How to Save Costs with CNC Machining

Virtual on-demand manufacturing services like Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Make may help companies reduce expenditure.

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CNC machining is a dominant, inherently cost-effective manufacturing technology that is critical to industries including aerospace, automotive, medical devices and consumer goods. The subtractive machining process has come a long way from its manual beginnings, with automation now making it possible to create high-precision, high-accuracy parts with fast output.

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

However, CNC machining expenses can quickly run out of control if parts are being made wastefully. It is essential for manufacturers to consider ways of controlling costs in order to achieve the advantages that CNC machining has to offer.

There are various ways to make CNC machining more efficient—starting with designing for manufacturability. Basic tips include conceptualizing as many standard features as possible, rather than re-customizing to add unnecessary complexity. Each machine’s limitations must be kept in mind—i.e., whether certain areas are easy to reach, and selected tools are appropriate for the task. Both the cutting tool and blank materials should be taken into consideration, favoring materials that are flexible and commonly available. Finer tolerances should not be specified if they don’t serve a purpose.

Beyond design and machine usage, the essence of reducing cost in CNC machining is to use toolpath optimization to shorten the cycle time, so that the part is made as quickly as possible. Another issue stems around the done-in-one philosophy, which involves using CNC equipment and strategies to complete a part in a single setup. Rather than implementing numerous operations that can be tricky and time-consuming, it can be most cost-effective to use advanced CNC machines with multiple capabilities such as measurement, grinding, 3D printing and more.

Unfortunately, machines that can do everything at once to achieve this sort of cost efficiency are extraordinarily expensive and require high levels of operator skill and expertise. For low volumes, it is not worth spending over a million dollars to configure such a CNC machining center in-house. This means it becomes imperative to outsource CNC machining to make these parts.

The Problem with Depending on Local Machine Shops

The most efficient company to make a part varies on that company’s technical capability and past experience. For example, if you are making a spool valve for an aircraft hydraulic system, a company with extensive experience in making aircraft hydraulic system parts is likely the best company to make that part for you. However, these machine shops can be difficult to find locally in your area—or they may not exist near you at all.

Very few local machine shops will turn down an order, and may therefore accept jobs where they go on to make parts inefficiently. If you’ve talked to only three or four local machine shops within your geographical area, there is no way for you to know if you’re getting the highest quality at the best price.

Another important factor is volume. One type of machine shop that makes a prototype may differ in capacity from another that manufactures at the production level, since different kinds of machine tools may be required in each case. It can thus become necessary to qualify a variety of vendors for different volume needs; this is expensive and involves a lot of paperwork.

In today’s world—where manufacturers are using cloud-connected platforms to design and simulate parts—it makes sense to go virtual when it comes time to CNC machine parts as well. On-demand manufacturing services can provide more competitive options than a local machine shop by allowing a level of cross-shopping across a huge number of potential vendors. Not only is this faster, but it matches companies with vendors who have the best capability while quoting the lowest price with the necessary quality.

The 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace Make Service

One on-demand manufacturing service is Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace Make service, which collaborates with industrial service providers in North America and Europe across manufacturing processes including CNC machining, 3D printing, laser cutting, sheet metal and injection molding. With applications extending from prototyping to production, 3DEXPERIENCE Make’s CNC machining service handles projects for a wide variety of industries such as aerospace, construction, consumer goods, energy, healthcare, marine and offshore, and transportation and mobility. The online marketplace allows engineers to collaborate with machinists on design and manufacturing specifications while easily comparing quotes from several service providers.

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

CNC machining subprocesses offered by 3DEXPERIENCE Make include turning, milling and spark machining. Hundreds of materials are available through a wide network of providers: plastic (e.g., PA12, ABS, PLA, PET), metal (e.g., stainless steel, 316, aluminum, titane) or composite (e.g., PA glass, PA aluminum, ABS-Carbon fiber). 3DEXPERIENCE Make’s ecosystem includes industrial manufacturing service providers such as Xometry, Sculpteo, American Additive, Get It Made and Any-Shape. Having a massive supplier network through a trusted service like Xometry is a big advantage for customers, since it ensures one-stop shopping between one huge design base and one huge manufacturing base.

3DEXPERIENCE Make for CNC machining can be accessed for free online through the website—even by customers who are not Dassault Systèmes customers or 3DEXPERIENCE platform users. Another option allows software subscribers to directly quote for parts within the design environment, i.e., through SOLIDWORKS, CATIA, Draftsight or eDrawings via an add-in.

Here’s how it works: Parts are uploaded via their CAD file. Next, desired features are selected for the project along with the type of process, material, tolerance and finish. If any issues are detected in design or geometry, these are automatically fixed using specifications driven by industry standards. The marketplace then recommends partners based on their past experience with similar parts, materials and processes. Users can use the platform to collaborate with these service providers, request quotes, adjust specifications and finalize turnaround time. Once the order is processed and delivered, users validate their parts—and only then is the supplier paid. This process ensures traceability while ensuring that risks are reduced in achieving part quality.

Then versus Now

For the past century, industrial manufacturers such as automotive and aerospace all had prototype shops—i.e., machine shops in the heart of their companies that employed people whose sole job was to make prototypes for testing and validating parts. This was extremely expensive, because a completely different technology would be required to make hundreds or thousands of parts when it came time for production. However, they had no option, because they couldn’t shuffle around a couple of hundred machine shops to outsource the manufacturing of each individual component. Many of these complex parts were made in-house.

We’re now in a world where there isn’t even a need for design firms to know anything about companies machining parts for them, because everything is cloud-connected. All that’s needed is assurance that the company machining your part will do it well, and at the agreed price. The beauty of virtual services like 3DEXPERIENCE Make is that they solve the trust factor. The net result: manufacturers will get high quality parts cheaper and faster.

To learn more about 3DEXPERIENCE Make for CNC Machining, visit the Dassault Systèmes website.