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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Factors Affecting the Cost of CNC Machined Parts

When you’ve got a new part to manufacture, it doesn’t take long for the price tag to come up.  CNC machining costs can be daunting.  Fortunately, the cost of CNC machined parts is 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 lead straight to the next point: product finishing. Whether your product requires powder coating, abrasive bead blasting, logos, instructional signage, or other finishing touches, address these needs as soon as possible. Don’t leave them until late in the game. You may need to wait for certain design aspects to be finalized, but make arrangements as they become possible, and work with MacFab so we can plan ahead.

Labor Savings

By working with MacFab and taking advantage of our expertise, you can save significantly on labor and the cost of CNC machined parts. When the engineers are familiar with your project, they can schedule and arrange labor well ahead of time, knowing that the materials, tooling, and equipment will all be ready to go as needed.

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

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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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.

Micro machining 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 Used in Micro Machining

Different methods of micro machining 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 micro machining; 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 micro machining 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 micro machining 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 of Micro Machining

“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 micro machining 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.

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.

Choosing The Right CNC Machining Process for On-demand Production

It was, perhaps, inevitable that the success of Just-In-Time production would find its way to the CNC machining process.  Suppliers and wholesalers have for decades now shown the incredible benefits of JIT inventory control.  There was an inexplicable disconnect between being able to restock consumer electronics in a day and having to wait months for custom products or parts.  On-demand production has emerged as the answer.

CNC machining on demand begins and ends with the customer’s needs.  Tight integration between the customer and Macfab is tailored to boost customer profitability and satisfaction.  If you’ve ever tracked a package, you know the frustration of seeing it sitting for a day in a warehouse not far away, knowing it will be tomorrow before you receive it.  On-demand manufacturing is all about eliminating that kind of pointless delay.

Integration is the Key

Cloud-based integration with your manufacturer is at the heart of on-demand manufacturing.  Once you find a dependable full-service CNC on-demand manufacturer like Macfab, you’re ready to roll.  Your designs can be uploaded through an encrypted connection rather than email.

Evaluation can begin immediately rather than waiting for someone to open the email and decide what to do with it.  Questions can be fielded and decisions made largely through an AI-driven process that saves huge amounts of time.

Moving Through the Stages

Designs can be optimized to take advantage of raw stock dimensions.  Materials choices can be made from readily available stocks, or orders placed if suitable stock isn’t immediately available or castings are called for.  The required CNC machining processes can be identified and the necessary machines, tools, manpower, and time arranged.  Changes determined by our engineers or your designers’ feedback on the system and adjustments are made accordingly at all levels of the manufacturing plan.

The CNC machining on demand goes on to include inspections and all necessary QA reporting, cleaning, assembly, packaging, and shipping.

Parallel Planning

Just as building construction often begins before a design is finalized, on-demand manufacturing with its AI underpinning maintains the flexibility that wasn’t possible that long ago.  Overseen by our engineers and managers, our on-demand capabilities incorporate Kanban, lean manufacturing, and integrated inventory control.  Changes are mapped ahead as soon as they’re introduced to your product.  The goal is to avoid the scenario of your product sitting and waiting for some machine to be free or some time to be opened up like your package sitting in a terminal somewhere.

Our low-volume / high-complexity manufacturing model allows us to focus on manufacturing runs of the size you need.  We aren’t in the business of being a high-volume manufacturer.  From prototypes to finished products, we tailor our output to your needs.

Prototypes actually play a critical role in your on-demand experience.  MacFab can produce a prototype very quickly.  In fact, your testing of the prototypes may be the longest part of the on-demand manufacturing process.  Whether you run incremental prototypes or test them to failure to determine what features need to be adjusted, the bulk of your production run remains active in our on-demand system.  As soon as you give the green light, manufacturing begins.

Stripping out the dead time in the manufacturing process saves you money by optimizing the time you have to invest in your products.  It makes us profitable by keeping our shop schedule at peak efficiency.  In other words, there are very good reasons for everyone to utilize CNC on-demand manufacturing.

 

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Macfab’s Contribution to Medical Innovation.

There’s a real Renaissance happening in medicine today, and Advanced CNC Machining is playing a part.  When COVID-19 hit in 2020, the first vaccine was rolled out in a matter of months thanks to years of research into mRNA.  Prior to that point, the fastest vaccine development had been four years.

Putting Advanced CNC Machining to Work

At that same time, the government issued a call for the manufacture of ventilators to help save lives.  Macfab was brought in by our client in the medical industry to help produce components for a new ventilator.  They designed and rolled out the ventilator in a record-shattering six months, winning Gold at the 2020 International Design Awards.

Macfab was also brought in recently by another client.  They are tackling sepsis infections.  So-called “blood poisoning” can be caused by a host of different pathogens.  Patients face life-threatening symptoms that advance quickly.  Every hour lowers a patient’s chances of survival.  With our help, they are able to develop and release a self-contained testing system that can identify over 90% of sepsis pathogens in under an hour.

