As technology has made great leaps over the years, CNC machining, a new high precision manufacturing technique, has taken root. In the realm of computer numerically controlled manufacturing, CNC machining bears some similarities to 3D printing. In both methods, engineers fabricate physical parts from a digital model.
This model is created using CAD and transformed through a process known as CAM. The designer then feeds these instructions to a CNC machine. The main difference between CNC machining and 3D printing is that 3D printing is an additive process such that materials are added to other materials. In CNC machining, the process is subtractive, where materials are removed from a block to create physical CNC parts.
CNC machinists and programmers use specialized software to create 2D or 3D models to instruct CNC machines to manufacture the specified parts.
Computer-Aided Design (CAD) - CAD is the program used to draw models and associate specifications to the parts of the final design. This software defines key parts' properties and forms the basis of manufacturers' design data in their manufacturing.
Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) - This is software used by product engineers to design, plan and update product designs. It is used throughout the manufacturing life cycle.
Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) - CNC machines understand machine code. CAM software utilizes the technical data from CAD to create machine code which is then uploaded to the CNC machine.
There are three conventional techniques that underly CNC machining.
Drills - They work by spinning a drill bit into contact with a stationary block. CNC drilling is used to create holes for screws and nuts at a later stage of the manufacturing process. CNC drilling offers innumerable advantages, such as high precision aligned with the digital model. This method is also applicable to designs requiring different holes as the drill bit is replaceable.
Lathes - Lathes function in reverse to drills. They spin a block of material against a stationary drill cutter that removes material in a circular path. This CNC machine is used to fabricate objects with precise inner and outer diameters, such as pipes.
Some lathe machines can run simultaneous operations during the turning action, including milling and tapping. CNC lathe configurations include flat bed, vertical, horizontal and multi-axis.
Milling - CNC milling utilizes rotary blades that spin to cut away material from a block. This multi-point manufacturing process is used for various materials, including plastic and metal. CNC machinists use milling in different manufacturing stages, from cutting up a block to definition work for custom pieces.
The common CNC milling processes include form, plain and angular milling.
Understand Your CNC Machine - It is important to know the limits of the CNC machine and how it works- lathes, drills, or mills. Not all parts can be machined, and over-the-top designs make the process longer and more difficult.
Know When to Machine - While CNC machining has revolutionized modern manufacturing, it might not always be the best option. Some design processes can be achieved using other fabrication techniques that are easier and more economical.
Form Follows Function - In CNC manufacturing, always aim to achieve functionality over aesthetics. Unnecessary additions cost more and may also interfere with the structural integrity of the finished product.
Generally Accepted Standards - Aim to create standard measurements and use materials and holes. This saves time and makes it easier to analyze or troubleshoot any deviations.
CNC machining is a ground-breaking technology due to its efficiency, precision and scalability. With technology growing every day, the applications of CNC are poised to usher in a new era in manufacturing.
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