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How to Design for Rapid Prototyping

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is a technique used in the product development process to quickly create a physical prototype of a product or part using computer-aided design (CAD) data.

This process allows designers and engineers to test and validate their designs before moving into full-scale production.

Rapid prototyping can include techniques such as 3D printing, CNC machining, and injection moulding. These rapid prototyping methods create functional prototypes in a fraction of the time and cost compared to traditional manufacturing processes.

What is the Role of Design in Rapid Prototyping?

Design plays a crucial role in the rapid prototyping process as it lays the foundation for creating a successful prototype.

Design helps to define the functionality, form, and appearance of the prototype, ensuring that it meets the specified requirements and objectives.

In specific terms, design is important in rapid prototyping for several reasons:

Visualisation: Design helps to visualise the final product and enables all stakeholders to see and understand what the prototype will look like. This helps to align expectations and ensure that everyone is working to the same brief.

Iteration: Design allows for quick iterations and modifications to the prototype. By creating multiple design concepts and testing them, designers can quickly refine and improve the prototype to meet the desired specifications.

Feasibility: Design helps to identify potential challenges and constraints early in the prototyping process. By addressing these issues during the design phase, designers can avoid costly rework and wasted time.

Communication: Design serves as a visual communication tool that helps to convey ideas, concepts, and requirements to team members, clients, and stakeholders. It facilitates effective collaboration and decision-making throughout the prototyping process.

Overall, design plays a critical role in rapid prototyping by guiding the development of the prototype and ensuring that the final product meets the intended specifications.

Key Principles When Designing for Rapid Prototyping

Define clear objectives: Before starting the rapid prototyping process, it is important to clearly define the objectives of the project. This will ensure that the design process stays on track, and that the prototype can be measured against the pre-defined outcomes.

Start with sketches: Begin the design process with rough sketches to explore different ideas and concepts. This will help to identify the most effective design solutions.

Use prototyping tools: Utilise prototyping tools such as Sketch, Adobe XD, or Figma to create interactive prototypes that simulate the functionality of the final product. These tools allow for quick testing and refinement of designs.

Focus on user experience: Prioritise user experience by considering how users will interact with the prototype. Pay attention to usability, accessibility, and overall user satisfaction.

Iterate and refine: Rapid prototyping is an iterative process, so designers should be prepared to make changes based on feedback and testing. This will allow designers to continuously improve the prototype before moving to full scale production.

Test early and often: Conduct usability testing with real users throughout the prototyping process to gather valuable appraisals and insights, and to make informed design decisions.

Maintain consistency: Use consistent design elements, such as colours, fonts, and navigation patterns, throughout the prototype to create a cohesive and polished user experience.

Stay flexible: Be open to making changes and adjustments to the prototype as required. If the final product is to be successful in meeting the agreed objectives, product designers will need to accept constructive criticism and embrace new ideas.

Top Ten Design Tips for Rapid Prototyping

  1. Simplify design: Avoid overcomplicating the prototype with unnecessary features or details. This can make the prototype difficult and time-consuming to create, as well as potentially increasing its cost. Keep the design simple and focused on core functionality.
  2. Material selection: Choose the appropriate materials for rapid prototyping, taking into consideration factors such as strength, flexibility, and cost.
  1. Design for ease of assembly: Make sure the prototype can be easily assembled and disassembled for testing and modifications.
  1. Incorporate feedback: Design iterations should be based on feedback from stakeholders and users to continually improve the prototype.
  1. Consider manufacturability: Design for rapid prototyping techniques, such as 3D printing or CNC machining, to ensure efficient production of prototypes.
  1. Test functionality: Verify that the prototype functions as intended through testing and evaluation before moving on to the next design iteration.
  1. Cost-effectiveness: Consider the costs associated with rapid prototyping (i.e. material and production costs) in order to stay within budget constraints.
  1. Scalability: Design prototypes that can be easily scaled up or down to meet future production needs.
  1. Collaboration: Work closely with cross-functional teams, including engineers, designers, and clients, to ensure a holistic approach to prototyping and to ensure alignment with project goals.
  1. Documentation: Keep detailed records of the design process, including changes, tests, and results. This will help to track progress and will also inform future design iterations.

Common Design Mistakes in Rapid Prototyping

Neglecting to optimise the design for prototyping: Designing a part with the specific requirements of prototyping in mind can lead to faster and more cost-effective results.

Overlooking ergonomics: Consider ergonomic factors such as comfort and usability. Failing to address these items can result in a prototype which is not user-friendly.

Choosing the wrong prototyping process: Each rapid prototyping process is different. It’s important to choose the right one relative to the specific requirements of the project.

Neglecting aesthetics: The importance of aesthetics should not be overlooked. A visually appealing prototype can help to convey a design concept more effectively.

Designing parts with sharp corners or thin walls: Sharp corners and thin walls can be difficult to produce using rapid prototyping techniques. It’s important to design parts with rounded corners and appropriate wall thicknesses.

Failing to consider post-processing requirements: Some rapid prototyping processes may require additional post-processing steps, such as finishing or painting. It’s important to consider these requirements when designing the part.

Poor communication: Clearly communicate your design intent to the prototyping team. Miscommunication can lead to errors and delays in the prototyping process.

Ignoring feedback: Ignoring feedback can lead to the development of a prototype that does not meet the needs and expectations of the end users.

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Low Volume Manufacturing

What is Low Volume Manufacturing?

Low volume manufacturing is a production method used to create a small number of products, typically ranging from 1 to 1,000 units.

This process is often used for custom or niche products which do not require large-scale production.

Low volume manufacturing is cost-effective for small businesses, startups, or companies who want to test new products before scaling up production. It allows for design flexibility, customisation, and rapid prototyping.

What Technologies are Used for Low Volume Manufacturing?

3D Printing: Also known as additive manufacturing, this technology allows for the production of custom parts in small quantities with minimal setup time and costs.

CNC Machining: Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines are used to produce parts by subtracting material from a block of raw material. This method is cost-effective for low volume production runs.

Injection Moulding: Injection moulding can also be used for low volume manufacturing with the right setup and tooling. Rapid tooling methods allow engineers to market-test products and troubleshoot the manufacturing process before committing to production tooling.

Laser Cutting: This technology is often used for cutting and engraving materials such as metal, plastic, and wood, making it ideal for low volume manufacturing projects.

Vacuum Casting: This method is used for producing small batches of parts using silicone moulds and polyurethane resins. It is a cost-effective way to replicate high-quality prototypes and small production runs.

What are the Production Scenarios for Low Volume Manufacturing?

Customised or specialised products: Low volume manufacturing is ideal for producing customised or specialised products that have unique specifications or features that are not easily mass-produced.

Prototyping and testing: Low volume manufacturing is often used for prototyping and testing new products before full-scale production. This allows for adjustments to be made quickly and cost-effectively.

Limited market demand: If there is limited market demand for a product, low volume manufacturing can be used to produce a smaller quantity of units to meet the specific needs of the target market.

Seasonal or niche products: Products which are only in demand during certain seasons or which cater to a niche market may be better suited to low volume manufacturing to avoid excess inventory and waste.

Early-stage startups: Startups may opt for low volume manufacturing to minimise the initial costs and risks associated with scaling up production. This will allow them to trial certain concepts and ideas before making a large financial commitment to the production process.

Aftermarket parts: Low volume manufacturing is agile and flexible, and it can be employed to create components on demand to improve the performance of existing products.

Spare parts: Low volume manufacturing can be utilised to produce replacement or spare parts for discontinued products. This is particularly useful if an OEM has stopped manufacturing a particular product which is still widely used by consumers. Innovative technologies such as 3D printing, which relies on the original CAD design, can be used.

Regulatory compliance: Products which require strict adherence to regulatory requirements or certifications may benefit from low volume manufacturing to ensure compliance. This mitigates the risk of producing non-compliant units in large quantities.

What are the Benefits of Low Volume Manufacturing?

Reduced upfront costs: Low volume manufacturing allows companies to produce smaller quantities without having to invest in expensive production equipment or high minimum order quantities (MOQs). This helps to reduce the initial capital expenditure required for production, making it more accessible for smaller businesses or startups.

Flexibility: Companies can easily modify product designs, incorporate customer feedback, or introduce new features during low volume manufacturing processes. This flexibility enables businesses to quickly respond to market demands.

Customisation: Low volume manufacturing is ideal for the production of bespoke or custom products which meet the specific needs and requirements of customers.

Faster time to market: With low volume manufacturing, companies can bring products to market more rapidly. As the production volume is smaller, the turnaround time for manufacturing is shorter. This speed-to-market advantage is particularly beneficial for businesses operating in fast-moving industries, or for products which have short lifecycles.

Reduced inventory risks: Producing in smaller quantities helps to minimise the risk of excess inventory. This is especially important for industries where demand is uncertain or rapidly changing. Low volume manufacturing allows companies to produce products based on current demand, reducing the need for excessive stock and associated storage costs.

Lower risk experimentation: Low volume manufacturing provides an opportunity for companies to test new ideas, innovations, or prototypes. This allows businesses to analyse product performance and refine designs without incurring substantial manufacturing costs.

Cost-effective for niche markets: Low volume manufacturing is particularly favourable for niche markets with limited demand. Customisation options and lower production costs allow companies to cater to specific customer needs without compromising profitability.

Reduced waste and sustainability: Low volume manufacturing helps to minimise waste and excess materials by producing fewer units. Such sustainable production practices are good for the environment and have become increasingly important to consumers and regulators.

Utilisation of advanced technologies: Low volume manufacturers often leverage advanced manufacturing technologies, such as 3D printing and CNC machining, to efficiently produce small quantities of products with high precision and quality.

Which Industries Typically Employ Low Volume Manufacturing?

Aerospace and Defence: Due to the complex and unique nature of components required in aerospace and defence applications, low volume manufacturing is often preferred to produce specialised parts and equipment on a smaller scale.

Automotive: The automotive industry utilises low volume manufacturing for prototype development, customisations, and limited production runs of specialty vehicles or parts.

Medical Devices: Many medical devices require precision engineering and customisation, making low volume manufacturing a cost-effective solution for producing small batches of specialised equipment. They also require stringent testing before rolling out full production.

Electronics: The electronics industry often requires low volume manufacturing for producing prototypes, custom components, and small batches of specialised products.

Consumer Goods: Consumer goods companies use low volume manufacturing to produce limited edition items which do not have mass-market appeal but cater to a niche audience.

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Plating for CNC Machined Parts

What is Plating for CNC Machined Parts?

Plating is a surface finishing process for CNC machined parts.

Plating involves depositing a thin layer of metal on to the surface of a part through electroplating.

Plating can be done with various metals, including nickel, chrome, zinc, gold, and silver. The part to be plated is immersed in an electrolytic bath along with a metal salt solution, and a direct current is applied to initiate the deposition of the metal on to the part’s surface.

Plating can improve the durability, appearance, and functionality of CNC machined parts.

What is the Process for Plating a CNC Machined Part?

Plating a CNC machined part involves applying a protective or decorative layer of metal on the surface of the part. The process generally consists of the following steps:

  1. Preparing the surface: The CNC machined part is cleaned and prepared by removing any dirt, grease, or contaminants from the surface. This is done by using chemical cleaners, solvents, or ultrasonic cleaning methods.
  1. Surface activation: To ensure proper bonding of the plating material, the surface of the part needs to be activated. This is typically done by etching or treating the surface with a chemical solution, such as an acid or alkaline bath.
  1. Electroplating: The part is then immersed in an electrolyte solution containing metal ions of the desired plating material. The part acts as a cathode, while an anode made of the plating metal is also present in the solution. A direct electrical current is passed through the solution, causing the metal ions to be deposited on to the surface of the part. The plating metal may vary depending on the intended outcomes (i.e. corrosion resistance, conductivity, or aesthetics etc).
  1. Controlling plating thickness: The plating thickness can be controlled by adjusting the current density, plating time, and other variables. This ensures a uniform and desired thickness across the surface of the part.
  1. Post-plating treatments: After the desired plating thickness is achieved, the part may undergo additional processes to enhance the plating’s properties. This may include rinsing to remove any residual plating solution, heat treatments for improved adhesion and hardness, or applying a protective coating such as a clear lacquer.
  1. Quality control: Finally, the plated part undergoes quality control measures to ensure it meets the desired specifications. This can involve checking plating thickness, adhesion, appearance, and any functional requirements.

