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CNC which stands for Computer Numerical Control is a method for automating three-dimensional cutting and milling. The best CNC routers will let you produce factory grade work in a small shop as you get started in your CNC career. Today it is easy to find CNC routers that offer precision and speed at prices that are affordable for entrepreneurs getting started in manufacturing. Here are some of the best CNC routers with reviews. Keep in mind that you still need a good CNC programmer to make these devices work well for your startup.

Axiom Precision AR4 Pro+ 4-Axis-Ready CNC

We included the Axiom Precision AR4 Pro+ in our review to give an example of the high-end in the small-format CNC market—this CNC router is engineered from the ground up like a large industrial machine, but is scaled to fit in the small shop.

The Axiom AR4 is a best-in-class machine with a liquid-cooled 3 HP variable-speed spindle, high-torque precision stepper motor, precision ball screws on every axis, an extruded aluminum 24 x 24-inch table, and a cast-aluminum frame. It requires a 220-Volt power supply and runs spindle speeds up to 24000 RPM.

The AR4 is the smallest of 3 AR Pro models, but it still weighs 320 Lbs. The machine is operated via a handheld controller that reads the design file from a flash drive, making a connected computer unnecessary.

Technically a bench-mounted unit, the Axiom is actually nothing less than a compact industrial machine. When you order the AR4 from Axiom, you get to configure it to your needs, and they will literally build you a custom CNC machine from fine precision components that come together in a CNC router that provides extreme accuracy, repeat-ability, and high production speed.

It is immediately easy to see that there are no corners cut on the AR4 as every nut and bolt is of the highest quality. The industrial-grade screw-in data cable connectors, heavy ball screws, and onboard cooler are features that set this machine far above any of the standard units on the market.

When you consider the quality and capability of this CNC router, and the fact that it comes with training and life-time support, the price is actually very reasonable Router.

CNC Shark HD 4

The Next Wave Automation CNC Shark HD 4 is the upgrade of the popular Shark Pro Plus, and it has a number of features that the advanced DIY CNC user will appreciate.

The first improvement is the heavy-duty reinforced gantry and interlocking aluminum table, a setup designed to reduce the wobble and backlash that were downsides of the previous Shark models. The new color touchscreen pendant controller is as easy to use as a smartphone and it lets you run programs from a flash drive.

This unit is designed for commercial use and made to handle large routers like the Porter-Cable 890, the Bosch 1617, or the Next Wave Automation water-cooled spindle. Auto-edge and auto-sensing locate and measure the workpiece and then identify the toolpath start point wherever it is positioned in the 25 x 25 inch bed. The Shark HD4 comes with Virtual Zero software that maps the workpiece surface for maximum accuracy. VCarve Desktop V9.0 Design Software and the Vector Art 3D Sampler Pack are also included in your purchase.

We were impressed at the rigidity and stability of this 187-pound machine—it is also simple in design without a lot of excess parts and attachments. There is no need to have a computer connected to this machine, adding convenience for repetitive runs.

CNC Piranha XL

The CNC Piranha XL offers an extended work surface and many of the same operating features as the CNC Shark HD, but at a much lower price point.

It has a touchscreen controller along with auto-edge and auto-sensing capabilities, and comes with the Virtual Zero work piece mapping software, as well as the VCarve Desktop V9.0 and the Vector Art 3D software packages. The machine has XYZ travel dimensions of 12 x 24 x 4 inches and can run Bosch, Dewalt, Porter Cable, and several other similar palm-style routers. It can run anything the router can cut, but works best with wood, plastics, and soft metals. There is no need to have a computer attached to the machine—just create a design, save it to a flash drive, plug it into the USB port on the pendant, and run the program.

We love the fact that this CNC machine comes fully assembled. At 75 pounds, it is stable but still fairly portable. When everything is set up, the machine has a clean and simple look without excess cabling to get in the way. Operation is also super-simple—basically plug-and-play—with little adjustment needed. However, we found that accuracy is improved if the unit is leveled and clamped or bolted into position.

This is an easy-to-use and fun machine, and we recommend that first-timers save their money, skip the lower-end machines, and move right up to the Piranha XL.

Taishi Desktop CNC Router

This CNC router had a lot of similarities to the JFT machine in terms of operating specifications and technology.

It is constructed of solid 15mm aluminum alloy plate—weighing in at over 120 pounds with a small 35 x 26-inch footprint and 21-inch gantry height, it is a rigid and stable machine. Cutting is done by an 0.8 KW air-cooled spindle running up to 24000 RPM.

The Taishi can produce engraving speeds up to 137 inches per minute. Power supply is 110/220 Volts. The machine has an external 3-axis control box and VFD inverter spindle speed regulator. A desktop computer running Mach 3 software is required to operate the unit.

We were impressed with the solid build of the table and gantry, the smooth motor operation, and the low noise level. The Taishi is a very solid machine for the hobbyist or small-materials craftsman. Once leveled and mounted, the machine will cut to 0.04mm accuracy and reset to within 0.05mm.

