Computer numerical control (CNC) machining is the most popular subtractive manufacturing technology. The process of subtractive manufacturing consists of starting with a stock raw material (known as the "blank piece" or "workpiece") and then removing undesired layers of material to create the final geometry.
As the most widely used subtractive manufacturing technology, this process allows engineers and businesses to create custom geometries from a computer-aided design (CAD) file through coded programmed instruction, thereby enhancing production. Just as a sculptor can produce a custom part by cutting away undesired material, CNC machining can produce remarkably precise designs in metalworking.
Manufacturers and factories use CNC machining both for creating high-strength prototypes from metal and plastic materials as well as facilitating full-scale production at record speed. In this article, we dispel some of the most common myths and misconceptions about CNC technology and provide tips on how you can use it in your own workflow.
MYTH 1: CNC Machining is Expensive
One of the most common misconceptions is that CNC machining services are expensive. In reality, pricing for CNC prototyping can start as low as approximately $100 for a single part, and the unit price drops dramatically for manufacturing parts in higher quantities. Because of automation and the economy of scale, CNC machining is one of the most economical options for producing parts in bulk numbers. Whether you have a smaller project that needs a unique prototype for a single part or need to mass-produce large quantities.
In addition to inexpensive custom or bulk pricing, advances in digital manufacturing technology that use computer-aided design (CAD) files have also helped to reduce the overall part price. The CNC process begins with the creation of a custom CAD model that an expert then converts into a CAD file that controls the CNC machine. This allows you to create high-precision and high-accuracy units cheaply and effectively.
Using the expertise of 3D Hubs and the company's design for manufacturing (DfM) feedback can help engineers reduce design iterations and bring products to the market at a much quicker rate than in the past. Finally, accessibility to the global market is now easier than ever, making it possible to use cheaper overseas factories and production. Gaining access to inexpensive manufacturing can, in turn, increase your net-revenue and improve your overall bottom line.
MYTH 2: CNC Machining has a long lead time
Another common misconception is the belief that CNC machining has an excessively long lead time. Although this may have been a concern in the past, technological innovation has allowed 3D Hubs to source parts as quickly as three days. Furthermore, many businesses have discovered that CNC machining can produce a large number of parts in as few as 10 days. While every business is different and the specific lead time for each project can vary, CNC machining far exceeds the limitations of manual controls or outdated operations equipment.
Partnering with an industry leader like 3D Hubs also gives you access to real-time capacity monitoring. This instant feedback cuts out the "middleman" and reduces communication with suppliers that conventionally slowed down the sourcing process. The manufacturing network also splits large orders between several suppliers effortlessly and provides online progress-monitoring. Using CNC machining is one of the most effective ways to produce your desired number of units quickly and accurately.
MYTH 3: CNC Machining is limited in terms of the design
One of the most outdated misconceptions is that CNC machining is limited in terms of deciding capability. With the rise of modern technology and today's multi-axis machining centers, manufacturers can now use CNC prototyping to produce incredibly complex, organic, and free-form geometries. Types of CNC machine operations may include drilling, milling, and turning to get each unit design exactly right.
The ability to manipulate tools around a varying number of axes can produce highly precise and compelling designs, each complying with the pre-coded instruction from a computer program. From there, manufacturers can incorporate electrical discharge machining (EDM) and custom assemblies for additional depth and complexity of the design. This advanced technology can increase the precision of unit parts for a wide range of materials (regardless of whether the original material is metal, glass, plastic, or composite).
Network manufacturing services like 3D Hubs offer tooling innovations like the rapid manufacture of fixturing jigs to create geometries that might have required multiple iterations (or an additive process like 3D printing) in the past.
Since technology has improved over the years, subtractive manufacturing technology can produce high-precision shapes and lines at a low cost. In addition, partnering with this type of innovative company gives you access to online DfM tools to monitor progress and accuracy, reduce design iterations, and increase the likelihood of satisfaction with the final result.
The Bottom Line
CNC machining is the most cost-efficient and economical technology for manufacturing custom metal parts. Mechanical engineers, tech firms, and manufacturers can use this innovative technology for both CNC prototyping and mass production.
Advances in technology can help you customize part design, reduce design innovations, and go to market much faster than in the past. 3DHubs is the industry leader in providing access to this global network of manufacturing services.