Welcome to the Future of Space

We see our possible futures through the eyes of science fiction writers. Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea stretched the limits of imagination.  Now it passes without notice on nuclear subs.  Anyone with the money can fly around the world in two or three days, never mind the 80-day challenge that astounded Victorian readers.  H.G. Wells wrote of time travel, invisibility, and genetically modified organisms a century before we knew about DNA.  Now demonstration projects are showing early attempts at invisibility and physics has demonstrated at least one form of time travel is possible.

The inspiration for the International Space Station floating around in low orbit dates to the writings of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in the late 1800s, then Von Braun demonstrated a model in the 1950s that eventually served as a model for Clarke’s vision in A Space Odyssey:2001 released in 1968.  First introduced to kids around the world in 1931, the miracle man of comic strip gadgets, Dick Tracy, popularized so many gadgets for children including the wristwatch-phone.  Today we have a much more powerful smartwatch for kids and adults alike.  Star Trek showed us the universal translator which Google is now perfecting.  Countless other inventions began in the imagination of science fiction writers: artificial intelligence, flexible screens, microscopic machines, driverless cars, and virtual reality -the list goes on.

It might take centuries for an idea to move from fiction to fact, but move they do.  What starts as a flicker in an author’s mind becomes a spark in a reader’s imagination.  They may spend their life working on the idea, and never achieve it, but that’s not failure.  Invariably they’ll move us closer to the goal.

That’s one of the amazing aspects of these times we live in.  Truly astonishing advances in manufacturing and materials science are accelerating our future.  Many of the things we do routinely today at MacFab Manufacturing were pure fantasy when we began operations.  The tolerances provided by Swiss turning and micro machining beggar belief, but it’s those tolerances that make these new developments possible.  Developments in metal chemistry has brought new alloys with amazing properties that, again, make these new machines possible.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the CubeSat industry.  Space makes everything difficult.  When the first CubeSat was launched in 2003, MacFab Manufacturing already had a lot of experience in the field.  Partnering with the brightest engineers, designers, and scientists, MacFab provided extensive research and development, as well as technical, design, and financial support to move the technology forward.

Now, satellites are smaller and more powerful than ever, with tighter tolerances, more precision machining, specialty finishes and plating, and specialty materials.  MacFab specializes in manufacturing components and assemblies for small satellites.  From concept to prototype to production, our extensive space-faring library includes gyroscopic reaction wheels and assemblies, sensor housings, propulsion nozzles, radiators, frames, manifolds, hinges, telescope and camera frames, xPods, release rings, latches, fuel cells and more.  MacFab provides the resources and expertise to move the parts from drawing to highly specialized components for the newest generations of satellites.

Those satellites are used for so many things that used to be science fiction.  Our partners use them for monitoring climate change, greenhouse and atmospheric changes, earth and environmental monitoring, agricultural optimization, maritime awareness, emergency and disaster response, security, defence, and the two most of us use every day, GPS and mobile communication.  It’s difficult to imagine what our lives would be like today without all of these things.

The next time you see a launch, notice how many satellites they’re releasing from that one rocket.  It’s not one or two; it could be over a hundred.  You can bet MacFab manufactured parts and assemblies, specialty cleaning and finishes are on board.  We’re extremely proud of the work we do to bring to life the ideas of the dreamers and the engineers.   Every job we tackle increases our knowledge and makes MacFab that much better.  We use what was once science fiction to enable tomorrow’s science fact.

Our job is bringing the future forward through experience and know-how.  Welcome to the future of space!

 

 

Factors Affecting the Cost of CNC Machined Parts

When you’ve got a new part to be manufactured, it doesn’t take long for the price tag to come up.  CNC machining costs can be daunting.  Fortunately, CNC machining costs are not cast in stone.  You do have some ability to keep your costs down.  It all hinges on attention to detail and working with a professional CNC machine shop like MacFab as early as possible in the design process.

Materials Matter

Before you have your first drawings, you know what your product is going to do.  You know the temperature range in which it will operate, the kinds of environment it will be exposed to, and what other equipment it will connect to or interact with.  You have enough information to begin looking at materials.  Issues like machineability, thermal expansion, and corrosion resistance, help dictate your materials choice.  Is your part going to mount to a stainless-steel component?  You’ll need to avoid aluminum.  Is weight crucial?  Titanium may be called for.  There are a host of considerations.  Your engineers are responsible for designing your product, but do they work every day with the metals industry?  The answer is almost certainly No, and that’s why bringing in our engineers at this point makes a lot of sense.  They know the countless varieties of materials and can help you choose the specific material that suits your needs and possibly save you some money.