It is important to note that the plating process may vary depending on the type of plating material, the part’s material, and the intended application. Different plating techniques, such as electroless plating or electrochemical deposition, may be used in certain cases.

What are the Different Types of Plating Processes?

There are several types of plating options for CNC machined parts, including:

Electroplating: This is the most common type of plating process, which involves depositing a thin layer of metal on to the surface of the part. It provides increased corrosion resistance, improved wear resistance, and enhanced aesthetic appearance.

Anodizing: Anodizing is an electrochemical process used to treat aluminium and its alloys. It forms a durable oxide layer on the surface of the part, improving corrosion resistance and providing a decorative finish.

Powder coating: Powder coating involves applying a dry coloured powder to the surface of the part, which is then heated to create a durable and attractive finish. It provides excellent resistance to corrosion, impact, and chemicals.

Nickel plating: Nickel plating offers high corrosion resistance and provides a smooth, glossy finish. It can be used as an undercoat for other platings, or as a standalone coating.

Zinc plating: Zinc plating, also known as galvanizing, is a process in which a protective layer of zinc is applied to the part. It offers corrosion resistance and can also act as a sacrificial coating to protect the underlying metal.

Chrome plating: Chrome plating is used to provide a high level of hardness, corrosion resistance, and reflectivity. It is commonly used for decorative purposes, especially on automotive parts.

Tin plating: Tin plating is used to increase corrosion resistance, provide solderability, and improve the part’s appearance. It is commonly used on electronic components and food contact surfaces.

The Benefits of Plating a CNC Machined Part

There are several benefits of plating a CNC machined part. Let’s take a closer look at some of these benefits in more detail:

Improved surface finish: Plating can enhance the appearance and aesthetics of a CNC machined part by providing a smooth and polished surface.

Increased corrosion resistance: Plating can provide a protective layer on the surface of the machined part, preventing it from being affected by environmental factors like moisture, chemicals, or oxidation.

Enhanced durability: Plating can improve the mechanical properties of the part, making it more resistant to wear, abrasion, and corrosion. This can extend the lifespan of the part and reduce the need for frequent replacements.

Better electrical conductivity: Plating can also enhance the electrical conductivity of the part, making it suitable for applications that require good electrical contact, such as electronics or electrical connectors.

Improved solderability: Plated surfaces are often more compatible with soldering processes, making it easier to join the machined part with other components in an assembly.

Enhanced adhesion: Plated surfaces generally have better adhesion properties, allowing for improved bonding with paints, adhesives, or other coatings if required.

Customisable appearance: Plating can be done with various materials and finishes, allowing for customisation of the part to meet specific design or aesthetic requirements.

Reduced friction and wear: Plated surfaces can have lower friction coefficients, which can help to reduce wear and increase the efficiency of moving parts in mechanical assemblies.

Regulatory compliance: Plating can be done with materials that comply with specific industry standards or regulations, ensuring that the machined part meets the necessary requirements for its intended application.

Overall, plating a CNC machined part can provide numerous functional and aesthetic benefits, making it a valuable finishing process for many applications.

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The Manufacturing Supply Chain

A supply chain is a network of individuals and companies who are involved in a product’s lifecycle, from conception all the way through to final delivery.

In manufacturing terms, the supply chain is the process of converting raw materials or components into fully assembled working products which are then sold to customers.

There are many different types of customers involved in the manufacturing supply chain, including materials suppliers, manufacturers, product designers and end users.

The manufacturing supply chain in the UK has become an increasingly challenging environment for companies, especially small-medium sized enterprises. These challenges include costs, scarcity of materials, increased competition, and geopolitical turbulence.

This article will examine the supply chain from the perspective of the manufacturer, exploring the challenges, opportunities, and benefits which exist for modern companies.

Supply Chain Challenges in the Manufacturing Sector

Raw Material Sourcing: Fluctuations in commodity prices, poor availability, and shipping delays have made the sourcing of raw materials extremely challenging for manufacturers.

Production Delays: Delays in production due to machine breakdowns, labour shortages, or other issues can disrupt the supply chain and lead to missed deadlines and increased costs.

Inventory Management: Balancing inventory levels to meet demand without overstocking or understocking can be a challenge for manufacturers. Poor inventory management can lead to excess costs and product obsolescence.

Transportation Costs: Rising transportation costs, including fuel prices and shipping rates, can impact upon the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the supply chain.

Quality Control: Ensuring product quality throughout the manufacturing process is essential for meeting customer expectations and preventing costly recalls or returns.

Globalisation: Manufacturers who source materials or sell products internationally face challenges such as currency fluctuations, tariffs, and trade regulations. These factors can have a domino effect on the wider supply chain.

Sustainability: Increasing pressure to operate sustainably can create challenges for companies in terms of sourcing environmentally friendly materials and minimising waste.

Cybersecurity: As manufacturers adopt digital technologies and connect their supply chain systems online, they may become more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats such as data breaches and ransomware attacks. Protecting sensitive information and ensuring the security of the supply chain is a big challenge for manufacturers in today’s marketplace.

Increased Utility Costs: Manufacturers often rely on large workforces, heavy duty machinery, and large production facilities to carry out their work. The rising costs of gas, electricity, and heating have created a squeeze on profit margins for many companies.

How Can Companies Successfully Manage the Manufacturing Supply Chain?

Companies can successfully navigate and manage the manufacturing supply chain by implementing the following strategies:

Establish Strong Supplier Relationships: Building strong relationships with suppliers can help to ensure a steady supply of materials and components. Effective communication, transparency, and collaboration with suppliers can help to reduce lead times, improve quality, and foster innovation.

Implement Supply Chain Visibility and Transparency: Utilise technology such as supply chain management software to gain real-time visibility into inventory levels, production status, and transportation. This can help identify potential bottlenecks, which in turn will help manufacturers to anticipate disruptions, and to make more informed decisions.

Diversify Suppliers and Sources: Relying on multiple suppliers can help to mitigate some of the risks involved, including supply shortages, price fluctuations, and geopolitical instability. Companies should regularly assess their supplier network and consider alternative options.

Optimise Production Processes: Implement lean manufacturing principles, just-in-time inventory management, and other efficiency-improving techniques to minimise waste, reduce lead times, and improve overall productivity. Continuous process improvement and automation can also help to streamline operations.

Invest in Workforce Training and Development: A skilled and knowledgeable workforce is crucial for managing a complex manufacturing supply chain. Companies should invest in training programs to enhance employee skills and expertise in supply chain management.

Monitor and Measure Performance Metrics: Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to track supply chain performance, such as on-time delivery, inventory turnover, and cost efficiency. Regularly analyse data and metrics to identify areas for improvement and to optimise supply chain operations.

Proactively Manage Risks: Identify potential risks and develop strategies to mitigate them, such as developing contingency plans for supply disruptions, implementing risk management protocols, and conducting regular risk assessments.

By implementing these strategies and continuously improving supply chain management practices, companies can navigate the complexities of the manufacturing supply chain successfully and achieve operational excellence.

What Are the Opportunities for Companies in the Manufacturing Supply Chain?

Enhanced Efficiency and Productivity: Companies in the manufacturing supply chain can improve their efficiency and productivity by streamlining processes, utilising advanced technologies, and adopting best practices. This can reduce costs, maximise output, and enhance their competitiveness in the market.

Innovation and Product Development: Companies in the manufacturing supply chain can innovate and develop new products to meet changing customer demands and market trends. By investing in research and development, they can create unique products which provide competitive differentiation and attract new customers.

Global Expansion: Companies in the manufacturing supply chain can expand their global operations and tap into new markets. By establishing partnerships and collaborations with international partners, they can increase their market reach and grow their business.

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility: With increasing focus on sustainability and corporate social responsibility, companies can seize the opportunity to adopt eco-friendly practices, reduce their carbon footprint, and contribute to a more sustainable future. This can attract customers and investors, leading to long-term success and growth.

What are the Benefits to Manufacturers of Being Part of a Supply Chain?

Increased Efficiency: Being part of a supply chain allows manufacturers to streamline their operations and reduce waste, ultimately improving their overall efficiency.

Cost Savings: By working closely with suppliers and distributors, manufacturers can negotiate better pricing on raw materials and transportation, leading to cost savings.

Improved Quality Control: Being part of a supply chain enables manufacturers to closely monitor and control the quality of their products throughout the production process.

Enhanced Flexibility: Collaborating with suppliers and distributors allows manufacturers to respond quickly to changing market demands and adjust production schedules accordingly.

Access to New Markets: Supply chains provide manufacturers with access to new markets and distribution channels, helping them to expand their customer bases and drive sales.

Risk Mitigation: By diversifying their supplier bases and increasing collaboration with other partners in the supply chain, manufacturers can reduce their exposure to all kinds of risks, including unforeseen disruptions in the supply chain or sudden fluctuations in demand.

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Design for Manufacturing (DFM)

What is Design for Manufacturing (DFM)?

Design for Manufacturing (DFM) is the process of designing a product in a way that optimises its manufacturing efficiency and quality.

The aim is to create a design that can be easily and cost-effectively manufactured, assembled, and serviced.

DFM takes into consideration variables such as materials, production techniques, tooling, equipment, and resources.

By considering manufacturing processes early in the design phase, DFM seeks to reduce or eliminate potential issues and increase overall production efficiencies. This helps to minimise costs, shorten lead times, and improve product functionality.

DFM involves collaboration between designers, engineers, and manufacturers to ensure that the design meets all manufacturing requirements and is suitable for mass production.

It may also involve making design modifications, as well as selecting appropriate materials, standardising components, minimising the number of parts, and ensuring ease of assembly.

What is the Process for Design for Manufacturing (DFM)?

The Design for Manufacturing (DFM) process will depend on the product, its requirements, and its intended application.

Here are some of the typical steps in the DFM process:

  1. Understanding customer requirements: The first step is to understand the customer’s requirements for the product. This includes understanding its function, performance, and any specific design constraints.
  1. Design concept development: The design concept will then be developed and will include initial sketches, visualisations, or 3D models to capture the look and feel of the product.
  1. Design analysis: Various design analyses are conducted to evaluate the performance of the product. This may include stress analysis, tolerance analysis, finite element analysis (FEA), or any other relevant analysis to ensure the design meets the required specifications.
  1. Design optimisation: Based on the analysis results, the design is then optimised. This may involve making changes to the product geometry, materials, or manufacturing processes.
  1. Design for manufacturability assessment: This involves analysing how easily the design can be manufactured using available manufacturing processes, equipment, and materials. The goal is to identify any potential manufacturing issues, such as complex geometries or difficult-to-manufacture features, so that the necessary design modifications can be made.
  1. Design validation: Once the design is optimised and assessed for manufacturability, it is validated through prototype testing. This may involve creating physical prototypes or using computer simulations to test the product’s performance and functionality.
  1. Iterative design improvements: Based on the prototype testing results, any necessary design improvements or modifications are made. This iterative process continues until the design meets all the required criteria.
  1. Documentation preparation: Once the design is finalised, detailed documentation is prepared, including manufacturing drawings, specifications, bills of materials (BOM), and assembly instructions. These documents provide all the necessary information for the manufacturing team to produce the product.
  1. Manufacturing process planning: The manufacturing team develops a detailed plan for manufacturing the product. This includes selecting the appropriate manufacturing processes, equipment, and materials, as well as determining the production schedule and quality control measures.
  1. Production: The product is manufactured by following the manufacturing process plan. This may involve various stages, such as material procurement, machining or fabrication, assembly, and quality assurance.
  1. Continuous improvement: Feedback is collected from the manufacturing team to identify any issues or opportunities for improvement. These insights are used to refine the design, manufacturing, and quality control processes for future iterations of the product.

The Benefits of Design for Manufacturing (DFM)

Cost reduction: By simplifying the manufacturing process, companies can achieve cost savings in labour, materials, tooling, and equipment.

