Global News Wire highlighted a research study recently that revealed the exciting trajectory of the CNC machining industry. According to projections, the global CNC market will reach most likely $115 billion by the year 2026. That’s a 6% growth margin in just half a decade. But to better understand how and why CNC machining is becoming a formidable industry, you must grasp the fundamentals of the process.
What is CNC machining?
This is a complex manufacturing process that produces precision parts with intricate geometries out of a wide variety of materials. It uses pre-programmed software to control the movements of tools, workpieces, and machines. Skilled machinists then utilize grinders, lathes, mills, routers, and high-tech cutting and/or finishing methods to create three-dimensional prototypes and/or fully functional components.
Because CNC machining involves a single set of prompts for each task, operators can complete large orders in a short amount of time. Unlike manual production, wherein machinist must control everything by hand, computer numerical control removes many limitations. This form of automation is not only beneficial to the client but also to the manufacturing industry as a whole.
What all is involved?
To the untrained eye, CNC machining systems might look like typical computer programs. However, the software used is distinguishable from all other computation platforms. Once the system is started, precision operations get programmed into the software, and those programmed operations perform complex dimensional tasks as specified by the machinist.
The CNC code generator usually assumes flawlessness despite the potential for errors. Those potential errors increase in tandem with geometrical complexity. So, tool placement and programming knowledge are both crucial during each step of the process. In most cases, machinists will consult a series of inputs called the “part program” to prevent those errors.
Here’s a brief overview of what else is typically involved:
CAD/CAM Software Programming.
CNC machining relies on a combination of CAD and CAM software. It then uses a G-code to control the behaviors of corresponding tools and machinery. Thus, pre-programming allows for repetitive, predictable manufacturing with optimized automation where it matters most.
NOTE: CAD handles computer models via specified geometrical parameters, while CAM takes care of the operational design data of automated machinery connected to the system.
Open/Closed-Loop Machining Systems
The position of a part is important, so it gets controlled through a closed-loop or open-loop machining system. Open-loop systems operate in one direction while closed-loop systems can receive feedback from the machinist for error prevention.
NOTE: Stepper and servo motors can simulate the exact G-code movement specifications across a part’s X and Y axis unless multi-axis machining is used.
Modern CNC manufacturing protocols call for partial, if not full, automation. For efficient, expedited services, a part’s dimensions get put into the CAD software before being converted into the finished product using CAM software.
NOTE: This integrated production system streamlines manufacturing over a wide range of machining methods, with state-of-the-art robotics to replicate complex processes without error.
Most CNC machines are electronic, with ultrasonic welding, laser cutting, and rapid hole punching the most common processes thus far. However, leading CNC machine shops also utilize mills, lathes, plasma cutters, wet jet cutters, and electric discharge machines (EDM) as well.
NOTE: Well-equipped CNC machine shops can execute several complex operations under one roof, from expedited metal finishing to bulk order manufacturing.
In each case, the complexity of a design and its required production processes will affect the cost. So, be sure to talk to your production team for more detailed information and to get some money-saving tips.
How does the CNC machining process work?
It may take a long time to conceptualize a part’s design, but it doesn’t take much time to turn that design into a 3D part using automated machining. Here’s a step-by-step CNC guide describing exactly what happens on the facility floor:
Step 1: The Pre-Start
This is when a machinist checks the machine oil and coolant levels to ensure safe operations. They’ll look at ventilation levels and pressure requirements as well, and then troubleshoot any issues they find.
Step 2: The Real Start
Machinists will carefully power their machines through the main breaker on the back. Meanwhile, they’ll follow all facility guidelines and manufacturing requirements as per licensing and certifications.
Step 3: The Tool Load
This is when the precision-cutting tools get loaded into the machine’s tool carousel. The order of installation is always listed in the CNC program’s tool list for quick reference.
Step 4: The Part Mount
The machinists will then mount the part in the machine’s vise before tightening it to prevent unwanted movements and unnecessary build-up edge (BUE) that could change tolerances.
Step 5: The Tool Offset
This step involves setting the tool length offsets for each tool listed in the CNC program. Machinists will measure from the bottom to the top of a tool before defining the TLO.
Step 6: The Part Offset
This step involves setting the part length offsets (PLO) after the vise and tool are secured. Machinists do this to locate the part XY data prior to making the first cut or adjustment.
Step 7: The Program Load
A machinist will then load the appropriate CNC machining program into the machine. Typically, this is done using a flash USB drive, floppy disk, or another form of digital storage.
Step 8: The Dry Run
To provide maximum precision and safety, machinists will conduct what’s known as a “dry run” to determine any potential threats to the manufacturing process and provide time to fix them.
Step 9: The Program Execution
This is where the real fun begins. CNC experts will launch the pre-programmed design with extra caution to ensure an error-free manufacturing process, often handling bulk orders from large industries.
Step 10: The Shut Down
After the order has been successfully completed, parts and tools get removed from the vise. The work area is thoroughly cleaned and the machine gets shut down as per its operational instructions.
Complicated cuts on delicate materials for important projects at affordable prices and efficient speeds – none of that would be possible without a well-executed CNC process and increased demand for expert machinist. To get started on your design or to begin manufacturing your part, apply for a quick 6-hour quote on the main page.