Additive technology, such as 3D printing, is seen by many to be synonymous with rapid prototyping. The effortless way in which CAD data are used to generate tangible, detailed models by building them in layers makes it an apparently obvious method to apply to obtain a prototype part.
It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that CNC machining is actually the most accurate process to use when producing 3D features.
CNC prototyping has the added advantage of having a virtually limitless choice of materials. The only criterion is that the chosen material has to be tough enough to withstand the machining process. Functional prototypes can be produced by CNC machining centers in materials ranging from both ferrous and non-ferrous metals to plastics, woods and synthetics.
How Does CNC Machining Work?
CNC machines essentially automate the work that used to be done by manually operated machining tools such as lathes and mills. They are programed using computers and highly advanced software, which effectively replaces the traditional levers or hand wheels.
The selected raw material is loaded into the machine and held in place using a fixture, vice or chuck. Once the material is properly secured, the machine’s cutting tools remove any excess material to give the part its final shape.
CNC machines can seamlessly go from functional prototyping to mass production – something that rapid prototyping cannot do.
What is Functional Prototyping?
When product development reaches the stage where a prototype is needed that can withstand the rigors of tests that mimic the intended final applications of the part, CNC machining can be used to produce these functional prototypes.
Creating a functional prototype allows the manufacturer to thoroughly inspect and test the part before it is mass-produced. This means any performance or functional issues can be highlighted and corrected before any substantial investment in tooling, manufacturing and product documentation is made.
Additional Benefits of CNC Prototyping
* Wall thickness – very thick walls can be produced without sink or warp.
* Tolerances – in most cases, tolerances of approximately 0.005in can be achieved.
* Radii – the sharp inside corners of a part will be rounded as a natural result of the CNC process.
Jifco Products, Inc. specializes in supplying prototype and production parts in a wide variety of metals and plastics. To view a full range of our services, visit www.jifcoproducts.com.