Faster time to market: With DFM, products can be designed to be manufactured more efficiently, resulting in reduced lead times. The elimination of design flaws, manufacturability issues, or the need for multiple design iterations helps to speed up the overall process.

Improved product quality: Designing products with manufacturing in mind ensures that potential issues such as part failures, assembly problems, or quality defects are addressed early in the design phase. DFM maximises the likelihood of creating a product that meets quality standards and performs reliably.

Enhanced product functionality: By considering the manufacturing process beforehand, designers can take advantage of manufacturing techniques, materials, and production capabilities to improve the functionality, durability, and performance of the product.

Simplified maintenance and repair: Products designed with DFM principles are often easier to assemble, disassemble, and repair. This reduces downtime and the costs associated with maintenance or repairs, as well as improving user experience.

Increased production scalability: DFM ensures that a product’s design can be easily scaled up or down for larger or smaller production volumes. By minimising design constraints and manufacturing complexities, companies can respond more effectively to changing market demands and ramp up production quickly when required.

Improved supply chain management: DFM can lead to better collaboration and communication between design teams and manufacturing partners. By involving manufacturers early in the design process, they can provide input on feasibility, potential issues, and suggestions for improvement. This collaboration streamlines the supply chain, reduces the risk of delays or production bottlenecks, and fosters stronger partnerships.

Examples of Design for Manufacturing (DFM)

Simplified assembly processes: Designing products with easy-to-follow assembly instructions and minimising the number of components involved can greatly increase efficiency.

Standardised parts: Standardised parts can reduce costs/lead times by allowing manufacturers to use existing resources and minimise the need for custom manufacturing.

Designing for scalability: Creating designs that can easily scale up or down in production volume helps manufacturers to efficiently adjust to changing market demands.

Material selection: Selecting materials that are readily available, cost-effective, and easy to work with can simplify the manufacturing process and reduce production costs.

Minimising waste: Designing products with minimal material waste can lead to cost savings during manufacturing and will contribute to sustainability efforts.

Designing for automation: Incorporating features that facilitate automation, such as the use of robotics or assembly line equipment, can improve efficiency and reduce labour costs.

Designing for inspection and testing: Incorporating features that facilitate quality control inspections and product testing can help manufacturers to ensure that products meet the required standards before leaving the production line.

Ergonomics and user-friendly design: Designing products that are ergonomic and intuitive to use can improve manufacturing efficiency by reducing mistakes and assembly time.

Designing for cost-effective packaging and shipping: Considering packaging and shipping requirements during the design phase can help to minimise transportation costs, protect the product during transit, and reduce packaging waste.

Designing for maintenance and repair: Designing products which are easy to maintain and repair can reduce downtime and costs associated with servicing and troubleshooting.

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Anodizing for CNC Machined Parts

What is Anodizing for CNC Machined Parts?

Anodizing is a specialist surface finishing option for CNC machined parts.

It is an electrochemical process that creates a thin, protective oxide layer on the surface of a metal part, typically aluminium or its alloys. This oxide layer provides improved corrosion resistance, hardness, and wear resistance to the part. In addition, anodizing can also enhance the aesthetic appearance of the part by allowing for various colour options.

The anodizing process involves immersing the part in an electrolyte bath and applying a direct current, which causes the formation of an oxide layer on the surface.

Let’s look at this process in more detail….

What is the Process for Anodizing a CNC Machined Part?

The anodizing process involves several steps:

  1. Preparing the part: The first step is to thoroughly clean the part to remove any dirt, grease, or other contaminants from its surface. This is usually done using a solvent or detergent and water. This step ensures proper adhesion of the anodized coating.
  1. Surface treatment: After cleaning, the part may undergo a surface treatment process called etching or desmutting. This step involves the use of a chemical solution to remove any remaining oxides, scale, or residual metals that could interfere with the anodizing process.
  1. Anodizing bath: The part is then immersed in an anodizing bath, which consists of an electrolyte solution, typically sulfuric acid. The part serves as the anode, while a cathode is also present in the bath. When an electric current is passed through the bath, an oxide layer forms on the surface of the part due to the electrochemical reaction.
  1. Anodizing process: The voltage and current applied during the anodizing process are carefully controlled to achieve the desired thickness and quality of the anodized layer. The type of alloy used in the part, desired colour or finish, and other factors determine the parameters of the anodizing process.
  1. Colouring (optional): If a specific colour is required, the anodized part may be immersed in a dye bath. This allows the pores in the anodized layer to absorb the dye, resulting in a coloured finish.
  1. Sealing: After anodizing and dyeing (if applicable), the part is often sealed to improve corrosion resistance and durability. Sealing involves immersing the part in a hot water bath or applying a sealant to close the pores of the anodized layer.
  1. Quality inspection: The anodized part undergoes quality inspection to ensure that the desired specifications, such as thickness, colour, and surface finish, have been achieved. This inspection may include visual examination, measurement, and various testing methods.

What are the Different Types of Anodizing Processes?

There are various types of anodizing processes that can be used for CNC machined parts. Some of the more common types include:

Type I Anodizing: Also known as regular or decorative anodizing, this is the most typically used anodizing process. It creates a uniform oxide layer on the surface of the part and provides corrosion resistance and improved aesthetics.

Type II Anodizing: This type of anodizing is typically used for parts which do not require high wear resistance. The process involves placing the aluminium in a sulphuric bath instead of using chromic acid. Type II anodized parts can easily absorb dyes, paints, and adhesives.

Type III Anodizing: Also known as hardcoat anodizing or sulfuric anodizing, this process produces a thicker and harder oxide layer compared to Type II anodizing. It offers enhanced wear and corrosion resistance, making it suitable for parts exposed to harsh environments or for those which require increased durability.

Chromic Acid Anodizing: This type of anodizing, also referred to as Type I anodizing, uses chromic acid as the electrolyte. It forms a thin, dense, and corrosion-resistant oxide layer on the part’s surface. Chromic acid anodizing is often used for parts that require high-temperature resistance or electrical conductivity.

Titanium Anodizing: This specialised anodizing process is specifically used for titanium CNC machined parts. It forms a thin oxide layer on the surface, providing improved corrosion resistance, wear resistance, and colour options.

Hard Anodizing: Hard anodizing is a form of the Type III anodizing process that creates an even thicker and harder oxide layer. This process is commonly used for parts which require extreme wear resistance, such as pistons, gears, and bearings.

Coloured Anodizing: Anodizing can also be combined with colouring techniques to provide various colours on the surface of CNC machined parts. This is achieved by dyeing the porous oxide layer formed during anodizing or by using proprietary colouring processes.

The appropriate type of anodizing for a CNC machined part will depend on the desired properties, functionality, and aesthetic requirements of the part.

The Benefits of Anodizing a CNC Machined Part

There are several benefits of anodizing a CNC machined part, including:

Enhanced corrosion resistance: Anodizing creates a protective layer on the surface of the part, making it more resistant to corrosion caused by moisture, chemicals, and other environmental factors.

Improved durability: The anodized coating makes the part more wear and scratch-resistant, increasing its lifespan and reducing the need for maintenance or replacement.

Aesthetic appeal: Anodizing allows for a wide range of colour options, providing an attractive and decorative finish to the part. This is crucial for products which need to be visually appealing.

Improved hardness: Anodizing can significantly increase the surface hardness of the part, making it more resistant to scratches and dents.

Better adhesion: Anodizing provides a textured surface with excellent adhesion properties, making it easier to apply paints, adhesives, or other coatings.

Electrical insulation: Anodized coatings have electrical insulating properties, making them useful in applications where electrical conductivity needs to be minimised.

Eco-friendly option: Anodizing is a relatively environmentally friendly process compared to other coating methods. It doesn’t involve the use of heavy metals, or the types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) often found in other surface treatments.

Overall, anodizing a CNC machined part can improve its performance, aesthetics, and durability, making it a popular choice for a wide range of industries and applications.

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Precision Machining

What is Precision CNC Machining?

Precision CNC machining refers to the process of using computer numerical control (CNC) machines to manufacture highly accurate and complex parts or components.

CNC machines are programmable machining centres that follow precise instructions to execute desired machining operations such as cutting, drilling, milling, or turning.

Precision CNC machining involves the use of advanced CNC machines to achieve extremely tight tolerances and intricate geometries. This process is typically employed in industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical, and electronics, where accuracy is paramount.

CNC machines are highly automated and are controlled by computer instructions. These machines ensure that every dimension and feature of the finished product matches the design specifications precisely.

The tight tolerances in precision CNC machining often range from a few thousandths of an inch (0.001″) to even a few microns (0.0001″). This level of precision ensures that parts fit together perfectly and perform their desired functions correctly.

How Does Precision CNC Machining Differ from Production Machining?

Production machining refers to the process of manufacturing parts or components at high volumes and at a faster rate. While precision CNC machining focuses on achieving high levels of finite accuracy, production machining emphasizes efficiency and speed.

Production machining often involves the use of specialised machines or assembly lines, which are optimised for mass production to meet the demands of large-scale manufacturing.

These machines are used to automate the creation of high volumes of parts with consistent quality and precision.

While the tolerances are still maintained within acceptable limits, they may not be as tight as in precision machining. The tolerances in production machining can range from a few thousandths to a few hundredths of an inch (0.001″ to 0.01″ or more.

The exact tolerances and precision levels will depend on the specific requirements of the project, the capabilities of the machining equipment, and the techniques employed.

What are the Benefits of Precision Machining?

  1. Higher accuracy: The high degree of accuracy which precision machining produces is crucial in industries where even the smallest deviations can have significant consequences.
  1. Better quality: Precision machining processes, such as CNC machining, reduce the possibility of human error and ensure consistent quality of repeatable parts.
  1. Increased efficiency: Precision machining methods are often automated, allowing for faster production times and improved efficiency. This means reduced lead times and increased productivity.
  1. Complex geometries: Precision machining techniques can create complex parts that would be difficult or even impossible to produce through other manufacturing methods. This offers new design possibilities and allows for the creation of more advanced products.
  1. Versatility: Precision machining accommodates a wide range of materials, including metals, plastics, ceramics, and composites. This versatility lends itself to various industries, such as aerospace, automotive, medical, and electronics.
  1. Cost-effective: While precision machining may have higher initial costs compared to other manufacturing methods, it can result in overall cost savings. The accuracy and efficiency of precision machining can reduce material waste and minimise rework.
  1. Consistency and repeatability: Precision machining processes can produce identical parts with high consistency, ensuring that each part meets the exact specifications. This repeatability is crucial in industries where interchangeability and reliability are essential.
  1. Tighter tolerances: Precision machining can achieve tight tolerances, allowing for a better fit and function of parts. This is particularly important in industries such as aerospace and automotive, where precision is critical for safety and performance.
  1. Improved surface finish: Precision machining methods can deliver superior surface finishes, which is crucial in applications where smooth surfaces are required for aesthetic or functional reasons, such as in the medical or optical industries.
  1. Customisation: Precision machining offers a high level of customisation, allowing for the production of unique and specialized parts that meet specific customer requirements. This flexibility is advantageous in various industries that demand tailor-made solutions.

What is the Ideal CNC Machining Tool for Precision Machining?

A 5-axis CNC machine is considered ideal for precision machining for the following reasons:

  1. Enhanced Flexibility: The 5-axis machine can move the cutting tool along five different axes simultaneously. This allows for machining complex geometries and intricate designs with ease. The additional two rotational axes (usually rotary tables) provide greater freedom of movement, allowing for multiple angles and orientations to be achieved.
  1. Increased Accuracy: By allowing the cutting tool to move along additional axes, a 5-axis machine significantly improves accuracy. It also eliminates the need for repositioning or resetting the workpiece, which would be a necessary requirement of using a 3-axis machine. This reduces the possibility of errors and ensures precise, uniform results.
  1. Improved Surface Finish: The multi-axis movement of a 5-axis machine enables it to easily reach all sides of the workpiece, reducing the need for multiple setups. This eliminates mismatches and variations, resulting in smoother and more constant surface finishes.
  1. Cost and Time Efficiency: The ability to machine complex parts in a single setup reduces manufacturing time and costs. Since multiple operations can be performed in one go, there is no need for additional fixturing, repositioning, or manual intervention. This allows for a more streamlined production process.
  1. Enhanced Tool Life and Reduced Wear: By machining the workpiece from multiple angles, a 5-axis machine can optimise tool paths and reduce excessive cutting forces. This minimises wear and tear on cutting tools, which ensures a longer lifespan and reduced tooling costs.

