Product designers and engineers have long relied on makeshift proof-of-concept models to test their designs. These prototypes are used for design evaluation, functionality tests, quality control, and design iterations – offering valuable insights into product concepts with the use of practical evaluation. In today’s landscape, this process generally employs rapid prototyping.
Rapid prototyping is a manufacturing process that takes advantage of computer technology to yield high-fidelity physical prototypes of 3D design concepts. It delivers quick and precise models that can serve as mock-ups and test a range of product performance criteria.
One of the most effective techniques for rapid prototyping is CNC machining. By leveraging computer numerical control, it allows engineers to produce high-quality prototypes and parts in the shortest possible time frame. Here are the top 4 reasons why you should choose CNC machining for your next prototyping project.
The level of accuracy and precision that CNC machines deliver is unmatched by any manufacturing alternatives in the industry. With the use of processes like CNC milling, it can perform precise movements that achieve accuracy with tolerances of +/- 0.05mm – at the press of a button.
The accuracy of CNC machines is also scalable and reproducible, which guarantees an identical look and performance for all prototypes. By leveraging this level of precision, it’s easy for product developers to make further refinements to dimensions and design by simply tweaking the digital program. This precision gives them the kind of visibility and control that can go a long way in the success of their final product.
The tolerances attainable with CNC machining are so on-the-dot that they can satisfy virtually any commercial application they are considered for.
As rapid prototyping inherently requires fast turnaround times, CNC machining is one of the most effective methods for a very obvious reason. With the use of computerized controls, it will turn a design into a finished part in just a few hours.
Its speed doesn’t only refer to the actual production time but all the preparatory steps in between. This includes translating CAD/CAM models into G-code software, material setup, and commencing milling with almost zero downtime.
Once programmed, quality mills or lathes can cut through steel and aluminum with astounding speed – turning a raw piece of metal into a finished part in just minutes.
CNC milling and turning can operate with almost any solid material – including hard plastic, stainless or mild steel, aluminum, nickel, brass, and many others. There are thousands of commercially available materials to use, so you can easily find one that matches your requirements.
For prototypes, this allows you to use a cheaper and easier-to-machine variant in the development process without compromising your design. You can also consider running multiple prototypes made of different materials to find the right one. With only minor modifications to the parameters, you can use the same design with a whole range of materials.
You can finally evaluate what your best option is by looking at the mechanical, functional, and physical properties of the models. This method will not only speed up your development process but can help you minimize the costs.
No Fixed Tooling
Manufacturing techniques like die casting and molding usually require the use of rigid dies that are made from steel alloys. Making these tools can take weeks based on the details and complexity of the design. Of course, this is a worthwhile job for many projects, like reproducing subtle surface textures from a master pattern. However, it can pose limitations for other jobs where CNC machines deliver smoother and flatter surfaces for parts.
CNC machining requires no fixed tooling – only hardened metal cutting inserts used in the spindles. The different types and shapes of cutting tools perform varying functions, and when arranged adequately on an automatic turntable, they can easily be swapped and exchanged in seconds. That is why CNC machining is considerably faster, more cost-efficient, and certainly more accurate for rapid prototyping.
One of the most preferred and high-quality techniques for producing rapid prototypes is CNC machining.
With the use of precise computerized movements, CNC machining produces parts with unparalleled accuracy. The same technology has also significantly reduced the overall production speed – from design to final parts – making it one of the most time-efficient prototyping methods.
Since CNC milling and turning can operate with a wide range of materials, the method offers flexibility both in terms of final choice and experimentation. And, since it requires no fixed tooling or dies for execution, it doesn’t face the limitations of other methods like die casting and molding.