This CNC machine was the best of the mid-priced compact units we looked at, and it would make a nice addition to any work bench.

BobsCNC E3 CNC Router Engraver Kit

The BobsCNC machine is a home-built kit that makes a good starter or student CNC unit.

The primary material in this unit is wood. The BobsCNC machine offers a generous 17.7 x 15.3 x 3.3-inch cutting area, and it comes with a DEWALT 660 router. The cutting head and gantry run on an SG20U-supported rail system. Control is carried out by an Arduino-based microprocessor running Grbl motion-control software. A connected computer is required to run this CNC router, and Windows, OSX, Linux, and Raspberry Pi are all compatible.

This is an interesting CNC machine—putting the kit together is a project in itself, and an educational experience, however, the extra effort will be worth it for some users considering the price point in relation to the size of the machine and the fact that a router is included.

The solid wood construction has some benefits but also major downsides—it is impossible to remove flex from the bed and gantry, particularly with the number of joints and fastener connections there are. We also found ourselves constantly checking and tightening, and things will only get worse with wear.

On the other hand, wood is environmentally friendly and is easy to work with for users who would like to make modifications. This is a fun beginner machine as long as you know what you are getting into with it.

Article source:

Best CNC Routers of 2018 – Take Your Woodworking to the Next Level

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The market for CNC machines is growing at a steady pace on a global scale. It is estimated that the cnc industry will reach 94 billion dollars by 2024. Innovations in this area are reducing installation and maintenance costs which will further this innovation and growth.

According to a report published by Transparency Market Research, the global market of CNC will highlight the 6.3% CAGR (Compound annual growth rate) in the period included between 2016 and 2014, rising from a value of 52.68 billion dollars in 2015 to 93.45 billion dollars within 2024.
The main factor that drives the growing adoption in the entire manufacturing industry of CNC machines is their capability of contributing in reducing human errors and in producing elements efficiently. The control and programming functions of advanced machine, enabled by the use of CNC machines, increasingly encourage the adoption of these systems in numerous sectors.

The protagonists
According to the report by Transparency Market Research, the global market of CNC offers a well-consolidated survey. The five «Top» companies (Fanuc Corporation, Haas Automation, Heidenhain, Siemens AG, and Mitsubishi Electric) constituted almost 60% of the overall market in 2015.
There is competitiveness among protagonists and all manufacturing companies are committed to the development of forefront and innovative products, to maintain their significant role on the market. The customers’ focus on the development of interconnected systems has grown, too.
One of the five companies, which held almost 25% of the market in 2015, has focused on the development of new products as key business strategy. In 2016, for instance, the company presented a product line integrated with CNC to allow enterprises to rely on better industrial automation structures and to permit machine tool manufacturers to create unique functions. A second company released a new CNC generation with an improved user interface to enable a better surfing experience.

Smarter and smarter instruments
User-friendly software platforms are revolutionizing the manufacturing industry, supplying specifications in terms of tolerances and

finishes and allowing the addition of characteristics upon designers’ or customers’ initiative.
In the milling ambit, the component size is limited by the machine performance and by the cutting depth required by a function in the part. Lathe functions allow successful machining of components up to 18»(457.2 mm) of diameter, but special cases can be executed for bigger workpieces.

The choice of materials is fundamental in determining the workpiece function and cost. The engineer must define the important characteristics for the material design, hardness, stiffness, chemical resistance, heat-treatability and thermal stability, just to mention some of them. The solution allows considering a broad variety of metal and plastic materials and materials customized upon demand.

Simple designs, or with more complex shapes with slots and spaces, can be created using the CNC machining process. If the component is more complex, which means shaped geometry or more faces to be cut, it is also more expensive, owing to the further installation or cutting time of the workpiece on the machine.

The 5-axis technology
The 5-axis machining performances allow the production of various complex parts in more convenient manner. The coordinated motion enables the manufacturing of several complex elements more efficiently because their configurations are drastically reduced, higher cutting speeds are reached, more efficient tool paths are generated and better surface finishes are possible. Using the 5-axis technology instead of the conventional 3-axis one, a lower number of configurations is necessary to create a part with complex geometry.

While using a 5-axis machine, the machine and the part in motion allow the cutting tool to remain tangent to the cutting surface. Costs and reduction of cycle times are reached because more material can be removed with each tool point; the use of 5-axis performances on the shaped geometry results in better surface finishes.