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Jigs and Fixtures

What are Jigs and Fixtures?

Jigs and fixtures are manufacturing aids which are employed during the machining process. The two are often confused and sometimes misunderstood by those who are not familiar with the machining process. Sometimes the two terms are also used interchangeably.

However, there are several key differences between jigs and fixtures.

Firstly, before we go any further, it will be important for the sake of this article to understand what exactly jigs and fixtures are, and to identify the central difference between the two.

A jig is a tool that guides the cutting tool during the machining process.

A fixture holds, supports, and locates the workpiece during the machining process. However, unlike a jig, a fixture does not guide the cutting tool.

Jigs and fixtures are indispensable aids to manufacturers. They help to maximise efficiency, minimise production time, improve manufacturing quality, and reduce production costs.

Let’s look at each in more detail….

Jigs

A jig is secured to a CNC machine tool during the machining process. It dictates the location and motion of the cutting, thus guiding the machine tool. A jig is unique in that when it moves, the tool itself remains stationery.

Jigs are usually made of metal. The most commonly used metals to create jigs tend to be steel or aluminium. Jigs are usually fitted with positioning devices called bushings, or drill bushings. These bushings are an essential component of the jig, as they help to guide the drill as it moves through the workpiece. This is important for speed, accuracy, and quality.

Jigs are commonly used devices in the CNC machining process. They help to improve precision. A jig is often a custom part that has been designed by the manufacturer for this specific purpose.

Types of Jigs Used in the CNC Machining Process

There are many different types of jigs. One of the most common types is a drill jig. A drill jig guides the drill bit to the intended location.

Here are some of the other commonly used types of jigs within the world of CNC machining:

Template jigs: high precision and renowned for speed, these jigs are also versatile and easy to use.

Plate Jigs: similar to template jigs, the key difference being that clamps are used with plate jigs to hold the workpiece in place.

Angle plate jigs: as you would expect from the name, this type of jig is ideal for holding parts at angles during the drilling process.

Leaf jigs: the leaf jig has a leaf that can be swung open or closed for loading or unloading purposes.

Diameter jigs: diameter jigs are used to drill radial holes on cylindrical workpieces. A clamping plate and a clamping bolt are used to provide additional security.

Fixtures

A fixture is an agent of stability, support, and positioning during the CNC machining process. It is there to hold the workpiece in the same place during cutting to achieve consistent and highly repeatable results.

Fixtures are usually attached to the machine and can be used for milling, turning, and grinding.

Like jigs, fixtures are made from metal, commonly aluminium or steel. They can be custom built for a particular application or workpiece, or they can be purchased as generic fixtures.

Fixtures help to reduce operator error by acting as an invaluable aid during machining, and they also help to improve safety by always locating the workpiece in a fixed orientation.

This can result in cost savings as there will be less perishable material through human error. The use of a fixture will also speed up the process whilst simultaneously improving accuracy.

Types of Fixtures Used in the CNC Machining Process

There are many different types of fixtures which are available to the CNC machinist. Choosing the right one will depend on several factors, including the part, the machine, and the machinist.

Here are some of the main types of fixtures for CNC machining:

Angle fixture: highly reliable CNC fixture which is employed to hold the workpiece at specific angles. Angle fixtures are often used for applications such as beveling and drilling.

Indexing fixture: used in the manufacture of parts which have evenly spaced geometric features. These fixtures are very sturdy and can be easily attached to a worktable.

Modular fixture: modular fixtures consist of a wide range of interchangeable components designed to hold a workpiece securely and accurately in place for machining.

CNC vise fixture: versatile and easy to use, the CNC vise fixture uses two inclined planes that act against one another to provide strong clamping power via a hydraulic screw mechanism.

Benefits of Using Jigs and Fixtures

Jigs and fixtures are important components of the manufacturing process. They provide many advantages to the machining process and can help to improve final product quality.

Key Benefits:

  • Increased precision and accuracy
  • High repeatability of process, allowing multiple parts to be produced to a consistent level of quality
  • Reduced material wastage, which is positive for environmental sustainability
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced human error
  • Provides added level of safety for the machinist/operator
  • Customised jigs/fixtures can be developed, allowing for greater flexibility of process
  • Option to automate work
  • Reduced production costs
  • Heavy and complex parts can be manufactured more easily
  • Improved cycle time

Key Differences Between Jigs and Fixtures

There are several important differences between jigs and fixtures.

These differences are captured in below:

Jigs

  • A workholding device which guides the cutting tool for a specific operation
  • Small in size and light in weight
  • Used in uni-dimensional machining processes
  • Complex design
  • High cost
  • Not always fixed to the machine table
  • Used in drilling, tapping and reaming
  • Easy to use and requires less operator skill

Fixtures

  • A workholding device that holds, supports and located the workpiece but doesn’t guide the tool
  • Large in size and bulky to handle
  • Used in multi-dimensional machining processes
  • Simple design
  • Low cost
  • Fixed to the machine table
  • Used in milling, grinding and shaping
  • Complicated to use and require more operator skill

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Exploring the Art of Plastic Machining

What is Plastic Machining?

Plastic machining is a subtractive manufacturing process which involves the use of machines to remove material from a plastic object to create a component or product.

The process involves the use of lathes, mills, and other types of cutting machines to fabricate end parts.

This plastic machining process is used to create functional prototypes and low-medium volume production parts.

It is ideal during the manufacturing phase of new product development, where physical concepts need to be tested prior to full scale production.

Plastic CNC machining is a complex and highly precise process, which requires the expertise of skilled CNC programmers. These operators use computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM) to create 3D products from raw plastic materials.

5-axis CNC machining can be employed to create high performance precision machining of engineering plastics.

After the initial run has been completed, the CNC machine can be reprogrammed using the same coordinates and numerical data. This means that CNC machining is perfect for producing highly customisable parts which are extremely accurate and very repeatable.

This allows for consistency of parts in quality, form, and dimensions.

Types of Plastic Most Commonly Used for Plastic Machining

It is important to recognise that not all types of plastic are suited to plastic machining. Different plastic types contain different properties. These varying properties determine the strength, chemical resistance, structure, and cost of a particular plastic.

When choosing a particular grade of material for plastic machining it is important to seek expert advice to ensure that the correct plastic type is selected. Care should be taken to ensure that the chosen plastic will machine correctly without incurring any unnecessary damage, warpage, overheating or shearing.

This is where the advice of a plastics expert should be sought to identify which type of plastic will be most appropriate. It is important when selecting a material that the product’s end application is carefully considered.

Some of the most commonly used plastics in CNC machining are listed below:

  • ABS
  • PC
  • PVC
  • HDPE
  • UHMW
  • PPS
  • PEEK
  • Acrylic
  • PA/Nylon
  • PP
  • Acetal

Plastics which are tough and high in rigidity tend to be more suited to the machining process. The plastics listed above have good durability and toughness, which means that they can easily withstand the scrutiny of the cutting tool. Less tough plastics show visible signs of deformity and can easily become distorted during the process.

Other important properties to consider when choosing a suitable plastic include:

  • Strength-to-weight ratio
  • Performance under high temperature
  • Chemical resistance
  • Wear resistance
  • Conductivity
  • Insulation properties
  • Material density

Advantages of CNC Plastic Machining

No mould is needed – parts can be created without needing to invest in tooling and the injection moulding process. This can be more cost-effective and can reduce lead times.

Ideal for low volumes – low volumes of highly repeatable, customised parts can be produced in economical production cycles.

Perfect for prototyping – CNC plastic machining of parts can be used to market test a design concept before committing to full scale tooling and injection moulding.

Large components can be accommodated – components that are too large for injection moulding can be machined from fabricated plastic.

Environmentally friendly – excess plastic in the form of swarf can be captured, compounded, and recycled.

Precision – CNC plastic machined parts offer a high level of precision compared to other methods, such as 3D printing, where 3D printer layer lines are sometime visible on the part.

Design flexibility – it’s easy to adapt the design of the part during the production process, whereas tooling modifications for injection moulded parts can be costly and time consuming.

Less Manual Labour Required – a team of toolmakers are required to make a tool. With CNC plastic machining, only one skilled operator is required to complete the process.

Quick Turnaround Times – Computer controlled CNC machines can be programmed to run during out of factory hours without the need for constant supervision. This can help to reduce cycle times and is less labour intensive.

Finishing Options – a wide range of finishing options are available, including polishing and coating.

Exploring CNC Plastic Machining as an Alternative to 3D Printing

The key difference between CNC machining and 3D printing is that CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing process, whereas 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process.

As discussed earlier, CNC machining involves removing material from a workpiece to create a finished part. 3D printing, on the other hand, is where a component is created layer-by-layer using a source of energy such as a laser.

3D printing is one of the more commonly used forms of additive manufacturing, but a lot of people don’t often consider the many benefits that CNC plastic machining has over 3D printing. Here are just a few to consider….

  • CNC plastic machined parts have better mechanical and thermal properties than 3D printed parts, which makes them stronger and more robust.
  • CNC plastic machining lends itself to a greater choice of plastic types than 3D printing.
  • 3D printed materials can be more expensive, which means that bigger components or larger quantities cost more.
  • Plastic CNC machining provides greater dimensional accuracy than 3D printing.
  • 3D printing can leave marks on the plastic, which can be detrimental to parts that require a high quality finish.
  • For medium volume requirements, CNC machining is more economical, as the cost reduces significantly with increased quantity.
  • CNC plastic machining is the more viable option for components that require tight tolerances.
  • CNC plastic machining can achieve a greater level of detail than 3D printing.

CNC Plastic Machining Applications

CNC plastic machining lends itself to many products across a range of different industries.

Here are a few examples of those industries and some of the products that have been created:

Medical – in an industry where tight tolerances are often required, CNC machining has created many important products, including biomedical and pharmaceutical equipment, medical devices, and surgical instruments.

Electronics – CNC machining has been regularly employed to manufacture housing units, semiconductors, and plastic enclosures.

Consumer Products – CNC machining has been used to fabricate toys, kitchen appliances, and general household goods.

Automotive – interior vehicle components, including dashboard panels and fixtures, and exterior parts, such as headlight covers.

Scientific – such as laboratory and scientific apparatus, as well as chemical handling equipment.

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The Importance of CAD Design in Manufacturing

What is CAD Design?

CAD Design, also known as Computer-Aided Design, is the use of computer systems and software to create, modify, or optimize the design of various products, structures, or systems. It is commonly used in engineering, manufacturing, and other related fields.

CAD Design provides a digital representation of a physical object or system, allowing designers to create detailed 2D or 3D models. These models can be easily manipulated, analysed, and modified to evaluate design alternatives, perform simulations, and generate technical documentation.

CAD Design software typically offers various tools and functionalities, such as geometric modelling, assembly modelling, drafting, rendering, and analysis. It enables designers to visualize and test their designs before physical production, reducing errors, improving efficiency, and saving time and resources in the design process.

Overall, CAD Design allows designers to create accurate and precise models, collaborate with other team members, and streamline the design process, ultimately leading to the development of better products and structures.

How is CAD Design Used in Toolmaking?