The Shape of Things

The geometry of your product can make or break a project.  By optimizing the design for manufacturing, you can save a lot on your CNC machining costs.  MacFab’s engineers can help arrange the design to make it easier to produce.  They can often show you how to reorganize a product to save having to use the more complex (and more expensive) CNC machines.  They can make sure your design can be set up once for milling rather than having to be turned multiple times to reach all features.  That saves a lot of expensive manufacturing time.  The shop can know well in advance what kind of tooling they’re going to need for your job and have it on hand and ready to go.

Another point on geometry is your tolerances.  The more and tighter the tolerances you specify, the greater your CNC machining costs.  Use your CNC machine shop engineers to help you determine what tolerances actually matter and what don’t.  Focus on the important points.

Finishing

Tolerances leads straight to the next point -product finishing.  Whether your product will be seen and requires powder coating or abrasive bead blasting, logos, instructional signage, or whatever, work that out as soon as you can.  Don’t leave it until late in the game.  Granted you may have to wait for certain design aspects to be finalized, but make those arrangements as they become possible, and work with MacFab so we can plan ahead.

Labor Savings

If you work with MacFab and take advantage of our expertise, you can save significantly on labor and production costs.  If the engineers are familiar with your project, they can schedule and arrange labor well ahead of time, with the knowledge that the materials, tooling, and equipment will all be ready to go as needed.

If you’re involved with manufacturing, it’s inevitable you’re going to have to ask how much does CNC machining cost.  Focusing on these points above from the beginning of designing your product can yield tremendous savings.  At least as importantly, focus on these details can save you from delays, product failures, and unexpected expenses during manufacture, when your customer is expecting you to deliver.

Micro Machining For Customized Medical Devices

The individual components in computer chips shrink in size year after year.  You could fit 200,000 modern transistors in the length of the first transistor from 1947.  Mechanical parts continue to shrink right along with their electronic counterparts. Gears, switches, pumps, and countless other devices are routinely produced today on scales almost too small to see thanks to micromachining.

Micromachining is a family of technologies that enable MacFab to create complex pieces at scales that were unimaginable only a few years ago.  These parts are revolutionizing the medical field and more.

The Technologies

Different methods of micromachining bring different capabilities to bear, and the specifics of your designs dictate which mode is best suited to your needs.

Electrical Discharge Machining

EDM isn’t just used for micromachining; it can produce incredibly fine machining results on parts that are several inches thick.  But EDM scales beautifully to parts that are only a few ten-thousandths of an inch long.  It also excels at surface finishing, where it is often employed in association with medical CNC machining.  Medical devices often require surface finishes that are smooth down to the micron level, and EDM is the answer to those situations.  EDM also has the added benefit of not imparting physical or heat stress on the material during manufacturing.  This aids in its ability to faithfully produce the most precise components.

CNC Swiss Turning

Swiss Turning likewise runs the gamut from large to tiny manufacturing.  Our five-axis machines are at the cutting edge in medical CNC machining.  Swiss turning can produce large pieces to be medically implanted, as well as nearly microscopic components required for miniaturized implantable or wearable medical devices.

Five-Axis Micro Milling

MacFab’s 5-axis CNC mills are also capable of producing micro-machined parts.  In some ways, producing the tiniest parts is easier than producing larger pieces.  The cutting tools can stay very close to the material, avoiding the stress of over-extended tools which can cause milling errors at larger scales.  It has much more precise control when cutting a hole 3 millimetres deep than one several inches deep.  No other technology can handle certain functions like hole tapping on micro components.

Laser

One of the most versatile micromachining technologies, laser cutting can yield incredible levels of detail.  While it can obviously cut and shape metal, its strength is its resolution.  Lasers can be used to cut features other technology can’t.  It also excels at surface finishing.  While EDM is perfect for producing a surface that is flat and even, laser micromachining can etch that surface to provide needed medical or mechanical properties

Bulk Production

As a side note, if you need a part which is stackable, like a plate or metal gasket, once they’re cut from the raw material, those parts can often be stacked very carefully and then further processed in bulk with any of the above technologies.  You can realize a lot of cost savings that way.

The Benefits

“Implantable medical devices” once meant pacemakers.  Those have since been joined by systems to monitor and dispense drugs like insulin, devices to relieve chronic pain with electricity, units to tamp down seizures, and more.  Wearable tech tracks our blood pressure, and temperature, and reminds us to get our steps in every day.  These devices all rely on micromachining and medical CNC machining.  The era of implantable and wearable medical devices is just beginning to take off as we gain the ability to miniaturize more and make computer intelligence smaller and smaller.

