Want to know how to identify a good machine shop? We have some pointers regarding the must-haves for any service provider and how to recognise a service for ordering machined parts.
If you are looking to order any CNC machined parts right away, turn to our CNC machining service page where all the capabilities for both CNC milling and turning are outlined.
What Is a Machine Shop?
Machine shop refers to a building, a floor, or even a room where manual or automated CNC machines manufacture products. Usually, when people talk about machine shops and machining, they are referring to subtractive manufacturing.
Subtractive manufacturing creates products by removing material from blocks or blanks of raw material. As a variety of operations are possible when it comes to subtractive manufacturing, different machines that perform specific functions are present in a machine shop.
It’s actually quite surprising how many businesses could not function without these services. Machine shops temporarily provide expensive machinery and trained personnel to small businesses at a fraction of the cost it would take to set up their own manufacturing services.
Even when it comes to large businesses, machine shops drastically reduce cost and manufacturing time allowing businesses to stay relevant and competitive in today’s world.
Typical Machinery in a Machine Shop
Owing to the variety of operations that constitute subtractive manufacturing, many different types of machinery are present in a machine shop. Some of these are:
It is one of the first machines developed for manufacturing. Though it started with a manual screw-cutting lathe, today’s heavy-duty lathe machines work on electricity and are capable of performing many more functions.
A lathe machine consists of a chuck where the workpiece is fitted. The cutting tool is fitted in the tool post. The technician then selects the optimum speed, feed, and depth of cut. The workpiece rotates while the cutting tool removes the specified amount of material from the workpiece.
The lathe is capable of performing many functions. Some of these are cutting, facing, turning, chamfering, thread cutting, polishing, grooving, boring, drilling, grinding, and knurling. Out of the listed operations, CNC turning is the most common process and each of them uses different tooling.
Some of these operations can cause hot metal shavings to fly out and hence proper PPE must be donned before commencing any job.
A drill press is used to drill holes into a workpiece. A drill press offers more stability and accuracy than handheld drills.
The tooling fits into a vertical spindle and a vice holds the workpiece in place for the operation. A manual lever pushes the drill bit into the workpiece while the coolant is supplied to ensure a smooth cut.
A grinding machine is a power tool that creates a smooth surface finish for a workpiece. It is used when a workpiece requires a high surface finish or very accurate dimensions. The machine has a rotating abrasive wheel that comes in contact with a rough surface and removes irregularities to make it smoother.
Technicians may also use a grinding machine to clean rust or dirt off of equipment surfaces before overhauling them or putting them back into service.
A CNC mill has a vertical spindle with a swiveling head. The head contains a rotary cutter that removes material from the blank as needed. A motor moves the workpiece at a uniform speed to provide feed. Low feed and small depth of cut provide high surface finish.
There are a variety of different machines, for example 3-axis and 5-axis mills. The number of axes determines the flexibility of production but also has an effect on the final cost. This depends on the intricacy of the parts.
It is probably cheaper to manufacture a complex part using more advanced technology while it may sway the price to the opposite direction when loading a high-cost machine with parts with simple geometry.
A milling machine is best for flat surfaces but it can also be used with an irregular surface. Drilling, boring, slotting, and gear cutting are some of the applications of a milling machine.
Each machine shop usually has a separate workbench for assuring the right dimensions. If the customer is asking for certain dimensions, they must be delivered.
Therefore, later inspection takes place to guarantee the accordance to the design.
CNC Machining Centre
CNC machine centre (aka machining centre) is an advanced machine capable of carrying out high-grade subtractive manufacturing on a variety of product material. Its unparalleled accuracy, high surface finish, and easy setup have made it a leading choice in precision manufacturing.
A machining centre can perform milling, drilling, and lathe operations in one session. We can fit many tools at the same time, and all operations can be carried out one after the other until we get the finished product.
Live tooling makes it possible to toggle between the tools in an automated fashion, cutting the turnaround times considerably.
Now we are in the territory that is outside of CNC machining. But all of these machines are still pretty common and valuable to make a machine shop complete, providing possibilities for creating a wide range of products.
The first of them is a welding machine. There are many different types of welding methods available and the choice depends upon various factors.
These factors are material type and thickness, power source and current availability, time constraints, and welding conditions.
In machine shops today, automated machines carry out welding with phenomenal accuracy. They provide speed, precision, and high quality while eliminating errors and inconsistencies.
Metal Bending Machine
This machine is used to bend metal sheets into desired shapes. Sometimes, entire components can be manufactured by bending metal sheets multiple times. A metal bending machine may be manual or automated. They usually work on hydraulic principles.
Bending machines can eliminate the need for welding in many instances. It is recommended to prefer bending over welding as its advantages far outweigh its disadvantages. There are various methods of folding metals and skilled machine shop technicians are well versed with all of them.
Metal Cutting Machine
When sheet metal needs to be cut into extremely complex shapes, traditional methods can fall short. Many machine shops have machines that employ advanced technologies to achieve these intricate shapes.
Some common advanced sheet metal cutting methods are waterjet, plasma, laser, and flame cutting. These methods can accurately produce complex shapes of superior grade.
Manual vs Automated Machines
Around the end of the 20th century, CNC automated manufacturing gained massive popularity. A CNC machine shop could perform all the tasks that a manual machine could do and more.
Over time, developers added more and more features to CNC. These manufacturing capabilities are why CNC machining is indispensable today. Let’s see how CNC machining can add value to a manufacturing facility.