CAD design is an integral part of the toolmaking process as it allows for the creation, modification, and visualization of tools in a digital environment before they are physically produced. Here’s how CAD design is used in the toolmaking process:

  1. Conceptualization: CAD software is used to create initial tool designs based on specific requirements and ideas. Designers can quickly sketch and modify various tool concepts to explore different options.
  1. Detailed Design: Once a concept is selected, detailed design work begins. CAD tools enable engineers to create accurate 2D and 3D models of the tool, incorporating specific dimensions, clearances, tolerances, and features required for its functionality.
  1. Visualization and Analysis: CAD models allow designers and stakeholders to visualize the tool in a digital environment, including its appearance, shape, and structure. Product engineers can also conduct virtual walkthroughs to identify potential issues and make necessary modifications. Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and other simulation tools can be used to assess structural integrity, stress distribution, and performance of the tool.
  1. Collaboration and Communication: CAD files provide a common platform for sharing and collaborating with other departments involved in the toolmaking process, such as manufacturing, quality control, and toolmakers themselves. This improves communication, reduces errors, and ensures everyone has up-to-date information.
  1. Manufacturing Preparation: With CAD models, toolmakers generate accurate engineering drawings, including dimensions, tolerances, and assembly instructions, which are essential for the manufacturing process. These drawings assist in selecting appropriate raw materials, machining operations, and determining optimal workflows.
  1. Prototype Development: Once the design is finalized, CAD models are used to create prototypes of the tool. These prototypes provide an opportunity to assess the design’s functionality, identify potential flaws, and make final adjustments before proceeding to full-scale production.

CAD design lends many benefits to the toolmaking process. It enables faster iterations, reduces physical prototyping costs, improves design accuracy, facilitates communication, and enhances collaboration between various stakeholders.

The Advantages of Using CAD Design in the Toolmaking Process

CAD (Computer-Aided Design) plays a crucial role in the toolmaking process by offering some very important advantages:

Precise and accurate design: CAD software allows toolmakers to create highly accurate and precise designs, ensuring that the tools manufactured will meet the required specifications. This helps to eliminate errors and minimize revisional work, saving time and costs in the overall toolmaking process.

Improved productivity: CAD software enables toolmakers to create designs more efficiently and quickly. It provides a wide range of tools and features that assist in creating complex geometries, optimizing the design for manufacturability, and automating repetitive tasks. This helps to increase productivity and speed up the toolmaking process.

Integration with manufacturing processes: CAD software often integrates with other manufacturing tools and processes, such as computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) systems. This integration allows for seamless transfer of design data to manufacturing equipment, enabling more efficient production of tools.

Overall, CAD design is essential in the toolmaking process as it enhances accuracy, productivity, visualization, and collaboration. It helps to streamline the entire toolmaking process and ensure the production of high-quality tools that meet the desired specifications.

Using CAD Design for CNC Machining

CAD design isn’t just a valuable part of the toolmaking process. It can also be used in several other highly important manufacturing processes. One such process is CNC machining.

CAD design is used for CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining in several ways:

  1. Designing Parts: CAD design software allows engineers and designers to create 3D models of parts that need to be machined. They can accurately define the dimensions, shape, and features of the part, including holes, curves, and intricate details.
  1. Generating Toolpaths: Once the part is designed, the CAD software can generate toolpaths. These toolpaths guide the CNC machine in terms of where and how to cut the material. The software calculates the necessary commands, such as feed rate, depth of cut, and tool movement, to create the desired part.
  1. Simulating the Machining Process: CAD software often provides simulation features that allow users to visualize the machining process before it actually happens. This allows for the identification of potential errors or interferences in the design or toolpaths, ensuring that issues are resolved before manufacturing.
  1. Iterative Design and Prototyping: CAD design enables engineers and designers to quickly modify and iterate on the part design after simulating the machining process. By making adjustments in the software, they can evaluate the impact on the manufacturing process and optimize the design for better functionality and manufacturability.
  1. Documentation: CAD designs provide a digital record of the part geometry, dimensions, and tolerances. This documentation is crucial for consistently reproducing the part in future manufacturing runs.

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Injection Moulding and the Medical Device Sector

What Role Does Injection Moulding Play in the Manufacture of Medical Devices?

The relationship between injection moulding and the medical device sector dates back to the mid-20th century.

In the early days, medical devices were predominantly made from metal or glass, which required skilled labour and lengthy manufacturing processes. Injection moulding offered a revolutionary method to produce medical devices faster, more cost-effectively, and with greater precision.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the use of plastics in medical devices began to gain popularity due to their favourable properties, such as durability, lightweight nature, and corrosion resistance. Injection moulding enabled the mass production of intricate plastic components with consistent quality, which was a significant advancement for the medical industry.

One of the early breakthroughs in the use of injection moulding for medical devices was the development of a plastic syringe in the 1950s. This innovation reduced the risk of breakage and contamination associated with glass syringes, making it safer and more convenient for healthcare professionals to administer medications.

Throughout the following decades, injection moulding technology continued to evolve, becoming more sophisticated, efficient, and versatile.

The introduction of advanced materials, such as biocompatible plastics and elastomers, expanded the possibilities for medical device design, enabling manufacturers to create devices with enhanced properties.

Advances in mould-making techniques and computer-aided design (CAD) were also important.

Today, injection moulding plays a vital role in the medical device industry, enabling high-volume production of disposable devices, custom-made components, and intricate designs that would otherwise be impractical or cost prohibitive.

The Advantages of Using Injection Moulding When Manufacturing Medical Devices

Injection moulding has many advantages when manufacturing medical devices.

Let’s take a moment to explore some of these advantages in more detail:

  1. Precision and accuracy: Injection moulding offers high precision and accuracy, allowing for the production of intricate and complex medical devices. This is crucial in the medical field where precision is paramount to ensure proper functionality and safety. It is also ideal for medical devices which contain specialised features.
  1. Cost-effective production: Injection moulding is a cost-effective manufacturing method, especially for mass production. It allows for high-volume production with relatively low labour costs and shorter production cycles. It can produce parts at high volume where mould machines can be programmed so that production cycles can be largely automated.
  1. Material compatibility: Injection moulding is compatible with a wide range of materials which are suitable for medical devices, including various types of plastics and polymers. This versatility allows manufacturers to select materials that meet specific requirements such as biocompatibility, sterilization compatibility, and durability.
  1. Consistency and repeatability: Injection moulding offers consistent and repeatable results, ensuring uniformity in the production of medical devices. This is crucial in maintaining quality standards, meeting regulatory requirements, and ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the devices.
  1. Customization and design flexibility: Injection moulding enables the incorporation of intricate features, textures, and designs into medical devices. This flexibility allows manufacturers to meet the specific needs and requirements of healthcare professionals and patients, enhancing usability and functionality.
  1. Sterilization compatibility: Medical devices manufactured through injection moulding can withstand various sterilization methods such as gamma radiation, ethylene oxide treatment, or autoclaving. This is essential to ensure the safety and sterility of medical devices and equipment.
  1. Scalability: Injection moulding can easily scale up production to meet increasing demands for medical devices. As the need for healthcare products continues to grow, injection moulding allows for efficient scaling without compromising production quality or costs.
  1. Supports specialist product features: Injection moulding enables the production of devices and equipment which accommodate different patient needs. Its versatility allows for the inclusion of additional features, such as snap-fit connections, threads for screws, and overmoulding of different materials or components.

What Types of Medical Devices are Created Using Injection Moulding?

Injection moulding is used in the manufacture of a wide variety of medical devices and equipment. Some examples include:

  1. Syringes: Injection moulding is commonly used to produce plastic syringes, which are essential for administering medications, vaccines, and other types of injections.
  1. IV components: Many components of intravenous (IV) systems – such as connectors, tubing, and chambers – are made using injection moulding. These devices are crucial for delivering fluids, medications, and blood products to patients.
  1. Surgical instruments: Injection moulding is used to produce a range of surgical instruments, including forceps, clamps, scalpel handles, and retractors. These instruments are used in various surgical procedures.
  1. Drug delivery devices: Many drug delivery devices, such as inhalers, insulin pens, and implantable devices, are manufactured using injection moulding. These devices are designed to deliver medications at regular intervals and in specific doses.
  1. Orthopaedic devices: Injection moulding is used to produce orthopaedic devices like splints, braces, and prosthetic components. These devices provide support and assistance in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries.
  1. Dental devices: Injection moulding is used to manufacture a range of dental devices, including mouthguards, orthodontic components, dental retainers, and trays for teeth whitening and impression-taking.
  1. Diagnostic devices: Various diagnostic devices, including test kits, test tube holders, pipettes, and sample collection devices, are produced using injection moulding. These devices are essential for accurate and efficient diagnostics.
  1. Disposable medical supplies: Many disposable medical supplies, such as gloves, face masks, gowns, and urine collection cups, are manufactured using injection moulding. These supplies help maintain sterility and prevent the spread of infections.
  1. Catheters: Injection moulding is commonly used to manufacture different types of catheters, including urinary catheters, central venous catheters, and angiographic catheters.
  1. Implantable devices: Some implantable medical devices, such as certain types of pacemakers and orthopaedic implants, are produced using injection moulding. These devices are designed to be inserted into the body for long-term support or treatment.

Overall, injection moulding plays a critical role in the manufacturing of numerous medical devices, contributing to advancements in patient care, diagnosis, and treatment.

As a key manufacturing process, injection moulding provides a reliable and efficient production method that meets the stringent quality and regulatory requirements of the healthcare industry.

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10 Hot Topics for Injection Moulding in 2024

As we head into the new year, we’ve put together a hit list of 10 hot topics to look out for in the injection moulding industry over the next twelve months.

Predicting future trends is always subjective and uncertain, but based on current key topics and advancements, some potential industry developments that could occur in 2024 are:

  1. Sustainable Manufacturing and Eco-friendliness: The growing focus on sustainability and environmental best practice will put pressure on injection moulding companies to reduce their carbon footprint. This could involve sourcing more sustainable materials for use in the production process, reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, and improving recycling capabilities.
  1. Material Innovation: With evolving customer demands, there could be an increased need for advanced materials that offer enhanced properties like higher strength, heat resistance, biodegradability, and conductivity. The adoption of new materials could pose challenges in relation to processing, tooling, and sourcing suitable alternatives for traditional plastics.
  1. Automation, Digitization, and Industry 4.0: The injection moulding industry is becoming more connected and automated with the adoption of technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and data analytics. The challenges in 2024 might revolve around optimizing productivity, ensuring cybersecurity, integrating complex automation systems, and upskilling the workforce to adapt to this digital transformation. Such technological changes could enable increased efficiency, accuracy, and reduced labour costs.

Adopting these technologies, however, brings its own set of challenges, such as the need for skilled technicians, the challenge of integrating complex systems, and the importance of maintaining data security.

  1. Lighter Weights: There is now an increasing market demand for more lightweight plastic injection moulded components. With lighter weight materials comes a reduction in associated costs. This can be particularly important when manufacturing large volumes.

Using lighter weight materials also has positive cost implications for distribution and storage. The benefits of lightweight materials differ depending upon the sector in which the final product is to be employed. For instance, when used in the aerospace, automotive, and rail sectors, lighter weight materials can help to reduce fuel and energy consumption.

  1. Regulatory Compliance and Safety: Governments and regulatory bodies may introduce new regulations or strengthen existing ones with a focus on product safety, recycling, waste management, and reusing materials. Injection moulding companies may need to ensure compliance with evolving standards, invest in safety measures for materials and workers, increase product quality, and adopt responsible manufacturing practices.
  1. Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM): As additive manufacturing technologies continue to evolve, there might be a shift towards integrating injection moulding and 3D printing. This may mean developing new design guidelines, optimizing tooling for hybrid manufacturing, and addressing challenges in relation to material compatibility and process integration.
  1. Skilled Labour Shortage: The injection moulding industry might face a shortage of skilled workers due to changing demographics, the retirement of experienced personnel, or increasing technological complexities. Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce could be a challenge, and companies may need to invest in training, apprenticeship programmes, or automation to mitigate the impact.
  1. Increasing customization requirements: Consumer demands for personalized products are rising, which can lead to smaller production runs and increased customization. This puts pressure on injection moulders to offer flexibility, faster turnaround times, and cost-effective solutions to meet the changing market demands.
  1. Market Volatility and Global Supply Chain Disruptions: Social turbulence, economic instability, or geopolitical factors may negatively impact global supply chains. Injection moulders may face challenges in relation to sourcing raw materials and industrial equipment, shipping and logistics delays, and disruptions caused by unforeseen events like pandemics, natural disasters, or political instability.

