Businesses are always trying to find new ways to improve and expedite their production processes. Over the years, advancements in manufacturing technology and machining have changed the way that the nation creates durable products, devices and goods. With these upgrades, businesses can more efficiently fabricate their items and increase productivity.
As more manufacturers take advantage of the potential of these recent advancements, other businesses must keep up. While new technology is being developed all the time, there are also consistent upgrades to existing machines that bring forth new capabilities. One of the most significant factors in this evolving production equipment industry is the CNC machine.
What Is a CNC Machine?
A Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine is a fully automated mechanical device that uses computer programming to manipulate raw stock, such as a block of plastic or metal, into new shapes by removing material. The result of this programming is the creation of three-dimensional pieces that are often components for different assemblies. This machine gets its instruction from a written program, which it can store to execute consistently over and over again.
A CNC machine is a highly efficient solution for reducing manual processing time. Without CNC machining capabilities, operators would have to guide tools manually and perform multiple part setups, which could be very difficult and time-consuming for complex designs.
Instead of relying on multiple different machines and tools, a CNC machine can often combine many processes in one to hold, flip and remove material without constant intervention. These machines have the technology and digital processing power to interpret designs and make the required cuts with speed and accuracy on multiple axes, greatly reducing time and labor needs.
Types of CNC Machines
There are a few different types of CNC Machines that suit various applications for different industries. Here are a few of the most common:
- Lathe: A CNC lathe rotates the workpiece against a cutter to remove material in a process known as turning. These machines typically produce cylindrical objects and can perform numerous processes, such as cutting threads and radii.
- Milling: One of the most common types of CNC machines, CNC mills have computer controls that translate commands consisting of numbers and letters to move the spindle as directed. These machines have many functions, such as drilling, milling, producing slots, tapping and turning. Milling machines can cut on multiple axes, greatly reducing setup time.
- Plasma cutter: A CNC plasma cutter uses a plasma torch to cut heavy materials. With high-temperature gas blown through a nozzle, the machine generates an electric arc to create plasma, which cuts the required shape from a sheet of metal. Plasma cutters are ideal for cutting rough two-dimensional pieces for additional processes,
- Electric discharge machine: Also known as an EDM, these machines have two different types and use electrical sparks and discharges to create new shapes. Portions of material or a workpiece are removed from the current between two electrodes. The machine calculates how much discharge each electrode needs to produce once the material is in place.
- Routers: CNC routers cut on multiple axes to create complex shapes in materials like plastic, wood, aluminum and steel. These machines can help reduce waste and are great for smaller projects.
New vs. Used CNC Machines
If you’re considering an investment and looking for what CNC machine to buy, start by thinking about your business operations and average production needs. There are a few factors you’ll want to evaluate:
- Purpose: Think about what you need your CNC machine for and how often you will use it. Consider performance, tooling, customization options and any software programs you might need to run it. A newer CNC machine may have more capability, but you might be better off buying used if an older model will integrate well with your current software or other equipment.
- Experience/Skill: Whoever will be writing your programs needs to be familiar with the requirements of the machine, and you will have to confirm software compatibility. Opting to buy an older, more familiar model could lead to savings by eliminating the need for worker training or new software.
- Urgency: Consider how soon you need your CNC machine for your operations. If your business requires a top-notch CNC machine right away, a new unit you know you can trust might be the better choice for you. If you’re not ready to buy immediately, you might consider contract manufacturing to get your production off the ground.
- Budget: New or used, CNC machines are expensive, so business expenses are a major factor in deciding which to buy. Used CNC machines will certainly cost less upfront, but they may require costly maintenance. If you’re looking for the best CNC milling machine for a small shop or an operation with limited finances, it’s wise to look at both new and used options from reputable dealers, or seek other alternatives.
These are all important elements to take into account when a project calls for CNC machining services. However, if some of these factors don’t align well with your business requirements and budget, consider using a contract manufacturer to alleviate pressure on your operations and finances. Having a trusted partner machine your components for you could spare you the cost of the machine, training expenses and materials, as well as space in your shop.
For Small Businesses vs. Large Businesses
The nature of your operation will be a critical factor in determining which CNC machine you should buy. Routers are good CNC machines for small businesses that take on more unique projects. For larger businesses — or those that produce multiple identical parts in one order — a mill is an excellent multipurpose choice. CNC machine manufacturers design mills in a range of sizes to fit various operational needs.
Each CNC machine can bring an optimized workflow to your business provided you have the work volume, knowledge, tooling and resources to use its full capabilities effectively. You may have products that vary in complexity or require different types of machining operations, so do your research on the specific CNC machine you are considering. If your parts would require multiple machines, such as a plasma cutter and a mill, for efficient production, opting for contract manufacturing instead would save you a great deal of money.
Why You Should Use a Contract Manufacturer
If you’re not sure which CNC machine you should buy — and what you might need to go with it — consider your other options. With CNC machining services, your business can take advantage of contract manufacturing for your production and other processes. Contract CNC machining lets you rely on experienced professionals for everything from drafting to production. If you only need CNC machine capabilities for a one-off project, contracting is an excellent call.
Additionally, contract machining firms have access to many different machines and can adapt to changes in your needs and specifications. A reliable contract partner will uphold high expectations and quality control to help ensure premium output. Your business might already be juggling changes in schedule and demand, a complex supply chain, a small production range or issues with adding new equipment. In this case, using a contract manufacturer might be the right option to allow you to focus on growing your business and improving your bottom line.
Finding the Best CNC Machining Contract Manufacturer
Contract manufacturers will know the ins and outs of the different machines and how to handle production most efficiently. Many different industries and fields use contract machining to produce the components they need every day, such as:
When using a contractor, you eliminate all training needs, software expenses and tooling costs. To ensure the partnership can meet your goals, you will want to find a highly experienced, reputable company that can manage all types of work, taking the time to review their track record and machining capabilities. An established team will know how to use the best CNC machines for specific metals or other materials to deliver exceptional adherence to your tolerances and finish specifications.
Contact Astro Machine Works for CNC Machining Services
If you need CNC production capabilities without the expense of buying a machine, Astro Machine Works is ready to serve you. We are a CNC machining company that knows how important reliable production is to your business’s success, and our experienced professionals are proud to provide extensive contract machining services to a wide range of industries. Our team can provide five-axis CNC machining, wire EDM, welding and fabrication, and numerous other services to create even the most complex components.
Astro Machine Works can find the right solutions for your projects. Contact us today to speak with a government or commercial sales representative. We also invite you to visit our website to learn more about our CNC precision machining services.