Controllers with ultra-fast CPU

Among innovations, in CNC ambit, it is worth highlighting the controllers with ultra-fast CPU. The new type of CPU grants controllers higher operational speeds than standards, enhancing the system output. The fast processing of the CNC programme assures very low cycle times while the higher power of the PLC supports the high-speed processing of articulated ladder programmes. The optical fibre use for the data transmission maximizes the optical communication between CNC and drives and allows perfecting the system reactivity and the machining precision. The new CPU decreases also the quantity of additional components to be adopted for the application implementation. This results in a minor number of possible error sources and in an improvement of the product quality, besides a cost reduction. Thanks to the new functions, CNC allow managing efficiently both turning and milling operations. The multi-axis/multi-channel control, improved, allows attaining a further reduction of cycle times and an optimized synchronization among channels. In a new series of this model, a 4th generation control is offered for high speed, precision and quality machining. The new regulation includes functions intended for reducing cycle times in case of simultaneous acceleration/deceleration and shares in reducing the machine vibrations during the high-speed machining. The new adjustment offers more precision with the same machining times or the same precision with shorter machining times. The innovative turning centres become able to use servomotors instead of spindle motors for rotary tools. Using each of the servo-axes equipping multi-hybrid drives as rotary tool contributes in the resizing of machine tools, with advantages in terms of costs.

The programme management is simplified by a capacitive touchscreen display. The icons equipping the display allow recalling functions and operational menus quickly, tool icons show the tool geometry, its status and the point direction whereas the graphic check function in 3D supports an advanced three-dimensional graphic simulation to test more complex machining programmes. A new model avails itself of a vertical 19-inch display with screen subdivided into two independent visualization windows, each of which can show a software keyboard, a displayer of documents or other applications. Moreover, are available models that manage different access levels freely set for single operators, to improve the safety of data and machines and to avoid operational errors.

Article orginal: http://www.metalworkingworldmagazine.com/cnc-innovations-trends/
Posted by redazione on 19 October 2017

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This year’s World Maker Fair in New York yielded a very creative DIY “Rotomill”, a simple three-axis CNC machine, with a rotary axis, that just about anyone can build. This is pretty cool.

https://adam.zeloof.xyz/2018/07/04/three-axis-rotary-cnc/

A three-axis rotary CNC built for the Mechanical Engineering senior design capstone course at Carnegie Mellon University by a team of engineering students. The CNC uses NEMA24 motors for each of the axes, with the X and Z axes actuated by lead screws,

https://adam.zeloof.xyz/2018/07/04/three-axis-rotary-cnc/

and the A (rotary) axis actuated by a worm gear. The spindle is an off-the-shelf Makita hand router, which allows for any router bit

to be used.

Each motor is controlled by a stepper motor driver, which are all coordinated by an Arduino Uno running a customized version of the GRBL firmware. This is in turn controlled by a laptop running open-source GCode sending software.

https://adam.zeloof.xyz/2018/07/04/three-axis-rotary-cnc/

To generate the GCode, we would create a 3D model of the part that we wanted to machine. We then “unwrapped” about the A axis. This basically takes the part and converts it from Cartesian coordinates to Cylindrical coordinates. At this point, we could take the unwrapped part and load it into Autodesk HSM, a popular industrial CAM package. This allowed us to generate a toolpath for machining the part. We basically “fooled” the CNC into thinking that it was a normal, three-axis Cartesian CNC. The trick, however, is that the Y axis is wrapped around and becomes the A axis (see the image to the right to clarify this).

The CNC can easily cut softer materials such as plastic, wood, and foam. It was designed to be able to cut Aluminum as well, however we haven’t tested that feature yet. It’s on the list!

https://adam.zeloof.xyz/2018/07/04/three-axis-rotary-cnc/

https://adam.zeloof.xyz/2018/07/04/three-axis-rotary-cnc/

https://adam.zeloof.xyz/2018/07/04/three-axis-rotary-cnc/

The design of the Rotomill uses a standard, off-the-shelf Makita rotary tool for the spindle, and uses leadscrews to move the X and Z axes around with NEMA 24 stepper motors. The A axis — the rotary bit — is driven through a worm gear, also powered by a NEMA 24. Right now this provides more than enough power to cut foam, plastic, and wood, and should be enough to cut aluminum. That last feat is as yet untested, but the design is open enough that a much more powerful spindle could be attached.

The software for this machine is a bit weird. For most CNC machines with a rotary axis, the A axis is treated as such — a rotary axis. For the Rotomill, [Adam] and [Matt] are generating G Code like it’s a normal Cartesian machine, only with one axis ‘wrapped’ around itself. This is all done through Autodesk HSM, and a properly configured Arduino running GRBL makes sense of all this arcane geometry.

It’s a great looking machine, and the guys behind it say it’s significantly less expensive than any other machine with a rotary axis. That’s to be expected, as it’s basically a five-axis mill with two axes removed. Still, this entire project was built for about $2000, and some enterprising salvage and hacking could bring that price down a bit.

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It is an exciting time for advanced manufacturing, there are many evolving innovations, advancing manufacturing with a web of digital technologies. The amount of information and tools available to help manufacturing is amazing and at times overwhelming.