Developing contingency plans and reevaluating supply chain strategies will be crucial in mitigating potential disruptions. It may also be advantageous to improve forecasting and risk management strategies to maintain market competitiveness.

  1. Reshoring: Such supply chain disruptions will likely see a continuation of a key theme of 2023 – reshoring. Reshoring is the process of returning product manufacturing back to its country of origin. Places like China have suddenly become less attractive options for UK companies looking to have products manufactured, due to world events such as the war in Ukraine and COVID-19. This has already led to many UK companies bringing their manufacturing back home, a trend which will possibly continue to gain pace in 2024.

It is important to note that these potential issues are speculative and based on current trends. The actual challenges faced by the injection moulding industry in 2024 could differ based upon socio-economic factors, innovations, global political events, or market dynamics.

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The Challenges of Manufacturing in China

For several years now, China has been the centre of global manufacturing. It is currently the largest producer of manufactured goods in the world. Many companies in the UK have relied upon China’s manufacturing output to create their products.

However, in the light of recent events across Europe and the rest of the world, this reliance has started to change, and China’s monopoly on global manufacturing has been weakened.

In this article, we will look at some of the events that have led up to these changes. We will also examine some of the key determining factors that have seen many UK companies return to manufacturing suppliers here at home as an alternative to those based in China.

China – The Age of Industrialisation

During the 1950s, China underwent a period of great economic change. Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao (or Mao Tse-tung in the English-speaking world), was Chairman of the Communist Party of China for over three decades between March 1943 and September 1976. Under his leadership, China began a long and expansive period of industrialisation.

In 1952, 83% of the Chinese workforce was employed in agriculture. In 1953, with the help of the Soviet Union, Mao began an ambitious plan to bring industrialisation to China on a significant scale. The ‘Maoist Great Leap Forward’ plan was implemented between 1958 and 1961. Its goal was to transform the People’s Republic of China from an agrarian economy based on farming to a modern communist society with a strong economic base at its centre.

The Soviet Union gave the Chinese some of the most advanced technology in the world. They also sent many thousands of Soviet technical advisors to China to oversee some 156 industrial projects.

The overall result was a sea change in the Chinese economic model. China began to rely more heavily on industrial output. Over the next quarter of a century, the value of agriculture to the country’s GDP had declined from 70% in 1952 to 30% in 1977.

In 2022, the percentage of the workforce employed in agriculture had fallen to 24%, compared to 83% in the 1950s.

In 2021, China’s manufacturing output had risen to $4,865.83 billion, which represented a 26.04% increase from 2020.

Why Has China Become a Popular Choice for Manufacturing?

China’s position as the foremost manufacturing power in the 21st century is due to a few important factors:

Low labour costs: employees are put to work for long hours with few rewards. Industrialists benefit from gaps in employment legislation. Low-cost labour is also possible because of China’s high population. As there are so many people competing for jobs, the rate of unemployment is high, which in turn has driven down wages.

Lack of regulatory compliance: in order to maximise manufacturing opportunity, much of this sector has been almost completely deregulated to encourage investment and to promote exports of manufactured goods.

Quick lead times: Chinese manufacturers have gained a reputation for supplying goods extremely quickly.

Infrastructure/Business Ecosystem: China has invested heavily in an extensive infrastructure which enables it to hold great sway over its supply chain partners.

Low taxes and duties: goods can be exported to different geographical territories at low cost to the customer.

Poor environmental regulation: with little or no regulations for sustainable practice, the manufacturing industry is allowed to thrive at the expense of environmental wellbeing. Industrialists are also able to avoid waste management costs.

Absence of law to protect workers’ rights: Chinese factories do not adhere to the same laws which some of their overseas competitors are subject to, including laws relating to child labour, involuntary labour, working hours, and health and safety.

Government influence: government investment in domestic infrastructure combined with a favourable pro-business tax system has helped to keep manufacturing costs at a very low level.

Strong domestic economy: a strong economy has led to increased spending. This has increased the value of the Chinese Yuan (CNY) and has provided Chinese manufacturers with the opportunity to expand their businesses.

World Events which have Served to Weaken China’s Manufacturing Dominance

In recent years, we’ve witnessed many significant and quite unpredictable changes in the macro environment which have served to shake China’s stranglehold on the global manufacturing sector.

Let’s look at some of the key world events in more detail:

Ukraine war – the political turmoil in Eastern Europe has led to supply chain disruptions, export challenges, rising costs, and uncertainty in global financial markets.

Energy crisis – inflated energy prices have meant that Chinese manufacturers have had to increase their prices, the burden of which has been borne by the customer. This has made China a less attractive option than before.

COVID-19 – delays and shortages related to the pandemic have prompted many customers to re-evaluate their reliance on China, and to look elsewhere for an alternative solution.

US economic policy – the US Government’s hardline trade policies with China have resulted in a succession of costly tariffs which have driven prices up.

Continued lockdowns in China – as China struggles to break free from COVID-19, lockdowns are still part of day-to-day life, and have had negative implications for manufacturing activity.

Protests – over the past year, several demonstrations have taken place across China in protest against these sustained periods of post-pandemic lockdown. This unrest has had poor economic implications for China, as well as for overseas financial markets.

Reduced investment – these socio-political events have led to a reduction in investment in China. For a country whose success has been built on capital investment, this has negatively impacted its economic progress.

In addition to these factors, China has also been confronted with many other challenges, including increased labour expenses, accelerated manufacturing competition from other developing economies, and a series of ongoing trade disagreements.

All this activity has seen some companies in the UK and overseas disengage with China and move to quickly diversify their supply chains. In many cases, this has seen corporate buyers look to their own domestic marketplaces for new manufacturing partners.

What Does All This Mean for Chinese Manufacturing?

The pace of companies moving production out of China is accelerating all the time, with China losing more manufacturing and export market share in several of its key sectors.

Chinese manufacturing companies had always been attractive because of price. But in the light of recent global events, Chinese manufacturers are no longer able to offer pricing which is as favourable as it once was. This has undermined arguably the key selling point for these manufacturers when trying to secure new business from overseas customers.

Some UK-based customers have seen their costs of doing business with Chinese manufacturers go up by over 25%.

Coupled with this, the supply chain has now become more complex and challenging in the aftermath of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Goods can no longer be depended on to arrive on time every time from the other side of the world.

Geopolitics is also a concern for some customers. The Chinese Government’s support for Russia, its diplomatic issues with the United States, and its aggression towards Taiwan has seen some UK based customers begin to question their support for Chinese manufacturing.

Here are some other key reasons why China has lost some of its pulling power:

  • Uncertainty over IP Protection: Intellectual Property (IP) laws are less robust than in many other countries, with low penalties for IP infringement. This makes it difficult for UK designers to protect valuable IP in a country where counterfeit is possible.
  • Competition with neighbouring economies: local nations such as India, Vietnam and Indonesia have provided increased competition to Chinese manufacturers by benefiting from even lower labour costs and reduced levels of regulation.
  • Economic downturn: China is currently experiencing adverse changes in their economic cycle, with manufacturing companies being squeezed by slow economic growth and rising costs.
  • Reduced foreign investment: there has been an increase in the number of investors leaving China in recent times. Overseas investors are concerned about security, government policy, and a lack of action on reform promises, according to the European Chamber of Commerce in China.

Other Sources:

If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, please check out our article on Reshoring, which can also be found in the Knowledge Hub section of our website.

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Reshoring

What is Reshoring?

Reshoring is the process of returning product manufacturing back to its country of origin. It essentially involves bringing production activities back from overseas to wherever the company who owns the products is based.

In recent times, the UK manufacturing industry has seen a significant increase in the number of domestic companies who have brought production of their goods back to the UK.

Overseas manufacturing outlets have become a less attractive option in recent years due to several reasons.

Let’s explore some of the external forces that have put pressure on overseas manufacturers….

Key Reasons for Abandoning Overseas Manufacturers

Longer lead times – Some overseas manufacturers have traditionally operated on very short lead times, particularly those in Asian markets. This has made them very attractive to UK customers who need parts fast. However, in recent times, changes in the global political landscape have stifled international supply chains resulting in less timely – and in some cases, unreliable – means of delivering products to other parts of the world.

Price – supply chain pressures and economic volatility has meant that some overseas manufacturers are no longer as competitive. Some UK-based customers have seen their costs of doing business with Chinese manufacturers go up by over 25%.

Ukraine war – the political turmoil in Eastern Europe has led to supply chain disruptions, export challenges, rising costs, and uncertainty in global financial markets.

Energy crisis – rising costs have meant that Chinese manufacturers have had to increase their prices, the burden of which has been absorbed by the customer.

COVID-19 – delays and shortages related to the pandemic have prompted many customers to re-evaluate their reliance on China, and to look elsewhere for an alternative solution.

Geopolitical factors – China has found itself on the opposing side of the table during the current Russia/Ukraine situation, which has left it at odds with many European customers.

Environmental issues – British companies are under increasing pressure to ensure compliance with environmental and corporate social responsibility best practice. Countries with poor human rights records, or those who do not protect workers’ rights, are rapidly becoming less attractive partners.

Why UK Companies are Moving Their Manufacturing Back Home

  • Greater certainty around delivery times
  • Less potential for supply chain disruptions
  • Easy, more flexible collaboration with domestic suppliers
  • The language barrier is eliminated, and communication is more open
  • Reduced supply chain complexity
  • Greater confidence in the quality of the final components
  • Cost advantages of overseas production are now less favourable (in China, for example, unit labour costs have risen sharply in the last few years)
  • Reduced shipping costs – the price of shipping goods from Asia, South America, and mainland Europe has increased dramatically, with serious implications for UK SMEs.

Some studies suggest that up to 40% of small businesses are considering a switch from overseas manufacturers to UK manufacturers, so that they can remove import challenges post-Brexit and reduce rapidly rising freight costs. These costs, coupled with increased legislation and bureaucracy, have made overseas manufacturing a financial and logistical headache for many UK businesses, eroding profit margins and stifling growth.

Manufacturing in the UK

The UK is known across the world as a manufacturing power. We have a rich history of making products and exporting them to the rest of the world. We are skilled in innovation, with advanced technologies and infrastructure to support manufacturing of all kinds.

Despite changes in the recent socio-political environment, such as Brexit and COVID-19, we remain a highly competitive option for companies at home and abroad who have a requirement for British manufacturing.

Let’s look at what makes us so unique….

Skilled manufacturing professionals – for centuries, the UK has had a distinguished history of manufacturing. Through the generations, we have demonstrated a strong tradition of producing expert engineers and technical craftsmen and women, which sustains to this day.

Education – the UK has some of the best universities in the world, with some of the most talented young engineers graduating every year, many of whom go on to embark upon careers as design engineers, product designers, and manufacturing professionals.

Dynamic supply chain – there are a range of support services which are available to manufacturers, such as management consultants and financial experts.

Research and Development (R&D) – the UK Government has invested in many research and development facilities to support companies who are looking to manufacture products in the UK.

Infrastructure – the UK has a well-developed infrastructure, including excellent transport networks and strong access to raw materials.

Legislation – clear and robust legislative policies which have been passed into law to protect businesses and to support entrepreneurial endeavour, including intellectual property (IP), patent protection, and trademarking laws.

Pro-government business support – post-Brexit, the UK Government has introduced a range of measures to support British businesses, including regulatory reform and tax incentives.

Stable political environment – the UK is a stable democratic country which has one of the strongest legal systems in the world. This stability provides businesses looking to manufacture products in the UK with confidence and security that any capital investments will be protected under the right of law.

Are You Looking to Reshore?

If reshoring is something you’re considering, we’d be very interested in hearing from you.

We’ve taken on several new customers lately who have moved their manufacturing projects from overseas territories such as China back to the UK.

If this is something you’re considering, please contact us on +44 (0) 121 550 5868, or email info@rptechnologies.co.uk.

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In Focus: The Hurco VMX60SRTi XP

In the second of our ‘In Focus’ series of articles, we profile the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP CNC Machining Centre.

This state-of-the-art 5-axis CNC Machine is the latest in modern machining technology.