Best CNC Machining Service For Metal Fabrication

Generally speaking, the decision of what CNC machining services best suit your project is not a decision you have to make.  Technically that is determined by the project itself.  The physical dimensions, tolerances, kerf widths, features, and details tend to dictate what CNC machining services are required to produce it.

Of course, nothing’s that cut and dried.  Hopefully, your designers know enough about various CNC technologies to be able to tell you what services you need, or what your options are.  But then keeping up with CNC technologies isn’t their job, either.  They’re engineers.  You really need to get the advice of experts, and those experts are at CNC machine shops.

This isn’t about how to choose a shop; suffice it to say you want to find a full-service shop that has the full spectrum of CNC technologies available.  They can look at your project and tell you what technologies you need.  Why do you need to deal with a full-service CNC machine shop?  If a shop has limited technology, it’s possible they’ll tell you they can produce your project when in fact their limitations are going to create problems or yield lower quality.  A full-service CNC machine shop doesn’t face that issue, and they’ll be able to provide a more genuine assessment of your needs.

So what constitutes a full-service CNC machine shop?  You want them to have the ability to bring any needed technology to bear.  That includes CNC press brakes for sheet metal work like heat shields.  If your design is mostly round, you’re likely to need CNC lathes, or perhaps even Swiss turning machines for small, very high tolerance work.  CNC mills produce parts that are more angular, have threaded screw holes, etc.  CNC laser cutting, EDM, and CNC plasma cutting are all technologies that need to be on the table, too.  You want to see that they are well equipped for metrology.  Inspecting their work to guarantee it fits your needs is vital.  And perhaps most crucially, they need to be anxious to make their engineers available to look at your project.  Those are the people who will ultimately tell you what CNC machining services you need.

Enlisting engineers from a CNC machine shop has more benefits than that, though.  They can tell you quickly if, for example, a feature on your project will require using a 5-axis CNC mill and changing it would allow all the work to be done more cheaply on a 3-axis mill.  They can spot design features which perhaps weren’t adequately defined by your engineers, or have conflicting dimensions, and they can suggest any changes which might save you money.  CNC machine shop engineers can even make recommendations about material selection based on extensive knowledge.

CNC machining services are incredibly broad in scope, and while they’re not exactly inexpensive, they’re almost always the most cost-effective solution for part manufacture.  Making sure you get the right CNC machining services for your design is crucial for its success.  Making sure you go to the best source and get the best guidance is just as important.

CNC Machine vs 3D Printing: The Best Option For Medical Machine Parts

Medical CNC machining has been the defacto standard for producing medical devices and machine parts for decades.  In recent years, though, 3D printing has entered the field.  Sometimes it can be confusing trying to figure out which technology is better suited to a particular situation.

Nothing in Common

It would help if the two technologies were more compatible.  Medical CNC machining is a subtractive technology -it removes material to form the desired part.  3D printing, however, is additive, layering the fluid material to form the part.  There is no native file format shared between the two technologies.  The language of 3D printing is concerned largely with layer thickness and supporting the part during printing, while the languages used for medical CNC machining have completely different focuses.   3D printed parts also shrink during curing, which means their files have to specify in what directions and to what degree the part is printed oversized.  That’s simply incompatible with CNC machining.

Form Ultimately Follows Function

Medical devices often rely on prototyping during development.  Prototypes can range from non-functional placeholders to see how a component fits into a device, to perfected pieces which have been tweaked for features, functionality, and production steps.  3D printing can be a suitable technology for those early-stage prototypes.  They are seldom concerned with surface finishes, and often the fitting isn’t critical.

As a medical device moves through the development process however, prototypes necessarily become more refined and functional, with fittings, measurements, finishes, and functionality being incorporated into the design.  In the background this also involves supports, hold-down tabs, and other fittings required for production of the part.  If the functions of the part are better suited to CNC machining, it makes little sense to prototype it via 3D printing and then translate that experience to CNC code for manufacture.

The Shaping of Things to Come

There is no question that 3D printing has a tremendous role and promise in creating models of medical imaging for surgical preparation.  That technology has revolutionized many procedures.  This often extends to custom medical implants based on a specific patient’s needs using a wide variety of materials, including ceramic and sintered metal.  These, however, are one-off or limited run applications, not standard production.

Medical CNC machining, on the other hand, works with an even greater variety of materials, and is far better suited to production.  It produces far better surface finishes than 3D printed parts.  The hardest or strongest 3D printing materials simply are not as durable as materials which can be used in medical CNC machining.  Lastly, the shrinkage inherent in 3D printed parts -especially in materials which require firing- creates greater difficulties in meeting exacting specifications for medical devices.

