Machining is a critical part of many manufacturing and fabrication processes. Before you commit to an order, though, you should have a strong sense of what your options are. Let's look at three basic ways to consider your machining options.
CNC vs. Manual
Computer numerical control, more commonly known as CNC machining, is one of the core tools of modern industry and fabrication. A designer creates a layout for a project, and then the machine shop programs the layout into its computerized system. The computer then follows the layout to turn the design into a real-world component or product.
Manual machining is also an option. As the name suggests, the manual process involves doing the work by hand. A machinist uses tools to produce items. Unsurprisingly, this tends to be slower, but it can be useful for jobs that don't easily lend themselves to CNC systems.
Notably, many shops use hybrid solutions. They will employ the CNC machining tools to reduce labor and costs on the simpler or more repetitive tasks. A machinist will then handle the remaining work manually.
Methods for Removing Materials
All machining processes involve the removal of materials to some extent. There are 6 core methods for removing materials.
First, a machinist can bore the piece, usually to create holes. Second, they can cut materials, usually sheet metal, to make specific shapes. Third, they can drill, usually to produce parallel holes that often receive axles or spindles. Fourth, they can mill the item by using cuts or holes. Fifth, they can turn the item, typically to produce long rotational components like axles. Finally, they can grind the piece, a solution that provides finishes and limited cuts.
Single vs. Recurring Orders
Most machine shops offer individual and long-term projects. For example, a construction company might need specific pieces for a single steel fabrication job. These may be bespoke components, usually because an architect or engineer required them for a particular structural purpose. The company will place an order for each item, but it likely won't ask for them ever again.
At the opposite end of the scale, there are companies that need thousands or even millions of copies of the same components. A high-end automotive business might need a shop as a custom gear manufacturer to produce components for an entire line of sports cars. They will need high accuracy and repeatability for all of the thousands of components, and they may also need very specific gear ratios.