RP Technologies purchased this expensive piece of equipment at the end of 2022, and with all the CNC machining work we’ve received since, it’s proved to be a very timely investment!

Let’s take a moment to review this machine in more detail, examining some of its unique characteristics and features, and trying to understand the importance of its role here at RP.

The Importance of CNC Machining to RP Technologies

The manufacture of CNC machined parts is one of our key services here at RP Technologies.

Along with toolmaking, injection moulding and rapid prototyping, CNC machining is central to what we do. We have, over the years, steadily developed the CNC department, investing in new machines and adding to our experienced team of CNC Programmers and Operators.

We have 10 CNC machinists and 20 CNC machines, 18 of which are 3-axis and 2 which are 5-axis.

We machine parts for prototype and low volume production runs in most metals and polymers. We start as low as 1 part, and we specialise in highly complex components that require precision engineering.

Our CNC machining projects are all supported by ISIR documentation.

All our CNC machining work is carried out in-house at our purpose-built production facility here in the West Midlands. We do not outsource anything. We like to ensure the highest levels of product quality, using the best CNC operators and machines that money can buy.

The latest addition to our CNC Tool Room is the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP 5 Axis Machining Centre, which we purchased in December 2022.

Let’s look at this new state-of-the-art piece of machinery more closely….

What is the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP?

The Hurco VMX60SRTi XP is a new, state-of-the-art 5-axis CNC Machining Centre. Its enhanced technologies have the capabilities to boost production capacity, increase operational efficiencies, and improve accuracy.

The Hurco VMX60SRTi XP has several new features. It has an enhanced graphics package, which is 1.4 times faster than its predecessors. Its advanced Ultimotion feature reduces cycle time by up to 30%, which will allow us to offer even more competitive lead times.

The design configuration utilises a swivel head and a C-axis rotary torque table that is embedded in the machine table. The increased size of the table provides maximum versatility, with the extra space being ideal for the performance of secondary operations.

The VMX60SRTi XP also boasts the enhanced version 10 software, superb MAX5 control, and improved, energy saving LED cabinet lighting. The Optional Ultimonitor incorporates Ultinet (networking) and ESF (Extended Shop Floor) capability of remote diagnostics.

There is an ergonomically designed control console with two 19” LCD touchscreens, 4GB RAM Memory, 10,000 block lookahead, 128GB Solid State Hard Drive, and a 2.7GHz Dual Core Processor. There is also a 12K Swivel-Head Spindle with X, Y, and Z axis travel.

The swivel head means that less manipulation of the component is required, making the machining process more precise and efficient to perform. The VMX60SRTi XP can also be used as a full capacity 3-axis machine during times when 5-axis parts are not being made.

The VMX60SRTi XP is ideal for low-medium volume work. It also has a larger part capacity than many earlier models. Its expert design and advanced technology help to deliver the highest performance capabilities to any machining application.

Key Benefits of the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP 5 Axis CNC Machining Centre

  • The swivel head, or “B” axis as it’s also known, has substantial advantages over the traditional trunnion 5 axis machine in that less manipulation of the component is required
  • Heavier or larger part capacity – only the vertical or load bearing is required
  • The generous size of the rotary table provides maximum versatility
  • The extra table space can be used for secondary operations or 3-axis work
  • Wide ranging application – the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP is ideal for any machining project
  • Time saving and efficient, allowing cost savings to be passed on to the customer
  • Perfect for low volume work or batch production

The Hurco VMX60SRTi XP – Key Statistics

>> 1,676 x 660 mm table, 1,360 kg capacity

>> Travels: 1,524 x 660 x 610 mm

>> Ø 600 mm embedded rotary table, 500 kg capacity

>> 12,000 rpm motorized spindle

>> 36.5 kW peak spindle

>> 40 station automatic tool changer

>> SK 40 spindle taper

>> 32 / 32 / 24 m/min rapid traverse rates

>> Patented UltiMotion HURCO technology, which reduces cycle time by 30%

>> Improved surface finish quality with UltiMotion

What This Means for RP

The introduction of the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP demonstrates RP’s commitment to making continued investments in our overall manufacturing and CNC machining capabilities.

This machine will help us to improve lead times, whilst also giving us the opportunity to produce even more complex and demanding metal and plastic machined components.

It will complement our other 5-axis and 3-axis CNC machining centres, providing added depth, improved capacity, and enhanced capability.

It will be the ideal tool for our prototype and low volume work.

What to Do Next?

Do you have CNC machining requirements for a low volume or prototyping project?

If so, we could be your perfect manufacturing partner.

Please call us today on +44 (0) 121 550 5868 or email info@rptechnologies.co.uk.

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New Product Development

What is New Product Development?

New Product Development (NPD) is the act of creating a new commodity or product for the commercial marketplace. It is essentially a series of steps that are taken from inception to roll out which see a new product designed, manufactured, and unveiled to the world.

NPD is an important activity for most companies. It is a means by which companies can stay ahead of their competitors, provide added value to their customers, and increase organic growth.

New products provide an opportunity for companies to sell more units and therefore increase revenue streams. NPD activity also allows companies to grow their market shares.

In a world where there is strong consumer demand, greater competition, and where changing digital and technological advancements are emerging all the time, it is important for companies to keep driving forward and developing their product range. Standing still in this environment will likely lead to rival companies gaining competitive advantage.

Fast-moving change has become an accepted – and expected – part of consumer culture. Customers of all types in all different industries have an expectation for companies to adapt and evolve, and for their product range to develop in a manner which reflects these rapidly changing times.

New products are designed to either solve an existing customer problem in a new or innovative way, or to enhance or move forward a similar product which is already out there in the marketplace in a much more rudimentary format.

The product development process is multi-layered and involves many internal and external stakeholders. As noted above, it involves several different steps, or stages.

Let’s look at these stages in more detail….

The Key Stages of New Product Development

Idea Generation

All new products start life in the same way – as a concept or idea. Each product is the brainchild of an individual or group of individuals.

The process usually involves a brainstorming session between product designers and product engineers. It may also include other stakeholders, such as marketing experts.

At this stage of the process, ideas are discussed and explored, with the relative merits of each being assessed before the optimum concept is identified for further development.

If done correctly, the idea generation phase should be the consequence of detailed research which has already been conducted to identify what gaps exist in the current market for NPD, and what problems any potential new product should be introduced to solve.

Research

Once the idea generation phase of the process has been completed, the Research phase begins.

By this point, a product idea will have been formed. The next step will be to further develop this idea by testing its likely suitability for the current marketplace.

To do this, research must be conducted. This research can take many different forms and can comprise either market research (where a sample of the target market is selected to answer questions on their consumer habits and tastes) or competitor analysis to determine how to potentially position this new product in relation to the competitors’ offerings.

This stage of the process also provides an opportunity to gain feedback from target consumers on what they think of your ideas before you advance too far down the road of developing your new product.

Planning

This is where the information collected in the previous stage is reviewed against the original concept, and any changes to the idea based upon the feedback provided are implemented.

At this stage in the process, the strategic goals and objectives for the product can be reviewed and finalised, and the overall concept can be refined to reflect these milestones.

The estimated product value and capacity can also be determined.

As soon as the concept has been clearly defined, the next step of the planning phase will be to source suitable manufacturing partners to help to take the project forward.

It is also where marketing professionals, either in-house or commissioned from outside of the organisation, will have to start thinking about how to successfully bring this new product to market once it is ready to launch.

Prototyping

The prototyping phase is where a physical prototype of the product is created with the help of whichever manufacturing partner/s has been chosen during the planning stage.

It is essentially a to-scale basic version of the product.

The prototype will help product designers and product engineers to understand how the product functions and looks in its true physical format.

Prototyping is a very important phase in the product development cycle. No matter how impressive the product concept might be, or how meticulous the planning, the prototyping phase will often unearth several key aspects of the design which have not necessarily been accounted for in the theoretical planning stages.

It also allows manufacturing partners to find solutions to complex manufacturing challenges before full scale production begins. It is important to go through this process so that the best solution for the manufacture of the product can be decided upon before producing the product at volume.

Consumer Testing

This is where consumers are invited to test the prototype and to provide feedback on its functionality, appearance, and positioning within the current marketplace.

The testing phase is essential in order to assess the commercial viability of the product and as a way of identifying any prototyping issues that may need to be ironed out before launch.

Often, the results of this feedback will mean that changes need to be made to the prototype to reflect consumer opinion.

It may be necessary to go back and forth between the prototype and the testing phases, making multiple changes and conducting several stages of consumer testing in order to get the final prototype absolutely right.

As soon as the prototype is produced in a form that consumers and product engineers are happy with, full-scale product development can begin.

Product Development

As soon as the prototype phase is concluded, a final cost analysis will be conducted to determine the commercial feasibility of producing the finished prototype at volume.

An original cost analysis should have been conducted before now, most likely at the research or planning stages, but a final analysis will also be needed if there have been any changes to the prototype since those preliminary calculations were made.

Providing the numbers still add up, full scale production can commence.

The production process will be carried out by the manufacturing partner identified at the planning stage. This can be the same production company who produced the prototype or a different one.

If costs prove to be prohibitive, or if a suitable prototype which meets the original objectives cannot be produced within the accepted cost parameters, the project may be abandoned.

Branding

At this stage of the process, the final product will have been produced and will be ready for the marketplace. Before it can be made available to the public, the branding of the product will need to be concluded.

This includes the development of the brand name, product slogan, packaging, price points, and the marketing message behind the product.

Marketers will also seek to position the product in the optimum space relative to its competitors. If it is a product which will be sold directly to the consumer, agreements with distributors such as retail outlets may also need to be finalised at this stage of the process.

Product Launch

This is the stage of the process where the product enters the public domain. The product development team has completed their work, and the exciting moment has arrived. It is also the phase of NPD which is known as the commercialisation phase, or the market launch.

At this stage, the product becomes available for purchase. The marketing strategy supports the sales of this new product, helping to raise awareness and create interest amongst the target demographic.

This is the stage of the process where the product takes on a new life of its own, independent of its creators and manufacturing partners.

It is also the first stage of the process where the product can start to deliver sales revenue, and a financial return can be enjoyed. This is where the company can begin to recoup some of the money invested in the product’s development, with new gains compensating for the expenditure incurred in getting the product to market.

Post-Launch Review

As with any big commercial undertaking, it is important once the work has concluded to review the process in full. This review should include each of the key players, including the product designers, product engineers and marketing specialists, to determine what was successful and what wasn’t.

In the fast-moving pace of modern business life, this is the stage of NPD which is either usually forgotten or neglected. But it is an essential element of the wider process.

NPD can be an expensive and time-consuming process. It is also central to the success of the company since the new products which are launched are crucial to achieving success for the organisation in the many months and years ahead. If mistakes have been made, it is important that these mistakes are not repeated when the next new product is launched.

Too many mistakes over a long period of time can end up harming the quality of the final output. If products are sub-standard when they are launched, or positioned incorrectly, they will not achieve the sales targets that have been set for them, resulting in reduced revenues and costly expenses. This can have a detrimental affect on company growth and performance, and can also mean that competitive advantage, as well as market share, is lost.

Identifying mistakes in the process and implementing this feedback into the product development process will ensure that future new products are given the best chance to succeed and flourish in the increasingly competitive marketplaces of the 21st century.

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What is CNC Machining?

CNC Machining

CNC is the abbreviated term for Computerised Numerical Control. This is a computerised manufacturing process in which pre-programmed software and code operates production equipment. This equipment is often complex and includes grinders, lathes and turning mills.

As a subtractive manufacturing process, a range of tools are used to cut contours and shapes into a workpiece in order to create parts. The high level of automation means that CNC machining is suitable for both prototype and low-medium volume production.

A 3D model of the design is created using CAD software and is converted into a CNC programme. The machine is then programmed using the G Code, which informs the machine of precise measurements, such as speed, feed rate and coordination. The machine then removes material from the workpiece to produce the custom-designed part.

Many different types of materials can be CNC machined, including metals, plastics, glass, and foam.