Computer-aided design and manufacturing software (CAD/CAM software) have made it possible to innovate and produce new products with less error and greater speed, compared to the decades before. When I started CNC programming, I used a paper notepad, a pencil and calculator. I would create the process program outline on the note pad, select my tooling from various tooling catalogs, and jot notes about speeds, feeds, and depth of cuts for the tools I selected.  Then I would refine my outline to specific tool paths for the process program; calculating, writing, erasing, re-calculating, re-writing and mentally visualizing the process until my tool paths were complete on the pad of paper. Then I would manually input the hand-written code into the machine, set the machine up, perform a dry run of the program to “simulate” the process and catch any errors in code I missed or created. That was a very long process compared to using the CAD/CAM tools available now in the industry.

Currently, most of the top tier CAD/CAM systems will dramatically reduce the time it takes to create a process program through a type of AI (artificial intelligence) called knowledge-based programming or machining. Knowledge-based programming is a method of creating and inputting process strategies into the CAD/CAM software. The software uses the knowledge it is taught for processing a workpiece with the best practices for the specific application; what tools to use, speeds, feeds to run the tools and any other parameters needed for the program process. The CAD/CAM software uses this knowledge to automate the programming of repetitive processes. Here is an example of how knowledge base programming works, if I want to create a strategy for a ¼-20 tapped hole:

I create the strategy by in-putting information into the specific area of the software that is used to store or set the machining knowledge. The information that is input for the ¼-20 tapped hole are the tools like a spot drill, tap drill and tap, with specific parameters I want used with the tools during the process like speeds, feeds, depth of cut etc. After I have created this strategy, the strategy can be used in the future by the software. The software will then be able to automate the selection of tooling and machining parameters in the future when a process has a ¼-20 tapped hole.

Another exciting tool is the IIot (Industrial Internet of things), which makes it possible to speed the manufacturing process up even more, because majority of the tooling needed for machining is available online instead of looking through stacks of catalogs as I did before. I can find a tool online, get the specific machining parameters and a model of the tool for simulation within the CAD/CAM software from most tool vendors.  The available data from the IIot can be used to help the CAD/CAM software create the machining process from proven processes and use the tool model to help simulate the processes with a high degree of accuracy before ever putting the process on a machine. The IIot has an enormous amount of information and tools available from data collection systems, machining calculators, and web-sites to transfer information for manufacturing processes.

All the information and software can be overwhelming. It takes a lot of learning to utilize and benefit from the digital technologies that help improve manufacturing. Each software has its own uses, methods, and degree of complexity that must be manipulated to achieve desired results on the manufacturing floor. To take advantage of the digital revolution in manufacturing, don’t be complacent. Explore and learn the possibilities of these tools, because the technologies evolve fast and are becoming more interconnected. Complacency with the use of these digital tools will only create a loss of the competitive edge.

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I will discuss as a VT CNC Programmer the important basic steps in setting up work on a CNC slant bed turret lathe for a chucking operation with machined soft jaws. These basic steps make it possible to have a high degree of confidence the job being set up will run trouble free and consistent after the setup has been completed. The focus of this example will be the setup of the tooling and work holding for the machine tool, not the program or different methods of teaching tool geometries. The assumption in this example is that the operator will have a simple tool list of common outside diameter tooling, inside diameter tooling, and a drill to install on the machine. The responsibilities the operator will undertake performing the set up are: installing the tooling, toolholders, machining the work holding and processing the 1st piece, before turning the job over to an operator who will run production.

Getting Started

The first step is reviewing the tool sheet and gathering the specified tooling, soft jaws, and stock to be machined. While gathering the materials to set the job up, visually inspect the tooling you are going to use. When inspecting the outside diameter (OD) and inside diameter (ID) turning tool holders, check for dings or dents on the tool holder shank that have created a deformity or raised surfaces from the ding on the tool holder. Small dings and deformities may cause issues with the machining of the workpiece because the deformity may cause the tool to be off center with the spindle centerline during installation at the machine. Having a tool off center can cause premature tool wear, poor finishes and difficulty holding tight tolerances consistently. If your tooling has small dings on the shanks, take a small stone or flat file and run it over the area with the ding until it is flush with the existing surface on the tool shank. When selecting tool holders such as collets and bushings for the ID tooling, check for chips and dings in or on the collet or bushing. Make sure they are clean and free of damage. If the collets or bushings have chips or dings they may cause tooling to be off center and/or not parallel with the spindle centerline after installation in the machine and during machining. This can cause relatively the same issues as above, however, it may also cause issues during drilling, reaming, or tapping, such as bell mouthed or oversized holes. Taking the few seconds to visually inspect you tooling before assembling and installing it on the machine will reduce variables caused by problems with the work piece during machining, such as short tool life, or poor finishes.

What’s next

After gathering and inspecting the tooling, including the tooling for boring jaws, start working on the work holding portion of the machining process. Work holding on a lathe is a very critical piece of the process for a robust and repeatable machining process. As a VT CNC Programmer, if the work holding is not correct it can cause issues with the geometry of the workpiece, such as tri-lobing, runout, and taper; it can also cause safety issues, such as the work piece coming loose in the machine.

