Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining got its roots in WWII when machinists started using numerical control to craft replacement aircraft parts. For those working in the military or aerospace industries, CNC machining is a key component in making the kinds of precision parts necessary to carry out manufacturing tasks.
This type of fabrication allows engineers to produce products that are more efficient, lightweight, and cost-effective than their competitors’ products. Here’s how to find the best CNC machine shop in New Jersey and what you can expect from the experience.
What Is CNC Machining?
CNC machining refers to any process that uses computer-controlled machine tools to fabricate products. The products made through CNC machining vary across many industries. Even 3-D printing falls under the umbrella of CNC machinery but isn’t yet practical in military and aerospace operations.
The three basic types of CNC machines are lathes, mills, and routers. These are machines that you’re guaranteed to find at any decent CNC machine shop. However, as the technology gets better, industries benefit from other types of CNC machining.
For example, industries want to save money and time during research and development (R&D). So, they turn to laser cutters and punch press CNC machines.
These machines help create quick, accurate prototypes. So, manufacturers can go from R&D to final product quicker than ever.
How Computer-Aided Design Improves CNC Machining
Computer-aided design (CAD) is any process where a computer helps create, change, analyze, and improve a design. Before CAD, numerical control machining took longer and incorporated more trial and error. The speed and precision provided by CAD have become invaluable for CNC machinists and the industries they serve.
CAD creates the geometry of the product’s design. In 3-D digital space, computers help generate precise dimensions and create a blueprint for the final product.
In the past, human error during the design process limited the accuracy of CNC machines. Today, computer software can generate models of parts with incredible precision.
How Computer-Aided Manufacturing Improves CNC Machining
Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) converts the design created by CAD into directions for the tools in a CNC machine. The machine understands and follows these instructions, removing the human element from manufacturing. This results in more precise and intricate designs- things outside the scope of normal human capabilities.
This precision not only increases the efficacy of CNC machining but it opens up the possibility of new applications. For example, the medical industry started using precision CNC machinery to create surgical tools. In the Aerospace industry, rapid prototyping through CNC has fostered cost-effective production solutions.
The Role of CNC Machining in Military and Aerospace Industries
CNC machine saves time and money while reducing mistakes caused by human error. So, industries that rely on precision equipment like aerospace and military engineering have a lot of use for CNC machining.
CNC machines can create parts from a variety of materials, including metals, plastics, and composites, for different applications in each industry. Its many functions make it vital to these industries for both low and high-volume production runs. Some common military equipment made from CNC machining include:
- Seat frames for military planes and helicopters
- Components for helicopters and aircraft
- Components for naval vessels and engines
- Hoist mechanisms for missiles
- Rotor hubs and Clamshells
The aerospace industry similarly relies on CNC machining for high-performance polymers. These technical industries can settle for no less than consistent and precise manufacturing.
What Is a CNC Machine Shop?
A CNC machine shop is not a place where you purchase CNC machinery. Instead, CNC machine shops serve various industries by using their machinery to manufacture parts. These shops are often small and focused on a niche to better serve the specific needs of each client.
However, bigger CNC machine shops do exist and cover more areas. The size of the CNC machine shop does not define the quality of work completed there. Rather, it may speak to the breadth of services offered.
Larger CNC manufacturers often help with major prototyping operations because they have the capacity for a dedicated R&D department. You can still go to smaller shops to make your prototypes (if they have the machines to do so) but you won’t have the benefit of them helping you design them. This isn’t often a problem for military or aerospace industries that have in-house engineering teams.
But at the end of the day, these aren’t hard and fast rules about what you can expect from a large or small CNC machine shop. Even some smaller shops offer prototyping and testing services. The best way to know what a shop can do for you is to visit their website or give them a call to discuss their services.
How to Discern a Reputable CNC Machine Shop
Although the services offered by CNC machine shops vary, you’ll find some basic benchmarks that signal whether the shop is reputable. You can start by checking out their client testimonials and portfolios.
Many CNC shops with a website will have an accessible portfolio. This gives you the opportunity to see their work in detail before ever contacting them. If they don’t have a website or their portfolio isn’t posted, you may have to call and request one.
CNC shops that don’t offer portfolios or photos of their work may not be reputable. However, this could also indicate that they’re a new shop.
You can weigh their lack of portfolio against factors like how long they’ve been in business, client reviews, and the type of equipment they have in the shop. Reputable CNC shops should have at least a multi-axis CNC milling machine, a lathe, and a grinding machine.
Multi-Axis CNC Milling Machine
Milling machines are staples in CNC manufacturing. They use milling cutters (rotating cylindrical drills) to shape raw materials. Basic milling machines work on two axes.
More complex milling machines use at least three but up to seven axes. These multi-axis milling machines are also called “machine centers” at some shops.
While a basic dual-axis milling machine would suffice, you can tell a shop is quite reputable if they have a multi-axis machine. Often, CNC milling creates products with flat surfaces or components with threads like screws.
Traditional lathes are human-operated. You may have seen woodworkers use them to carve intricate table legs. The operator places the material on a rotating machine and holds a chisel to create steady carvings, shaping the perimeter of the wood.
CNC lathes work in a similar fashion except with a mechanical carving tool. The raw material rotates while the CAM-guided tool shapes it into a finished product. Common uses for CNC lathes are sanding and facing.
CNC Grinding Machine
CNC grinding is a process by which a grinder removes smaller pieces of material from a product. The grinding wheel works similarly to sandpaper but with a coarse grit strong enough to grind metal like aluminum and steel.
The coarseness of the grit and even the grit material will depend on what type of product you’re grinding. However, with the right tools and know-how, a CNC machinist can create a perfect and smooth finish on almost any project.
Quality Standards in New Jersey CNC Machine Shops
Another good indication that you’re finding the best CNC machine shop in New Jersey is to understand their quality standards. At a minimum, quality control and CNC experts should conduct regular inspections of:
- Raw materials
- CNC machinery hardware and external condition
- Internal computer processing
In addition to these inspections, the CNC machine shop should also ensure they meet OSHA safety standards. These standards include ensuring the proper upkeep of the machinery, providing workers with safety equipment, and keeping the floor clear of hazards.
What Can an Expert CNC Machinist Do For Me?
It’s okay if you’re unsure of exactly how your project could benefit from CNC manufacturing. Expert CNC machinists are available to consult on your project and help you understand how CNC could benefit you.
An expert machinist can advise you on what kind of material is best for your project. Moreover, they can give you realistic expectations about what you can and cannot achieve with the services they provide. Finally, machinists may provide more accurate price quotes and timeline outlooks for your project.
CNC Machining: A Lasting Operation
CNC machining is a process that has been around for decades and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the demand for CNC machined parts is only increasing, especially in the military and aerospace industries.
This means that there isn’t much risk in using CNC as a reliable manufacturing process. You’ll be able to use CNC services to manufacture your products for decades to come.
Work With New Jersey’s Best CNC Milling Shop
NAMF is a leading CNC service provider in New Jersey. Our military-grade CNC milling meets the higher standards of military, aeronautics, and engineering industries. We’ve provided horizontal and vertical CNC milling for military and aerospace customers for over 60 years.
If you’re looking for a tailor-made manufacturing solution, NAMF is the CNC machine shop for you. Contact us today for a free consultation.