We worked with cancer and genetics research client when they were developing their hematology analyzers.  These units allow doctors to get complete blood counts in as little as a minute.  Of course, to do something that revolutionary requires some revolutionary technology, including channels through which blood can pass only one cell at a time.  These machines not only count and differentiate different types of cells but can monitor for certain types of blood disorders.

As the range of medical devices continues to grow, there is more and more need for high-precision advanced CNC manufacturing.  The level of detail that these new medical techniques take advantage of requires an equally refined mechanical interface.

Advanced CNC Machining When You Need Precision

Along with advanced CNC machining, 3D printing is also being tasked with creating new devices with designs that could only be imagined only a few years ago.  Some of this 3D printing takes the form of organ models surgeons use to prepare for surgery.  Others are more permanent.

Macfab has found itself working with companies that bring in 3D-printed parts requiring post-printing refinement.  The printed parts may require a smoother surface finish or higher detail than can be produced in the printer.  We can treat the printed part much like casting and mill it to the level of precision called for by their designs.  This can take the form of threading holes, shaping curves, or making other cuts that would create problems if they were produced directly in the printer.  We can also etch in serial numbers.  You could say this makes 3D printing the newest tool to advance CNC machining.

Our new machines are faster, more energy efficient, and more precise than all of our previous machines.  One of our mills performs a tool change in 0.7 seconds.  They all provide tighter tolerances than ever.  Systems like our new 9-axis Swiss turning machine are effectively two mills that can work on a given part simultaneously.  The speed and precision are beyond anything else on the market.  Our new metrology equipment, too, allows us to verify to a ridiculous extent how accurate we are at any given point on a part.  Advanced CNC Machining is the gold standard for the development of complex medical devices.

Macfab has a long history of working with the medical industry.  It’s the type of business that allows us to push ourselves and our abilities to the limit.  When lives are on the line, you find a new focus in your work.  Not every CNC machine shop can produce the accuracy, cleanliness, and consistency that Macfab does.  It’s something we take great pride in.

 

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The Significance of Quality Improvement Tools in CNC Machining

Manufacturers talk a lot about quality.  Everyone wants to be known for putting out quality products.  “Quality is our job.” “No one beats our quality!”   Well, “Quality” is a great buzzword, but how can you tell what they mean -if they mean anything?

In the realm of CNC machining, there are a couple of common ways to gauge quality -quality assurance and quality control.  Together they constitute a quality improvement.  The way to determine if a company is actually committed to quality improvement should be easy -just look at what they invest in quality improvement tools and how they use them.

In the Beginning: Quality Control

At Macfab, Quality control starts at the beginning of the manufacturing process.  Measurements are taken when setting up raw stock or castings, even before machining begins.  Then throughout CNC machining, quality control steps are included.

The operators (or often the CNC mills themselves) will pause to take measurements of the part in progress, confirming that specific features meet specifications before proceeding.  This can be vital in some situations. Tensions in the material may cause a part to warp as it’s milled and structures become thinner.  These tensions may be caused during the production of the raw stock or casting, or from heat from the CNC milling process itself.  Features may have been in spec earlier but may shift as the part is shaped further.  Monitoring the details of a part’s shape at various stages of machining allows us to spot where warping is being introduced.  With that knowledge, we can determine how best to handle the situation.

All of those measurements are recorded, most of them automatically, in another quality tool -our ERM software.  Not only does this provide our customers with QC data on their products, but we can use it internally.  If we see similar failures happen on different projects using the same raw stock, that can inform us that our supplier may have a problem with that particular commodity.  Or we may discover that we need to use a different milling bit or different cooling in some circumstances.  Watching for and analyzing failures is vital to genuine quality control.

In the End: Quality Assurance

Once the shaping is finished on a part, quality assurance takes over.  The part is placed into one of our component measuring machines, and every aspect of it is checked again.  The features are compared against the design drawings and the specified tolerances.  Screw holes, curves, surface finishes, recesses, flanges -Macfab’s CMM machines measure it all as part of their quality tools.  Every single measurement winds up in our ERM software and is provided to the customer in an easy-to-read format.

There is one last component to Macfab’s Quality Improvement: our people.  Everyone here is crucial for the continued success of our quality improvement efforts.    Nothing can replace the senses of the operators, who can often spot issues before any measurement system would.  The engineers who design and maintain our ERM software work out how to use the data to monitor systemic problems.

Most of our customers are answerable to their customers for quality assurance.  Macfab provides ample documentation to satisfy the most exacting requirements.  In the end, that’s how you can gauge a company’s commitment to quality improvement.  It’s not one thing, but a culture of attention to detail that permeates an operation as you’ll find at Macfab.

 

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Developing Environmentally Sustainable CNC Machining Solution

Environmental sustainability isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions CNC machining, but Macfab has made environmental responsibility a key component in our business philosophy.  As we see it, doing what we can to promote sustainable manufacturing makes sense for us and our customers.

Our operations are tightly integrated.  We use the principles of Kanban to provide a seamless service to our customers.  Lean manufacturing helps keep our costs down.  And sustainable machining benefits both us and our customers.

