Posted April 20, 2021
Exploring CNC Milling in Industrial Applications
With the ever-improving efficiency of production afforded by CNC machining, the use of CNC mills and lathes to fabricate parts for industrial applications has multiplied. This automated technology has not only standardized the manufacturing of regular production parts but has also opened up new avenues of innovation to growing industries. While turning a part on a CNC lathe will produce cylindrical products such as crankshafts or baseball bats, machine shops will use CNC mills to fabricate the shapes and forms of complex parts. These include everything from tiny, precise parts used in spacecraft to large ship’s propellers. Here is more about the CNC milling industrial applications that are available today.
What Is CNC Milling?
With modern manufacturing techniques like CNC milling, industrial applications are nearly limitless. The process begins with product design using CAD (computer automated design) software, where a designer creates three-dimensional models of the part to be built. These models are then converted into computer numeric controlled data for the CNC machines by an advanced software application. These data dictate how the tooling of both the CNC mills and lathes will move, ensuring precise measurements in the fabricated pieces.
To prepare a CNC mill for production, the operator will first attach the bare material for fabrication onto the machine's workholding. The operator then connects the appropriate milling tools to the machine’s spindle to cut, drill or otherwise shape the end product. Depending on design specifications, the CNC milling process employs horizontal or vertical machining, using rotating multipoint cutting tools that move in three axes. According to its program, multi-axis CNC mills will position both the workpiece and the tools in different positions to cut more complex shapes. Once ready, the operator initiates the milling process using the prepared CNC data.
CNC Milling: Industrial Applications
Manufacturers use CNC machining to fabricate components for numerous industries. Both CNC mills and lathes can mass-produce products or be used to create a few custom parts. This capability for accurately customizing components is a key reason why many manufacturers use CNC machining to fabricate their parts. It allows machine shops to produce products from detailed models better than any other method. While machine shops use both mills and lathes for manufacturing parts for industrial applications, some industries rely specifically on CNC milling services for certain parts.
CNC milling plays a vital role in the manufacturing of aerospace components and has standardized this process. CNC technology allows for highly customized motion control that meticulously produces components, and simulation software helps determine how the end product will work in real-world situations. The following are some examples of parts produced with CNC milling technology:
- Hydraulic manifolds
- Fuel bodies
- Landing gear components
- Jet engine impellers
- Support rails for aircraft seat frames
- Control panels
Machine shops also use NC milling to fabricate many parts used in the manufacturing of farm equipment. With the ability to produce both in scale and short production runs, it can produce both common parts and unique components for special case equipment. CNC milling also allows for the use of different materials and surface treatments in the different parts it produces:
- Gearbox cases
- Transmission housings
- Transmission components
- Cast parts
- Differential cases
Since the inception of Henry Ford’s Model T in 1908, automobile manufacturers have used new technologies to streamline production. Assembly lines for vehicles increasingly use automation to improve efficiency, with CNC machining being one of the automotive manufacturer’s most valuable tools. While CNC lathes create the different shafts and rods used in a car, whereas CNC milling machines fabricate the following automotive parts:
- Engine block cylinders
- Starter motors
- Drive housings
As one of the largest industries in the world, electronics benefits considerably from CNC machining. The technology’s versatility and accuracy make CNC mills and lathes particularly useful for shaping a wide range of plastic polymers, along with both conductive metals and non-conductive dielectric materials. The rapid setup and quick adjustments using CAD software make milling and turning a natural fit for manufacturing these components that depend on tight tolerances. Here are some of the parts that machine shops build using a CNC mill:
- Heat sinks
- Stiffener bars
- Component support brackets
- Switches and panels
- Card cages
The energy industry uses CNC milling to mass-produce components for various applications. Nuclear plants require very elaborate components, while the gas and oil industries also rely on CNC machining to produce components that keep the fuel flowing. Hydroelectric, solar, and wind energy providers also use CNC milling and turning to fabricate the system components that ensure the continual production of electricity. Here are some of the parts in the energy industries that specifically require the services of CNC milling machines:
Offshore oil and gas rigs, refineries, and pipelines
- Support structures
- Pump handles
Green energy components
- Wind turbine blades
- Frames and rails for solar panels
- Gears, gearbox housings, and rotors for wind turbines
- Hydroelectric turbine housings, impellers, and covers
- Wind turbine bearings
Medical manufacturers use CNC milling and turning machines to make essential medical equipment and tools, including prosthetics, which require precise and unique designs. Engineers and designers of medical equipment also found CNC machining particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic. CNC milling machines, in particular, gave them the capacity to produce quick prototypes and mass-produce the following medical products:
- Customized packaging to maintain sterility
- Medical equipment made from heat-resistant plastics
- Precision surgical instruments
- Orthotic devices
- Shielded enclosures
The modern CNC milling machine can trace its roots back 200 years to early hand-operated machine tools that mass-produced, uniform weapon parts for the military. This tradition has continued with the defense industry’s use of CNC milling and turning technology to fabricate both prototype and production quantities of parts. Many of these machined components have since migrated to other sectors, and innovations originally developed for military applications now benefit aviation, electronic, medical, and other industries. Here are a few military products created with CNC milling equipment:
- Body armor
- Gun components
- Pistol locking devices
- Optics housings
- Firearm sighting
Advantages of a Certified CNC Machine Shop
Today, the CNC mills and lathes used by certified CNC machine shops can network together to collect and transmit data. With the advanced machine learning software used for programming, the CNC machines will monitor their progress, report measurements and statistics, and take corrective action when required. This flow of data within the factory allows machine shops to produce the highest quality parts and quickly incorporate production improvements into their manufacturing processes.
The advantages of CNC technology apply to virtually any industry for prototype or production parts. More and more industries are updating business models to increase productivity and maintain high standards of quality. A local machine shop can often offer an instant quote on a new design, and once programmed, the CNC machine will automatically make that part at almost any volume.
Plethora is an ISO 9001 certified machine shop that specializes in the manufacture of precision parts. We use advanced CNC milling and turning technologies that augment production in a wide range of industries. Call us at 415-726-2256 to discuss what CNC milling industrial needs we can fulfill, or simply start your project now by uploading your design files to Quote My Part.
The Plethora Team
The Plethora team is your go-to CNC manufacturer for hardware done right the first time. We have the tools and experience needed to create high quality custom parts quickly and with precision, whether you need a prototype or production run.