When preparing the soft jaws for gripping the work piece you do not need a program to machine the jaws, however having a program does make it easier. We will focus on the jaw configuration basics rather than the actual method of machining the jaws. When starting the work holding process, first visually inspect the work piece that needs to be machined. Make sure there are no burrs on the diameter that will be gripped by the jaws. Next visually inspect the soft jaws you are going to be using for burrs and or deformities. If the jaws are in good condition check for numbers on the jaws such as 1, 2, or 3. If there are no numbers on the jaws, use a set of numbered metal stamps and stamp the jaws, numbering each jaw sequentially by the number of jaws you will be installing on the lathe chuck. Install the jaws on the chuck using the numbers on the jaws to match the numbers on the master jaws of the chuck. The reason for numbering the jaws and installing them to the matching master jaws is for future use after the jaws have been machined and removed for the next job to be set up. Having jaws numbered and installing them in the same positions by matching the numbers stamped in the jaws and the numbers on the master jaws will reduce the amount of work with the jaw preparations in the future setups. Make sure you follow your chuck manufacturer’s safety procedures for installing the jaws on the machine. Safety needs will be determined by the type of chuck you have on your machine. You may have an air-chuck, hydraulic chuck or scroll chuck on the machine. The type of master jaws come in different configurations from tongue and groove to serrations; each chuck assembly could be different. Make sure you follow the chuck manufacturer’s safety procedures for your chuck.

Next, Installation

Install the jaws on the machine, making sure they are equally spaced on the chuck in respect to the spindle center line. You can check this out visually with a scale, calipers, or by gripping a slug and turning the chuck at a low rpm. If you turn the chuck at a slow rpm you will visually see if one of the jaws is out further than the others. During the machining of the jaws we want to make sure we machine the correct configuration for the work piece. The jaws should have an under cut at the intersect of the gripping diameter and the bottom or shoulder of the jaws. The undercut will make sure that the part is held correctly on the gripping diameter and against the banking surface of the jaws when clamped. If you do not have an under cut in the jaws the work piece may be pushed out away from the banking surface of the jaws or cocked in the jaws from the radius of the turn tool used to machine the jaws. The radius from the turn tool left in the corner of the jaws, will prevent the chuck from clamping correctly on the work piece. If the work piece is to be gripped on the OD we want to make the bore of the jaws slightly smaller than the work piece diameter. If the jaws are going to be gripping on the ID of the work piece we want to make the jaws slightly larger than the ID we will be gripping on. The reason for making the jaws in this way is to increase the gripping surface area of the work piece. For example, if we are using a 3-jaw chuck to grip the OD of a part we want to create a 6-point chucking grip by machining the jaws slightly under sized from the diameter to be gripped by the jaws. If the jaws are machined oversize even a slight amount the 6 points of contact will be lost and the jaws will only be gripping with three points of contact. The more surface area we have for the gripping of the work piece the better the work holding setup. When jaws are machined correctly the part will be held with greater rigidity and the machined workpieces will be more uniform and consistent quality when machining multiple parts. Use a set of tri-micrometer to check the size of the jaws as they are machined if possible or use the work piece itself as a functional gage when checking the size of the jaws. After the jaws have been machined to the correct configuration, make sure you remove the small burrs created by machining the jaws. Removing these small burrs are not only for safety reasons but also to make sure no small burrs are introduced into the clamping of a work piece. A small hanging burr can accidentally be clamped between the work piece and the jaws, creating marks on the work piece and tolerance issues when machining the work piece. Taking the time to correctly configure your jaws will remove another set of variables that can cause a job to run poorly and possible create scrap or rework.

After all that, now

After the work holding process has been completed, install the tooling in the machine. Like all the other processes first visually inspect the mating surfaces of the tool stations and tool holder blocks. Check the mating surfaces for similar issues like chips burrs, and surfaces blemishes. We want to check for these issues because even small defects to our set up will reduce the integrity of our machining environment and reduce the success of the set up or production process. While installing your tooling on the machine you may want to check a couple of items with an indicator, to make sure the tooling will be properly set in the machine. If you are using a drill, reamer, or tap, use an indicator and gage pin to check for concentricity and parallelism by mounting the indicator on the chuck and moving the tool station to the spindle center line. Use the gage pin in place of the reamer, drill, or tap. When the tool station is moved into position take the indicator and place it on the gage pin, rotate the spindle by hand with the indicator attached and check for concentricity to the spindle centerline, after checking for concentricity. Check for parallelism by traversing the carriage to run the indicator along the gage pin, rotate the indicator 90 degrees and repeat the check for parallelism to the center line. These checks take a couple of minutes, however a couple of minutes here can save many minutes of troubleshooting when a hole feature is not being machined to specification, or tool life is less than optimal.