Planning for Sustainable Manufacturing

Designs can be worked on digitally by their designers in conjunction with our engineers.  Aside from the mountains of paper and travel that saves, it also allows us to influence designs with an eye toward efficient use of raw stock.

Minimizing waste begins before materials are even purchased.  Our engineers can also recommend material options that are available locally, avoiding shipping.  If machining is going to be too wasteful, they can look at the possibilities of cutting nested parts out of the raw stock or using castings to avoid waste.  Our CRM software allows us to manage inventory for many of our customers and can control stock levels automatically to avoid both outages and leftover components after a product is dropped.

Sustainable Machining on the Shop Floor

CNC machining is fundamentally greener than old-school metal working.  Gone are the giant motors spending half their energy running Rube Goldberg mazes of gears and worm drives.  Modern CNC machines have digital stepper motors tuned to the requirements of their specific jobs.  Properly tooled, they run more efficiently than operators, as well.

Some CNC machines are capable of running completely unattended, or what’s called “Lights Out”.  If a Swiss turning machine can be left to produce parts overnight, it can use electricity at off-peak hours, when there’s little if any energy being put into maintaining a comfortable environment in the shop.

It’s the nature of precision CNC machine shops that we have to be fastidious about our surroundings.  Chips and swarf can’t be allowed to collect.  Macfab has a robust recycling program for shop cuttings of all materials.  We are also heavily invested in coolant systems for the various machines.  Along with keeping parts and bits cool, those fluids wash away cuttings from the milling area.  We use environmentally friendly coolant fluids.  We have also recently purchased a filtration and management system that allows us to remove the contaminants for recycling and use the coolant for far longer.

At Macfab we see sustainable manufacturing as a win-win.  We save time and money by minimizing waste.  Our customers save money as a result.  We also know our customers appreciate working with companies that keep an eye on sustainability -it’s good for their bottom line and it’s something investors look for, as well.  We all live in this environment.  We all have very real motivations for keeping our communities clean and healthy.  At Macfab, we try to incorporate that into everything we do.

 

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What Future Does Artificial Intelligence Hold for CNC Machining

You can’t escape stories about artificial intelligence these days.  The Internet is blowing up with tech’s drive to roll it out and tales -from humorous to frightening- about early results.  But rest assured; artificial intelligence is coming.

AI is not new in itself.  Early systems have been in use for years.  These are not the general-purpose language models being rolled out today, but specialized AI algorithms designed for specific tasks.  Fields like industrial design have been taking advantage of AI to optimize product designs.

AI systems can effectively be told to produce a device that does this set of tasks and can be held in one hand, for example.  The algorithm then runs through iterations of designs quickly until it comes to what it believes to be a good design that meets the stated goals.  Engineers then assess the work and feed changes back into the design as needed.  Weeks can be shaved off a design process.

AI Applications in Manufacturing Today

CNC machines get smarter and more capable all the time, so it would be naive to think they wouldn’t be affected by AI.  CNC mills and lathes are effectively part of the Internet of Things at this point.  Current machines are networkable, allowing them to report CMM measurements into our inspection and reporting software, but there’s more to it than that.  AI Software maps out the machining sequences, tool selection, spindle speeds, and feed rates.  CNC mills have tool load monitoring, which they can use to detect a broken bit.

AI modeling now allows analysis of tool load and vibration to watch for damaged bits.  AI can decide if it needs to check the accuracy of its work and automatically insert a step into its program to use its CMM probe to verify the feature it just cut.  It will catch a damaged bit and swap out for a new bit before continuing with the milling program. That same ability allows it to take another pass over a feature to see if it can be cleaned up, or to reject the part without wasting further time on it.

Macfab uses AI in our CRM software.  We provide inventory management for some of our clients.  We monitor their use of inventory parts and production runs are slated accordingly to ensure inventory levels are always where they need to be.  This technology saves managerial time by automating orders.  It also saves inventory costs.  The AI can spot trends and automatically manipulate inventory levels up or down according to usage.

One of the most revolutionary features of CNC machines was freeing up the operators to a degree.  Milling no longer required the operator’s full attention as it had since the start of the Industrial Revolution.  Operators in some cases could run two or three machines at once.  It was a monumental change.  AI is the next iteration of that same process.

Self-calibration, measuring spindle run-out, checking the bed for flatness, spotting unacceptable backlash in head movements, and catching issues like dry bearings are either here or coming.  Using in-built sensors and AI logic will allow us to be proactive on machine maintenance, which can be a huge cost-saving measure.   The AI will be able to determine the least disruptive time, schedule a machine for downtime, and reassign its production to others while it’s down for maintenance.  If CNC machines can police themselves, operators will be freed up even further to address the genuinely complicated tasks.

Some people fear advancements like this. Some fear automation like this kills jobs.  History has taught us repeatedly that jobs don’t go away; they merely change.  Advancements like AI are the next step in freeing people up from the most mundane and repetitive portions of their jobs.  They get to be more creative and have more variety in their work with fewer “chores”.  Macfab is excited by the changes AI is bringing to the world of CNC machining.

 

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AI in cnc machining

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