It’s easy to think of 3D printing as being faster than medical CNC machining, but that’s simply not the case.  3D printing is slow even in the best circumstances.  It’s even slower when printing medical devices because the layers are at the finest level possible to provide the best possible finish.  If a part has been designed by medical CNC machining, that design can be tweaked and the part is re-created from scratch faster than it could be reprinted.  Medical CNC mills can often run lights-out, allowing multiple copies to be produced.  3D printers rarely have that capability due to the separation, cleaning, and curing processes which are required following printing.

3D printers have their place in the medical industry, and no doubt their roles will expand as the technology matures.  That said, now and for the foreseeable, medical device design and production is almost exclusively the realm of medical CNC machining.

CNC Turning or CNC Milling: The Difference And When To Use

In most cases, the choice between using CNC turning or CNC milling to produce a part is obvious.  There are times, however, when the decision is less cut and dried.

CNC milling holds the raw material still while tools move around it, removing what doesn’t belong in the final part.  CNC milling is the obvious choice for flat, square, and otherwise irregularly shaped parts.  CNC turning, on the other hand, spins the raw material while the tools move very little.  This lends itself to cylindrical parts, of course.

The Symmetry of the Part

Parts which can be produced from symmetrical stock are usually best suited to CNC turning.  Symmetrical stock isn’t just cylindrical stock.  Square and hexagonal stock are sometimes turned.  The connotation of symmetrical stock is simply stock that’s about the same thickness no matter which way you turn it around its long axis.  Two-inch by half-inch bar stock is something that would almost never be used for CNC turning -it’s too asymmetrical.

The Roundness of the Part

While round parts are made with CNC milling, it’s far more common to find CNC mills cutting parts with corners and angles.  All things being equal, if you need a round shaft, you will look to CNC turning to produce it.  But if you need a round shaft protruding out of a large flat plate, you need to consider CNC milling.  Flat or boxy shapes are definitely candidates for CNC milling.

On the other hand, consider something like a crankshaft from an internal combustion engine.  It’s not exactly what you’d call symmetrical, with off-axis journals along its length to push pistons up and down.  Yet probably every crankshaft on earth was finished on a lathe.  CNC turning is the go-to technology to balance the weights and fine tune the bearing surfaces to give the crankshaft years of reliable service.  The key is to notice the roundness.  Pretty much every point on a crankshaft is curved.  That’s how you can tell it’s best suited for CNC turning.

The Surface Features on the Part

CNC milling excels at producing surface details.  Milling sealing surfaces perfectly flat, cutting gasket channels around cooling ports, drilling screw holes, even carving decorative or functional finishes or cutting irregular shapes on a part -these are all the bread and butter of CNC milling.  CNC turning has some limited ability to produce surface features -knurling handle grips, for example.  But for the most part, this is the domain of CNC milling.

Sometimes the Answer is Both

It’s always economical to simplify the design of a part.  Minimize the number of features, or concentrate them on one side of a part so it doesn’t have to be repositioned in the mill.  Plan the design so the CNC lathe can form the part while holding it at one end without having to remove it and turn it around.

That’s not always possible, though.  Often your part will require repositioning, which involves truing it up in the machine all over again.  And sometimes a part may require both CNC turning and CNC milling.  It happens that one is far superior at one function you need, while the other is the only way to include another required feature.  Consider that crankshaft again.  Many crankshafts depend on oil being sent through special passageways, and those holes can’t be drilled on the CNC lathe; the part has to be set up on a CNC mill just for that feature.  Features like that obviously increase your costs quite a bit, so consider them carefully, and consult with your CNC professionals to see if you can find another way to accomplish the same job for less money.

It may seem like a simple question at first, but like most things, the more you dig into the details, it gets more complicated.  That’s why working with qualified engineers who are well versed in CNC milling and CNC turning is critical to getting what you want at a price you can afford.

CNC Machining Challenges for the Medical Industry

No field presents more challenges to manufacturers than the medical industry.  The extreme tolerances are always there, but the rapid rate of change constantly creates new demands, and once in a while, curveballs can come hard and fast.

The Leading Edge

MacFab’s Swiss turning machines, precision milling and lathe work keep us on the leading edge of the medical industry.  The molecular precision of mass spectroscopy and mass cytometry means not only the machining but also the surface finishes have to be exactly right.  It’s that way with a lot of the components we manufacture.  Fittings and connections have tolerances down to a ten-thousandth of an inch.  Surface finishes must be flawless to prevent cross-contamination.