Getting The Tools Installed

After the tools have been installed, the offsets, tool geometries, and work shifts are set it is time to make chips. Turn the single block function at the machine control on while having control of the machine with the manual overrides, single block up the first tool in the program to the tools approach point. Use the position page to make sure the tool is approaching correctly and the distance is correct. After the tool has completed the approach move correctly turn on the optional stop function of the machine’s control. After each tool has run through its cycle the program will stop at the optional stop in the program with the optional stop function on and programmed optional stop codes. After the machine has stopped at the optional stop it is important to visually inspect the part before proceeding to the next tool. You should make a visual inspection of the work piece. Look at the finish for any signs of gouges, or other visual indicators you can make as a baseline for the tool’s performance. Also check the size of the machined features to see if they meet specification or if there is material left for other tool processes within the program for finishing tool paths. Making these checks will give you knowledge of what each tool is doing throughout the process. This will help understand the cause and effect of the remaining tool paths. When these small parts of the process are overlooked during the set up it is like running the job blind, because the finishing tools will cover up issues by removing the previous tool’s machining characteristics. If each step of the process is checked at the end of each tool and before proceeding with the next tool you will have a baseline to gauge and compare the future performance of that tool.

When the machining process has been completed check the work piece visually and with metrology equipment in the machine before taking it out of the jaws. By checking the part in the machine before removing it, you may catch tolerance issues or visual characteristics that can be re-machined, saving the part rather than scrapping it or having to rework it later. Then if the part is visually and geometrically good, remove it from the machine and perform the inspection outside the machine. Compare the results from your in-machine inspection to the out of machine inspection. If the sizes or geometry of the work piece are different from when you checked it in the machine you may have an issue with the work holding. If the work holding procedure was completed correctly it may be a chuck pressure issue that needs small adjustment. If the part passes inspection and the program, offsets are correct and the previous basic tasks of the set-up have been performed, the job will most likely be a well running problem-free job for the production run.

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The implications of new technologies such as 3D printing in industrial manufacturing are right now debated heavily. Some experts feel that 3D printing will be hugely disruptive, while many others feel that the technology, while it has gained ground, has many years to go for viability in manufacturing. So, how will 3D Printing affect VT CNC Programmers and manufacturers?

Industry experts expect a significant growth in our industry over the next five to ten years. On 3D Printing website says, “The 3D printing industry is expected to change nearly every industry it touches, completely disrupting the traditional manufacturing process as we know it”. As a result, the industry is expected to grow to nearly 5.2 billion dollars annually by 2020.

As the market continues to gain momentum the cost of printers will fall and is likely to give rise to new competitors in the 3D printing market. New products, new prototypes will become reduced in price because the demand will be higher and the market will be more saturated with this technology.

Benefits of 3D printing for VT CNC programmers and manufacturers

Material Savings

This printing technology has the potential to make the standard manufacturing process simpler and infinite in options. It also is extremely precise where before we would need to use CNC machines, complex programming, lathes and operators to produce a part down to the millionth of an inch. Most of this process would go away with 3D printing and would give rise to new positions in manufacturing too.

The contrast between 3D printing and traditional CNC machining is 3D printing technology is “additive”. Manufacturers are able to use less material they need to fabricate parts, thus lowering the cost to the customer and overhead to the manufacturer.

Incremental Cost Reduction

At this point in time the cost for a 3D printer could be upwards of a million dollars for your business, but the technology has the potential to dramatically reduce the incremental unit cost for VT manufacturing facilities. It is possible even today that the part made by a 3D printer could cost less than its traditional counterpart. Eventually, the cost of running a 3D printing in your manufacturing plant will be less than your conventional CNC machine. It’s not quite there yet, but the technology is rapidly moving forward faster than we can keep up.

Production Times Reduced

During the manufacturing process, the sales team and manufacturing team must work closely together to ensure the production of parts will make all delivery dates for the customer. Traditional manufacturing can run into many obstacles from the milling to CNC, to the finishing department. In the aerospace industry, a single part can go through 20-30 processes just to become a finished product, and just one of those can delay a product shipment by days or weeks.

3D printing has a much shorter production time and lower overhead costs to the manufacturer which means the customer doesn’t have to wait as long to get their product. Manufacturers can enjoy the increased profit margins due to utilizing 3D printing or pass the savings onto the customer to give yourself a very competitive edge over your competition. For now, 3D printing on a large scale is merely a theory, but manufacturers who choose to ignore the changing future may get left behind by those who embrace this new and amazing technology.

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Five Axis CNC Machining and the machines are amazing to work with, they are sophisticated CNC machines that can improve your bottom line. CNC programmers are working with 5 axis CNC machines more often now than a decade ago because of the realized benefits associated with the machines. 5-axis machines can be intimidating because they are more complex than your regular VMC or HMC, but there are many benefits to having one.

What’s Different?

