CNC machining - quickly and quietly transforming production
The manufacturing industry is currently undergoing a digital transformation, in which new business models are being engineered to improve time to market as a means of meeting customer demand for more instant services and products.
In order to thrive in this Fourth Industrial Revolution, businesses are challenged with having to continually reimagine processes and production methods. Many are embracing the latest in digital manufacturing processes, arguably the most well-known of which is 3D printing.
With news of 3D-printed medical devices, human organs and even components of 3D printers regularly making the headlines, there is less discussion around other equally important digital manufacturing processes, such as CNC machining.
Using automated software to control high-speed milling and turning tools, CNC (computer numeric control) machining is a crucial digital manufacturing service for a range of industries, delivering fast turnaround of parts and prototypes.
Although CNC machining itself isn’t hitting the headlines compared to 3D printing, the application of the technology has brought acclaim to a number of well-documented projects in recent months. Examples of such include the creation of custom-machined aluminium-joint housings for a powered exoskeleton. This project, designed and built by the University of Houston, is a key part of a new robotics system aimed at helping paraplegics to walk again.
At Texas-based Skyven Technologies, CNC machined parts are a key feature of an innovative, highly efficient solar panel system innovatively designed to both generate electricity and heat water.
Another example is Sportech, product development partner to the world’s largest power-sports vehicle makers, which utilises CNC machining to validate the design of components used in snowmobiles, utility vehicles and motorcycles prior to large-scale manufacturing.
The advantages of CNC machining
Where 3D printing is an additive process, building up layers to create an object, CNC machining is effectively the opposite, cutting into engineering-grade plastic and metal to create high-quality prototypes and functional end-use parts.
3D printing is ideal for highly specialised, intricate and customised designs, and its potential for an almost infinite variety of outputs makes it perfect for iterative product development. It does, however, have economical and physical limits regarding scale and size, making it less suitable for large production runs.
It’s in situations such as this where CNC machining can offer an advantage. CNC machining can be used for small batches of products, but at this level a higher unit cost makes it more economical - and therefore more popular - for use in the manufacture of parts for commercial and industrial equipment and machinery.
The key benefit of the CNC machining process is its ability to produce considerable quantities of precision-crafted parts and products in a variety of materials, all of which will have the true properties of that particular material, making them suitable for form, fit and function testing.
Indeed, final parts manufactured though high speed milling and turning processes are almost indistinguishable from moulded parts. Not only does this make for high-quality prototypes that can be used as jigs, fixtures and one-offs, but the resultant high-quality surface finishes, free from the layer lines often found on 3D printed parts, mean that CNC machining is an ideal process for producing end-use parts.
Meeting increasingly tough challenges
The application of CNC machining and 3D printing needn’t be mutually exclusive.
CNC machining can be employed as an add-on to fine tune 3D printed objects, and doesn’t have to be used just for larger production runs. Indeed, it’s possible to use the two processes in conjunction to meet the increasingly tough design challenges faced by today’s manufacturers, such as the demand for ever more lightweight components and products, and for objects with complex geometries. In situations such as these, the flexibility of 3D printing can be enhanced by the precision of CNC machining to ever more intricate objects.
Manufacturing businesses must embrace constantly developing technology to meet the evolving demands of their customers. While 3D printing enjoys all the plaudits, CNC machining is playing its part – whether in isolation or collaboration with other processes – in creating more effective parts and products, faster and more efficiently than ever before.
By Stephen Dyson, Product Manager, Proto Labs
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.