Rapid Prototyping: Choosing the Right CNC Machine for You

Rapid prototyping has plenty of benefits for your product line. It can help speed up the production and development process, as well as reduce production costs. Insourcing your rapid prototyping can help you save more money but you’ll need to figure out the right CNC machine for the job. This depends on the material, dimensional tolerances, and geometric features of your product. Taking these into consideration will help you choose the right machine. Below are just some of the options which you can choose from:

CNC Milling

CNC milling is an incredibly versatile and efficient process used for various manufacturing needs. A CNC mill is perhaps one of the most common machines you’ll find in a prototyping lab. This is because they’re extremely adaptable and robust machines that can suit a wide variety of materials and parts. This allows them to adjust to more complex features like deep pockets, 3D surfaces, or threaded holes. Most CNC mills have a C frame design that is known for its precision.

CNC Plasma Cutter

Often used on steel sheet metals, this is an affordable, quick, and easy method of burning through different conductive materials. There are various multi-axis plasma cutters available, but only two of these types of axis machines are commonly used in prototyping labs. This severely limits what it can do. Coupled with substantial workplace safety requirements and their rather poor cut quality, this machine might not be your best option unless you’re enhancing a welding or fabrication process.

CNC Waterjet Cutter

Waterjet cutting can effectively cut any thick or thin material of almost any type. A CTC waterjet cutter machine uses high pressure water together with garnet, an abrasive media. This makes it a reliable substitute for plasma or laser cutting. Due to its closed-loop water circulation system, you’re also able to create less waste. The only drawback to this system is that it’s quite costly to maintain and is slightly inaccurate, although its cut quality is much nicer than that of a laser cutter.

CNC Laser Cutter

laser cutting

CNC laser cutters can quickly and easily cut anything from metal to plastics and wood to fabrics. They’re also able to create detailed, shallow engravings. As with plasma cutters, laser cutters are usually 2 axis machines, which limits the features it can create. Since lasers use heat to break through material, this can harden edges and make them quite brittle.

CNC Lathe

Lathes are one of the oldest machine tools, yet they continue to be integral to manufacturing until today. These machines contain a spinning material and stationary tools which make them ideal for cylindrical parts, like tubes, bolts, and washers. They might not be ideal if your products aren’t lathe parts since this machine is too focused to be used as a well-rounded rapid prototyping machine.

CNC Router

Routers are great for large work like hefty panels of wood, plastic, and soft metals such as aluminum. Since they have 3 axes, they can produce more complex features like chamfers, pockets, and counterbores. They’re much more difficult to learn compared to the other machines though, and they’re not as accurate or rigid.

Regardless of the shape, material, and tolerance of your product, you’re bound to find a perfect CNC machine for your prototyping needs.

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