If you currently process parts on a VMC or HMC without 5-axis capabilities you are creating more machine set-ups to process work pieces. However, 5-axis machines have some limitations compared to a 3-axis VMC or HMC. A couple example of the limitations are the limited work holding devices, such as vices on the market or the use of large pallets due to the table size. But with some ingenuity, those limitations can be reduced or overcome with fixture designs centered around the type of work and 5-axis machine.

5-axis machines process work with more accuracy, efficiently and are cost effective processing beasts. The work piece quality increases because there is less error due to operator handling and the stack up of error due to re-fixturing a work piece in multiple operations is nearly eliminated. The geometry of the work piece will have greater positional accuracy because the features from different planes and geometric positions will be completed in a single cycle and work holding. Eliminating waste through set-up reduction is a benefit from machining parts on multiple sides or even complete depending on the fixturing type, machine, and work piece geometry. In 3 plus 2 machining, you can process multiple features from different positions utilizing the tilt axis and rotary axis, rather than processing a work piece in different operations and work holding situations. Machining on 5-axis machines can lower the cost of tooling, increase processing speeds and create better finishes. Because you can change the angle of the work piece to reach geometry allowing you to choke up on tooling, that would have to be held with a greater length to diameter ratio, processing the features on a 3-axis machine. You will also be able to reduce cycle times in certain applications because of the ability to cut with the side of the tool instead of using a ball nose end mill to process faceted or tapered surfaces.

One of the greatest benefits of 5-axis machining is the ability to machine work pieces at complicated angles and positions that would be very hard or impossible to achieve with a 3-axis machine. Simultaneous 5-axis machining is the shining light of 5-axis machines because you can perform work that is impossible to perform on a 3-axis machine. Once you start using the 5-axis machine whether it is for 3 plus 2 positioning or simultaneous 5-axis machining, you will encounter new solutions to the challenges faced with the limitations of 3-axis machines.

It can be argued that set up time is less when using a 5-axis machine to process parts, but it really depends on the experience of the operator and CNC programmer. Having more axis capability and generally more tool holding capacity means, taking a job that was previously processed with multiple set-ups and squeezing it into one set up. That means while you have minimal work holding situations, you may still have just as many tools machining all the different features that would be processed in multiple operations. The difficulty is the learning curve and time involved trouble shooting when an issue pops up. On a 3-axis machine, the setup is pretty straight forward and easy to trouble shoot when things don’t go as planned. However, when a work piece doesn’t meet specifications on a 5-axis machine it is more involved when it comes to trouble shooting the issue. The feedback I have given many operators iis to make sure you perform checks for parallelism, perpendicularity, and concentricity during the changeover. Much like indicating a vice on the table of a 3-axis machine, you want precision within the setup. Most of the issues that come up in 5-axis machining tend to come from eccentricities within the set-up. Like a fixture, collet chuck or vice being out of position physically or through offset register values being incorrect. When processing work about a center line with rotation being eccentric a couple of tenths equals a few tenths during the rotations and machining of the work piece. When trouble shooting look at each machines axis and its relation to the work holding. Work your way from where the fixturing is attached, eliminating the possible variables to the issue on through to the work piece. After you get your feet wet a few times the change over time will become less daunting. Then you will see the reduce set up times associated with processing work in a single set up on a 5-axis machine.

There are many benefits to processing work on a 5-axis machine. After you have overcome the initial learning curve, you will reap the benefits of reduced cycle times, reduced set up times, greater flexibility and quality with processing your work.

Here’s an example of 5 axis machining and the complexity in parts that it can create.

Okuma's 5-Axis Vertical Machining Center, MU-500VA - YouTube

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When you get ready to purchase a new Machine Tool for your enterprise, don’t forget the training. Machine tools are the workhorses of any company that manufactures in the metal working industry. The machines have been able to keep up with demand in the growing global economy. The increased productivity is from the evolution and advancement in the technologies of machine tools. The machine design has become more stable and reliable, able to withstand greater forces while maintaining tight tolerances. The spindles have become faster, cooler, and stronger. The motion control systems can calculate faster handling complex tasks and geometries in less time with more horsepower and rigidity. However, it takes skill to get a machine tool running at its optimum performance level.

Training is very important when purchasing a new machine tool. The learning curve will be less when you attend a well-structured training class on the machine tool. Training is where you can learn new skills that you might not have been exposed to previously. Most machine tool companies offer training when purchasing a new machine. Don’t settle for less, a machine tool is not cheap, take the training and get a greater return on your investment.

Take the time, look at what different machine tool companies offer for training before deciding on your purchase, it can make a huge difference. Almost all machine tool companies out there will say they offer training, but what kind of training do they offer? Some companies offer great training programs, while others will waste your time with poor training. Here are some questions you should ask your machine tool vendor:

  • Is the training free or is it an additional cost?
  • Is the training held at the customer location or at the vendor’s site in a classroom with a machine?
  • Is the training a couple of days or a couple of weeks?
  • Is the training a one-shot deal for a couple of individuals or is it free for a lifetime with as many employees you want to send?

