be afraid to reach beyond what you think is doable. Work with your CNC Manufacturer.  They know a lot more about what’s doable than you do.  For instance, if you’re working with an experienced CNC machine shop like Macfab, they specialize in thin wall milling.  They can likely provide a thinner wall than you expect for the price.  That’s good information to have while you’re designing the part rather than after you’ve completed the first iteration of the design.

CNC Machined Parts Manufacturers are constantly adding new capabilities, new techniques, and new tools.  They have engineers on staff that are up to date on all of the latest material developments -both metals and plastics.  They know what can be done with today’s best equipment, and if you’re dealing with Macfab, they have all those resources ready for your project.  Let them be your primary design resource.

 

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CNC machining challenges for the medical industry

When Precision CNC Machining Is A Race Against Time

When a new disease emerges, there’s a race to find the cause -bacterial, viral, fungal, environmental -some combination of those?  The cause informs us on how to fight the disease.  You wouldn’t think of a precision CNC machining shop like Macfab being involved in a race for a cure for a deadly disease, but that’s exactly where we are.

It may not sound encouraging to say we’ve been at this for years, but Sepsis is a disease as old as mankind.  It has a head start.  Once the domain of test tubes and microscope slides, medicine is now focused on DNA sequencing and editing, medical imaging, and devices that were unimaginable even a few years ago.  Macfab has long been a leader in these pursuits with our precision medical CNC machining.

Start the Clock

Sepsis can kill in 24 hours, has very high mortality rates, and is very difficult to treat.  The cause can be bacterial, viral, or fungal, and it’s the #1 killer worldwide overall.  It used to be called “blood poisoning”, but it’s really an infection that causes the body to attack itself.  The biggest hurdle to treatment is determining what the infectious agent is.

Doctors have long relied on blood tests to identify sepsis and pin down the cause in each particular patient.  Sending those blood tests to high-complexity labs for analysis often means waiting three or four days for results.  Sepsis won’t wait that long.  Doctors can try various treatments, but those treatments can cause their own problems.  If doctors don’t guess right, they can do more harm than good, and mortality rises every hour without effective treatment.  Rapid diagnosis is the only way to save those lives.

Shaving Days and Saving Lives

Several years ago, Macfab was approached by a company that had the goal of providing same-day identification of the pathogen causing a patient’s sepsis.  A streamlined, dedicated system that can generate reliable results in a day will save thousands of lives every year.  In the US alone, sepsis kills 250,000 people and costs $24 Billion annually.  This is the technology that will make a difference.

We didn’t have to think about it; this is the kind of work that Macfab was established to do.  Using the same blood sampling standards already in use, they have developed a way to produce reliable sepsis results in one-half to one-quarter of the time of existing technologies -and those results are more than 97% accurate.

Medical CNC Machining for the Win

The next hurdle is to package the test into a unit that can be deployed widely, and that’s where Macfab’s medical CNC machining comes into play.  Testing systems that work with biological samples like blood have to be incredibly precise.  Moving the sample and processing it has to be failure-proof.  Those pathogens can escape through the tiniest gaps.  If that happens deep inside an analyzer, cleaning the contamination and testing to verify that it is clean can take days.  As the sample is processed, the Medical CNC machined parts have to maintain positive control of the environment at all points.

Maintaining that level of precision while not impacting the efficacy of the test is a delicate dance.  For these units to save lives, they need to be available to doctors everywhere.  That means they need to be robust, as well.

The final result will be simply amazing.  Countless lives will be saved worldwide.  Macfab is incredibly proud to be involved in this work.  Working with the company, designing, prototyping, and testing is very rewarding.  It’s a race we will all win in the end.

 

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CNC Machining for the Largest Electric Vehicle Manufacturer in the World

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  It’s an old Chinese proverb, and it describes the fortunes of one of Macfab’s clients perfectly.

The First Step -to the Garage

Years ago, a young Canadian engineer started a company in his garage.  He developed a machine which could do a simple thing.  At least, you would think it was simple.  Button batteries (like you find in your watch) require a tiny amount of electrolyte fluid to operate.  This young man figured out a way to deposit that electrolyte in batteries more accurately and consistently than anyone.  His improvement was both tiny and huge.  The difference in accuracy it made was probably measured in nanolitres, yet the accuracy and consistency allowed his customer to dramatically improve their battery performance and reliability.  They kept his prototype and told him to go make more.

The Next Steps

The young man got busy.  He had a product in demand.  His innovation began to yield big changes in a growing industry, and his business grew steadily.  Busy as he was, though, he wasn’t done innovating.  He continued to develop products for the battery industry as it continued to evolve.  Over time his company expanded, opening plants in South Korea, Europe, Malaysia, and China.