Time is our most valuable resource. Reducing a product’s time-to-market is a must to ensure profitability and market share. Using a CNC machine shop significantly reduces the manufacturing time on multiple fronts when it comes to prototyping or mass manufacturing.
CNC machines are able to process digital models using CAD-CAM software. This translates the 3D models into G code that is used for the machining operations.
While writing the code manually is possible, it takes a lot longer. Also, a digital model can easily be reused with a different manufacturing partner, as the setup time is just shorter.
Higher Accuracy and Precision
A CNC machine shop produces dimensionally accurate parts. This means tight CNC machining tolerances are achievable which increases the value of the finished object. The same object can be manufactured consistently as well making it ideal for high-volume manufacturing.
A CNC machining centre can fit several tools at the same time. Some advanced CNC machines come with automatic tool changers as well.
Once the required tools are loaded into the tool holder, there is no need for human intervention during production and the CNC machine will deliver the finished model as needed.
CNC machining takes place behind a guard or even a closed transparent door. This also takes out the human element from the actual machining phase reducing errors and eliminating accidents. They are also provided with safety features such as:
- Emergency stop button: To stop in case of any malfunction. These may be placed at several locations for quick and safe access.
- Guard fence: This fence covers the maximum working area of the machine and protects the operator from inadvertently stepping too close to a machine in operation.
- Noise proof enclosure: The enclosure protects the operator from noise as well as acts as a shield between him and the moving equipment.
- Curtain guards: These protect the operator from shavings and tool fragments.
- Contact mats: The CNC machine stops when an operator steps onto these mats to prevent exposure to moving arm.
Increased Productivity and Efficiency
CNC machines do not need breaks like their human counterparts. They also do not create undue wastage. This increases manufacturing volume and decreases raw material needs simultaneously.
Increased productivity and efficiency go hand in hand with CNC machining. The number of operators required also reduces as a single operator can start jobs and keep an eye on multiple machines at the same time.
Considering these advantages, one is naturally led to the conclusion that manual machining has no place in the industry anymore. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even today, a large share of manufacturing takes place on manual machines.
CNC machines can be a heavy investment. With the same amount of funds, one can buy multiple manual machines. For small-scale operations that do not deal with the fabrication of complex parts, manual machines will be a better investment.
Keeping the cost aside, there are more advantages to using CNC machining than disadvantages. This is the reason CNC machining is gradually becoming the standard. Consequently, the demand is increasing leading to a steady decline in the cost of owning and maintaining a CNC machine shop.
Also, there are plenty of service providers on the market who are happy to produce anything from a one-off part to batch or serial manufacturing.
How to Choose a Machine Shop
For businesses who do not need many machined parts continuously, machine shops are a blessing. It saves them a lot of costs. But due research is necessary to find the right machine shop for a business’ needs.
Before zeroing in on a machine shop, all available option need careful consideration. This entails evaluating both the machine shop’s capabilities as well as reputation. The latter usually derives from previous customer feedback and satisfaction.
One also needs to check what previous projects they have been involved in and what their clientele consists of. If they have worked with clients in the same field as yours, that experience will come in handy when they are working on your projects.
A good machine shop should have the following qualities:
Pertinent Range of Services
The machine shop must be able to provide all the services that we need. Besides, we should also anticipate any other services we may need in the near future and verify with the machine shop if they will be able to provide the same.
Good machine shops will have a pricing model that is beneficial for both parties. If a machine shop offers rates so low that they won’t be making a profit, they might skimp on material or job quality to increase their margin. The rates must be competitive but the quality must not suffer.
Good Quality of Finished Models
The finished result must be of an acceptable standard. We must also consider the quality control methods put in place by the machine shop. Being sure about the quality of the items will give us confidence when speaking to our customers about the same.
Dependable Lead Times
There are machine shops that promise they can complete a certain job within a specified time and budget but fail to do so. Due to this, one’s relationships with his customers may suffer. It is important to understand the shop’s workload and flexibility prior to signing a contract with them.
The machine shop must be able to maintain data privacy especially when it comes to proprietary designs. There are ways to assure this by getting them to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) prior to sharing design specifications with them.
Quick and Efficient Communication
There may be occasions when your organisation may be chasing tight deadlines. The machine shop must be easily accessible by digital mediums to take stock of order status.
Besides, phone communication must also be a possibility for when you can’t get on the internet. A good machine shop will not only be quick in answering queries but also proactively inform of the order status.
With our service, you can follow the order process right on the online platform. Of course, it is also possible to email or call the account managers.
Industries that Use Machining
Machine shops make parts for a range of industries. Many industries use metal machinery and metal components extensively. Machine shops can fabricate these parts with ease. Besides, they also make components from non-metals such as plastics and composite materials. Some important industries when it comes to CNC machining are as follows:
CNC machines can fabricate aerospace equipment using stainless steel and aluminium (the two most used metals in this industry) up to a high standard.
Shipbuilding is heavily reliant on machine shops. Besides the construction of new ships, machine shops also play an integral part in creating parts for various applications during the 3 or 5 yearly drydocks.
Machine shops can make new equipment such as valves, pipelines, and filters for vessels. Alternatively, they may also refurbish used equipment such as Main Engine exhaust valve spindles and seats.
Machine shops make components for electrical equipment, especially for electric motors. Using the right materials, they make parts such as shafts and gears for different sized motors.
The energy industry uses machine shops to make parts that are no longer made by the original manufacturer. Power generation equipment is made robust to ensure no breaks in operation.
Many times, when the equipment fails, engineers use machine shops to custom make the failed parts. Parts such as heat generator tubes, turbines, and shell plates need to be cut of a specific size.