We’re capable of milling medical components without coolant to avoid chemical contamination.  We can also create parts with an eye on the annealing temperature to avoid changing the crystalline structure and therefore the hardness.  We understand that medical parts are dynamic -they’re never just a lump of metal.  The work we do to create a component can render it useless if we don’t do our jobs right.  We never lose sight of that.

Innovations

New innovations appear all the time, and MacFab is always adapting.  Many of the changes push manufacturing to the limits.  With our operators, our Swiss turning machines can generate components that could hardly be imagined a few years ago.  We maintain the latest technology, tooling, and processes.  Our operators routinely have to learn new technology so we can keep up with the most advanced needs of our clients.

We have the capacity for production runs -not just prototyping.  Our five-axis Swiss turning machines give us the accuracy our clients need.  They can handle the complexity of these intricate parts, too.  They often can produce those parts with a finish-quality surface.  If not, we can provide Alodine, anodyne, and electropolishing, along with more commonplace finishes to provide the required surface properties.  As new surface treatments are developed, we bring them in-house.

The Curve Balls

The pandemic taught everyone what can be vital and new ways to adapt.  Overnight things as innocuous as masks, gloves, and gowns became both vital and scarce.  Eventually N95 mask production exploded as much as 8 times pre-pandemic levels.  Manufacturers of all sorts suddenly found themselves faced with challenges no one had foreseen.  As you might expect, manufacturers already working in the medical industry were the first to respond.  Then supply chain problems appeared across the globe and created a new set of issues.

MacFab has extensive supplier relationships to ensure availability for the metal, alloy, and plastic materials we machine.  Our software keeps all of our people on top of every project.  Changes in an order, whether they’re related to design, quantity, or timeline, are propagated out immediately to everyone.

The lessons learned are taken to heart.  Whatever the next curve ball is, MacFab will be as prepared as possible.  We understand how crucial the medical industry is, and we take our responsibility to our clients very seriously.  In the meantime, we’re going to keep innovating and growing,

Importance of Clean Room Services for the Medical Industries

Clean rooms are nothing new, but their use in assembly is growing dramatically now.  This is especially true in the medical industry.  More than ever, medicine today relies on devices -both implanted and external- which are amazingly sensitive and complex.  Clean room assembly is required for many of these.  Even more or less standard devices like lasers and masers have to be built in clean room environments if they’re destined for use in medical applications.

The Pitfalls

Establishing and maintaining a clean room requires painstaking attention to detail.  A single person failing to follow one protocol can shut down a clean room for days.  Clean room assembly calls for special arrangements to bring components in and out.  Filters must be replaced on regular schedules and the air monitored and logged constantly to ensure the proper particulate levels are not breached.

Clean room assembly calls for individual components to be suitably prepped, finished and packaged to enter the space.  Each new shipment is another opportunity for problems.  Each discrete component is another opportunity for a supply chain disruption and another inventory item to maintain.

Sunk Costs

Your job is developing and improving life-saving equipment and devices and getting them out to patients.  Time and money you spend worrying about clean room supply, support, and maintenance is nothing but sunk costs to your business.  Still, those considerations are necessary.

Contract clean room assembly is the only solution that makes sense when one little mistake can cost so much.  MacFab has the procedures, monitoring equipment, and installations to virtually eliminate those situations.  It’s what we do for a living; of course we’re going to be better at it than a company that doesn’t focus on this all day, every day.

The Solution

When MacFab takes on your medical clean room assembly needs, components can be manufactured onsite.  They can be finished onsite -whether that means water or solvent cleaning, vapor degreasing, electro-polishing, or passivation.   They can then go into your assemblies without delay.  Our medical clean room facilities are designed to exceed ISO standard 14644-1 class 7 standards.   Our safeguards, and procedures simplify your regulation compliance every way possible.

The Benefits

You get faster service because the components we produce don’t have to be packaged and shipped before being assembled into your base parts or finished product.  The pieces we produce can go immediately from production to assembly.  The savings in both time and cost can be tremendous.

We minimize your supply chain disruptions.  We have excellent supplier networks and can warehouse assembly components.  We can turn those 20 or 30 individual inventory SKUs into the assembly or part you actually need to stock.  You avoid some out-of-stock piece making your entire product unavailable, and your logistics only has to track one SKU that arrives pre-finished and pre-packaged exactly as your line requires.

MacFab’s medical clean room assembly and manufacturing offerings are tailored to allow you to do what you do best -improve and save lives- while minimizing the headaches that can surround these highly critical facilities.  Boost your profitability and maximize efficiency by turning over your clean room requirements to a company that focuses on exactly that.

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