As his company grew and his developments became more complex, the company came to rely more and more on outside suppliers for various components.  They expanded again, with a new facility in Japan. As the complexity increased, so did the problems.  They began to experience delivery delays from their vendors.  Then there were quality control problems.  It’s not possible to run a company known for its precision if you can’t get precisely manufactured parts.

Turning A Corner

It was about this time that the company met Macfab.  The company explained their problem; Macfab explained their CNC machining capabilities.  It seemed like a perfect match, so the company gave Macfab one small order.  Macfab delivered the parts on time and to spec.  The company gave Macfab another order that went off without a hitch.  Then orders on a couple of other parts.  All came in on time and meeting specifications.

Time to Run

That was about the time the company caught the attention of the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer (who has a slight interest in battery manufacturing).  They bought the company.  Macfab has become their supplier of choice, continuing to provide highly complex components, both at home in Canada, as well as in Japan.

The parts the company now requires are of such high tolerance that other shops won’t touch them.  There simply aren’t many shops that can tackle this level of complexity with the high tolerances needed at the production level required.  Macfab’s investment in a battery (pun intended) of Swiss Turning Machines and the highly skilled operators that run them gives Macfab CNC machining abilities you won’t find elsewhere.  What is impossible for most shops is accomplished in a single machining operation, followed by extensive quality control to ensure all of those specs are met.

Macfab loves growing with our customers.  If you think our unique CNC machining abilities and skillsets can help your company take that first step on your thousand mile journey, or boost your progress down the road, give us a call; we’ll be more than happy to help.

CNC Milling – Process, Machines & Operations

It seems like if you want to get a part manufactured today, you’re going to run into 3D printing and CNC.  It’s as if the entire world of manufacturing has gone to those two technologies.  Really, though, that’s not the case.  3D printing is a different beast; it’s almost always plastic-based; it’s slow, and generally better suited for simple prototypes, mold positives, or models.  That doesn’t mean you’re limited to CNC if you need something more.

Nearly a Century of the CNC Machining Process

CNC stands for “Computer Numerical Control”.  It came about in the 1950’s, though the Computer aspect came along later.  A lot of the even older mills and lathes are still out there, in everyday use, producing outstanding work.  They were built to last, and they are perfectly happy cutting with modern bits and tools with great accuracy.  They rely on the skills of the operator.  CNC milling relies on operator skills as well, but it’s a somewhat different set of skills.

CNC milling generally starts with a CAD (Computer Aided Design) drawing on a computer.  This lays out the shape of the part with all the dimensions, angles and details like thread pitches.  When you’re sure your drawing accurately depicts the part you want, it gets converted into a CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) file.  This is what’s used by modern CNC machines.  With the CAM file loaded into the machine, you set up the raw material, make sure the machine has the correct bits and tools, and turn it loose.  If everything’s right, you’ll wind up with a faithfully reproduced part.

Yes, that’s a pretty severe oversimplification, but in broad strokes, that’s the idea.  Complex parts may require starting from a casting.  They may require special hold-down tabs to allow the part to be secured in different positions during CNC milling.  They may require retooling or intermediate steps to verify dimensions along the way.  There are a lot of possible complications, but if the CNC machining process is the only way to create the part, that’s exactly what you do.

There’s also the question of just how complex your CNC milling needs are.  The simplest machines run three axis, just like their non-CNC predecessors.  In this day of highly complex parts, you can also find 5-axis, 7-axis, and even 9-axis CNC mills.

Simpler Can be Better

A great many parts don’t rise to that level of complexity.  Parts that can be efficiently formed from raw stock rather than a casting are less likely to require the capabilities of CNC milling.  Parts which don’t require complex curves on multiple axes and parts with lower tolerances are often easily produced on simpler mills, lathes, and press brakes.  Or you may find your parts can be produced using 3 or 5-axis CNC milling rather than something bigger. The beauty of that is lower cost.  The creation of CAD/CAM files, the setup of the CNC machines, and the higher operating costs translate to higher parts costs for you.  If you can minimize those costs or avoid them altogether and get your parts produced on manual or smaller CNC machines, your production costs will be considerably lower.

A professional CNC machine shop like MacFab will help you determine what kind of machining you should be shopping for.  They can tell you precisely what kind of manual or CNC machining process can produce your parts efficiently.  Rather then being swept up in technology, companies which need parts produced today have a greater variety of options than ever before, and MacFab is proud to be here to help them figure it out.

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