Those seem like reasonable questions anyone would ask; however, they are easily overlooked. The development of those questions come from my experiences in the purchasing process of machine tools. Here are a couple examples from my experiences with different machine tool training programs. I have had excellent experiences with companies that offer training at their site for a period of a few days minimum. Those types of training programs offer the most education on the function and usability of your purchase. The training is broken into chunks over a period of days. The program is structured and has real value. The training will typically cover the machine components, control functions, how to operate them safely, effectively and efficiently. The training then moves onto programming the machine tool, covering machine tool specific macro codes, ISO or conversational coding and safe program structure. Over the period of training, you will have homework to complete, like writing programs to machine parts in the lab. The final portion of the training ties it all together with hands on set up and operation of the programs you created for the machine in the lab. That type of training is the best, for everyone, it is a great customer experience. On the other end of the spectrum is the poor training. I have experienced poor training too, it usually takes place at the customer site where the machine has been delivered. The training is expected to last a couple of days after the machine install. This method of training is frustrating, has no structure, and the individuals giving the training aren’t trained how to teach effectively. The training will leave big gaps in the operation of the machine, because the training is more of a Q & A session and if you don’t ask the right questions you don’t get the right answers. This is the poorest customer experience.  The stress involved in not learning how to operate the machine properly is overwhelming. Because when the training is completed, you know your time will be spent trying to figure out how to operate the machine by searching through many machine operator, programming and user manuals. This creates a very big learning curve, it is not efficient.

Remember, take the time to investigate what type of training will be included with your purchase. Maybe even ask for the training up front before the purchase of the machine. The type of training you get will determine how quickly you will be up and running and how profitable your purchase will be. A machine tool company that understands the value of training and executes an effective training program will be a good partner in your manufacturing experience.

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Recently I have been asked many questions about what I do and about careers in Advanced Manufacturing.  It seems as if manufacturing has disappeared as a career possibility for a period and is now being reborn. However, manufacturing never went away. Instead, it has become more advanced with an added necessity to fill the pipeline with bright talented employees, entrepreneurs, inventors, and innovators. I see no possible way advanced manufacturing will disappear in the future because manufacturing creates our civilization as we know it. Although there have been trends in manufacturing that have cast dark shadows on it as a career socially, others have embraced those challenges to create new careers and dreams of a better future possible.

Deciding on a career in advanced manufacturing can be overwhelming. The career possibilities are truly endless as manufacturing continues to advance.  However, a career in advanced manufacturing can start simply as an entry level position in a small company. I started my career in advanced manufacturing in a small shop deburring parts on a chucker lathe. The work was tedious and dirty, but it wasn’t the deburring that kept me interested. It was the processes I was around and the products I was helping make. The first product I worked on was a focusing sleeve for night vision products being used in defense. Night vision is well known now, however at that time it was the first I had ever heard of such a thing, outside of comic books, and it fascinated me. I was part of a process to create products that were cutting edge. The processes in the department I was working in piqued my interest. I wanted to learn how to turn the raw materials into these cool components that would be assembled into a final product that could see in the night like day. I worked deburring parts until I was given a chance to operate a machine that was making the parts I was deburring. The machine was a CNC lathe and the man who was showing me how to operate it was a great mentor. He explained the process at the machine, telling me what the tools were doing and what order they would operate. It was very interesting to me to see a product go into the machine as a raw piece of aluminum and come out of the machine complete in less than a minute. My mentor showed me how to read the inspection equipment and measure the product coming off the machine. After I learned how to read the inspection equipment I started learning how to control the machine as it operated. I was excited and wanted to learn more. I wanted to be able to set up and program the machines to make different parts. It wasn’t long before my attention to detail and ability to follow instruction helped me learn and grow into my career in advanced manufacturing.

I am truly grateful for the opportunities, companies, and people I have met and worked with in advanced manufacturing. During my time in manufacturing, I have been given many opportunities.  I have been able to further my education through programs at various companies and have held various leadership roles. I have been involved in advanced manufacturing for over 20 years and still meet new people and see processes and products that are awe inspiring. There are so many opportunities in manufacturing I would never be able to name them all, because I will never know them all. Manufacturing is always advancing. I remember talking to a friend while we were working on a couple of CNC lathes in the early years of my career about how cool it would be if a laser could melt metal instead of cutting it with a tool. Now those processes are a reality in industrial laser and additive manufacturing processes today such as direct metal laser sintering. Advanced manufacturing put people on the moon and will eventually put people on Mars; advanced manufacturing is always reaching new heights.

If you are interested in starting a career in advanced manufacturing, there are many avenues you can take. A career can start grounded in strong education gained from vocational, technical and college programs and from on the job training programs such as an apprenticeship or even an entry-level position at a small company.

Below are a couple of links you may find interesting in helping learn about careers in Advanced Manufacturing:

Bureau of Labor Statistics about careers in manufacturing https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2014/article/manufacturing.htm

Society of Manufacturing Engineers – http://www.sme.org

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