Different Types of CNC Machining

3-Axis Machining

The two main types of 3-axis machining are CNC milling and CNC turning. The chief distinction between the two is that CNC milling uses a rotating tool and CNC turning uses a rotating part.

Let’s now look at each of these methods in more detail:

CNC Milling

During CNC milling, the cutting tool is attached to a spindle and can move in three different directions: along the X, Y and Z axes. It rotates at high speed to remove material from the workpiece.

Multi-axis milling allows 4 or more axes to provide added dexterity to the operation. 5-axis machines are commonly used and can create all kinds of parts within the accepted parameters of CNC milling.

CNC milling produces a flat or sculptured shape in the workpiece. The operation is performed on a milling machine using a multi-point cutting tool, also known as a milling cutter. The cutting tool cuts intermittently during the process.

CNC milling is ideal when straightforward cutting is required. However, for more complex geometries 3-axis CNC milling can have its limitations. As there are only 3 axes, the cutting tool may not be able to interrogate every part of the workpiece.

An advantage of this particular method is that parts can be produced to high tolerances and the setup costs are low.

CNC Turning

For CNC turning, the workpiece is held in a chuck and rotated, and the tool is applied to the object piece to remove material. A stationary cutting tool is applied to the surface of the rotating bar stock, and unwanted material is removed. There can be several cutting tools used to achieve this.

Unlike with CNC milling, the tool does not rotate but moves around the workpiece radially and lengthwise. It is a highly accurate machining process which is suitable for achieving tight tolerances.

The speed of the cutting will be dependent on the type of machine, the material being used and the main features of the component.

The cutting tool remains in continuous contact with the workpiece for the duration of the process. It is performed using a single point turning tool, also known as an SPTT.

CNC turning machines are also known within the industry as lathes. The increased machining speed reduces manufacturing costs, improves lead times, and makes large volume production more viable. However, because it is only suitable for cutting cylindrical shapes, its geometries are limited. It is, therefore, more commonly used as a secondary step when an additional feature is required.

5-Axis Machining

5-Axis machining (multi-axis machining) is a versatile process which provides more options and scope to the machining process than either CNC milling or CNC turning.

5-axis refers to the number of directions in which the cutting tool can move. It moves across the X, Y and Z linear axes, and rotates on the A and B axes. This means that it can approach the workpiece from any direction, thus adding greater versatility, accessibility, and sophistication to the process.

In essence, it means that a single component can be machined at 5 angles all at the same time.

There are savings to be made in terms of cost and lead times, and it is also possible to achieve more complex geometries than those which would be achievable with 3-axis machining.

This method also produces a smoother surface finish, and the accuracy of the final parts is usually high. The process is single setup, which also reduces the amount of manual labour required.

Advantages of CNC Machining

High level of automation which reduces the need for human input

Ideal for rapid prototyping, as parts can be produced very quickly

Ease of repeatability

Cost-saving exercise for prototyping or one-off designs, as there is no need to make custom tooling

Parts produced are often highly accurate and capable of achieving tight tolerances

CNC Machining by Industry

CNC machining is used for applications across a wide variety of business sectors. It is particularly useful in industries where a high level of precision and accuracy is required. Products and components which need to pass rigorous safety tests will significantly benefit from CNC machining.

Let’s take a look at the specific applications of CNC machining in some key business areas…

Automotive – gears, pins, brakes, shafts, valves, axles, and cylinder blocks

Aerospace – manifolds, bushings, landing gear and engine components

Medical – surgical instruments, dental implants, titanium joints and orthotics

Electronics – housings, computer motherboards, breaker panels, RFI shields and electrical insulation

CNC Machining at RP Technologies

CNC Machining is an element of our services here at RP Technologies which often gets forgotten, but we do in fact have extensive experience in this area, with excellent state-of-the-art CNC machining centres, a highly competent CAD design team, and a team of vastly experienced CAM engineers.

We precision machine components in most metals and polymers to support product designers and engineers for prototyping or low volume production. Our direct machining capabilities allow for fast turnaround of components, including those which feature complex shapes and contours.

Our CNC Machining department is expanding all the time. In 2023, we employed four new CNC Programmers and also invested in our brand new state-of-the-art Hurco 5-Axis Machining Centre.

We have received a high volume of repeat custom and we have also picked up many new customers during this period of time.

By offering tooling, moulding and CNC machining under one roof, we can reduce your total project costs by providing a one stop solution without the stress of sourcing multiple suppliers.

More information about the type of CNC Machining work we are engaged in can be found on our CNC Machining page.

If you would like to make an enquiry or have a discussion with us, please email info@rptechnologies.co.uk, or call +44 (0) 121 550 5868.

Knowledge Hub

Additive Manufacturing vs Injection Moulding

In our two recent technical articles, we investigated additive manufacturing and injection moulding. We explored them as two very distinct processes which are aimed at achieving the same thing…. the creation of plastic components for prototyping or low-medium volume production.

We will now look to summarise what we have learned from our examination into additive manufacturing and injection moulding.

We will also highlight the key advantages and disadvantages of both methods.

Injection Moulding

Injection moulding refers to the manufacturing process of producing parts by injecting molten material into a mould. The material, often plastic, is injected into the mould cavity in order to create a part. Once inside the mould, the material quickly cools, and the part takes its final solid shape.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is the process of creating parts by adding layers of material. Using this process, there is no need to create a mould to produce a part. The part is made by creating a CAD file which then talks to a machine and adds material until a part is formed.

Let’s look at the key parameters of both methods, examining in more detail the specific pros and cons associated with each process.

Injection Moulding

Pros:

  • Advantageous if large volumes are required
  • Produces parts that are high in precision
  • The process allows for great ease of repeatability
  • Extensive choice of materials with different properties
  • Highly suitable for mass production
  • Generates production intent parts from the tooling, making them ideal for market testing
  • Low cost per part. This is particularly useful in circumstances where parts will need to be run off the existing tool at regular intervals over a sustained period of time
  • Greater scalability: can produce low volume prototype parts through to tens of thousands
  • Ideal process for components that require high detail
  • Parts produced often have greater strength and durability
  • More suited to larger components than additive manufacturing
  • Perfect choice for bulk production
  • Results in a better product surface finish
  • Improved functional integrity of parts, which are more visually appealing and reliable
  • Most plastic used during this process can be reground, recycled and reused

Cons:

  • Up-front capital investment in tooling can be prohibitive
  • This process can result in higher amounts of plastic waste
  • Increased project turnaround times
  • It can be challenging to change tooling to optimise or iterate new designs

Additive Manufacturing

Pros:

  • Ideal for rapid prototyping as this process allows for quick and easy production runs
  • Works well for low volume production runs
  • Ideal for complex or intricate component designs where detail is important
  • Low entry costs and reduced material costs
  • Suited to projects where the design goes through several iterations
  • Highly flexible and agile process which ensures precision of final design
  • Modifications can be made easily using 3D modelling software
  • Time and cost savings can be achieved where there is no requirement to build a tool
  • Produces less material waste
  • Parts produced may be more ergonomic
  • Reduces inventory and storage burdens as there is no tooling that needs to be housed
  • Increased digital inventory reduces carbon footprint and improves sustainability credentials
  • Manufactures directly from 3D CAD files so the location of manufacture is more flexible
  • As it is a digital process, it can be stopped post-part build or post-run, and restarted with punitive cost

Cons:

  • Suitable for small plastic parts or components, but there are limitations with larger products
  • Unsuitable for large volume production runs
  • This method doesn’t allow for printing in production intent grade material
  • Surface finishes can be problematic, often creating a ridged surface, which can be an issue when producing parts that will rub against one another
  • Despite the initial set up being quick, the overall process can be slow, as most printers can only build one item at a time, which creates a significant challenge for detailed designs

Summary

Additive manufacturing and injection moulding are two very distinct processes with a range of advantages and disadvantages associated with both methods.

Additive manufacturing is ideal for very small production runs and offers quick turnaround times. Changes to the designs can be made easily and it is a process which suits the production of relatively small components.

Injection moulding is ideal for parts of all sizes and can accommodate prototype, pre-production, and production volumes. The costs are low per part and the process allows for ease of repeatability.

Choosing the right process is dependent on the end application of the component. Knowing how the product must look and function will usually determine which process a customer chooses. Such factors might include smoothness of finish, strength and durability, and heat or pressure resistance.

Industries that are highly regulated, and in which product safety and liability is a key factor, such as the aerospace and consumer goods sectors, may also dictate which process is most suitable.

However, it is worth noting that although this article has explored these two processes in direct opposition to one another, some now argue that both practices can occupy a common ground.

Indeed, many manufacturers and product engineers now regard additive manufacturing and injection moulding as complimentary rather than competing technologies. Combining these techniques can reduce pre-production cycles and allow for better testing and manufacturing.

To Find Out More:

If you’re about to embark upon a project and would like to know more about injection moulding, please contact us at info@rptechnologies.co.uk, or call +44 (0) 121 550 5868, and we will be happy to discuss your requirements.

Knowledge Hub

What is Spark Erosion?

Spark Erosion

Spark erosion is a machining process where a specific shape is obtained using electrical discharges.

Material is removed by generating sparks between an electrode and the workpiece.

It is often adopted in circumstances where complex or intricate shapes need to be engineered. Often, these shapes would be too challenging to create using conventional cutting methods. It is also employed when dealing with challenging or robust materials.

Spark erosion is known in the industry by many different terms, some of which you may have heard of before. For instance, you may have heard it referred to as electrical discharge machining (EDM), spark machining, or die machining.

Regardless of what name you may know it by, spark erosion can be an invaluable part of the metal fabrication process.

Let’s look at the process itself in more detail…

The Process

Spark erosion is performed on hard metals, most commonly either on aluminium or steel.

The process involves removing material.

This is achieved by two electrodes, which are mounted on the machine. Current is discharged between the two electrodes and the process is supported by an electric voltage.

Dielectric fluid is used to ensure that electric charges do not flow through the workpiece. It helps to insulate the workpiece until discharge can occur. This fluid also acts as a coolant for the workpiece and the electrode. This is an important part of the process as temperatures can become very high.

The cutting tool moves along the object, cutting a path as it goes. At no point in the process does the cutting tool itself ever touch the surface of the metal.

Sparks move between the workpiece and the electrode, where electrical energy becomes heat, and results in the melting of the work material.

Advantages of Spark Erosion

– A fine level of detail can be achieved. This is particularly important when working on projects where tight tolerances are required
– Supports projects where complex machining is necessary
– Used for a wide range of surface finishes/textures
– Harder materials can be cut more quickly compared to conventional machining methods
– No cutting contact, so the integrity of the material is always maintained
– Highly controlled process which allows for precision and accuracy, even on softer materials
– Versatile in its applications to metal. Spark erosion can be applied to many different types of metal, as long as they have low levels of electrical conductivity
– Ideal for jobs which require the drilling of very small holes

Spark Erosion at RP Technologies

Here at RP, spark erosion is a fundamental part of what we do, and it has been used on several key projects for many of our customers. It has enabled us to create tools which meet the specific requirements of the drawing specification.

Many of our competitors do not use spark erosion. Instead, they ask their customers to change their design so that it is less complex and can be machined more easily.

These changes can be time consuming and costly.

Our “Without Limits” philosophy means that we build tools to meet the specific needs of our clients, no matter how complex the component design or process.

Sometimes, we employ spark erosion to achieve this. Indeed, it has become such an important part of what we do that we want to ensure we are as well prepared for the challenge as possible.

Consequently, we have recently promoted one of our tooling engineers, Garry Duffield, to the full-time position of EDM Engineer. After receiving three months of intensive onsite training, Garry has now also completed a three-day training course at Sodick.

Our Use of Spark Erosion

We were recently asked by a new client to help them with a new-to-market product which was designed to improve environmental sustainability in the farming and agriculture sector.

The design of the product itself was so complex that many of our competitors would not have been able to produce the parts in a manner which was faithful to the original drawings.

The features were incredibly complex, and the shaping was so intricate that it required some very high precision engineering. One of the main problems was that we were unable to cut using traditional cutting methods and machines.

We engaged in open dialogue with the client, supporting them to achieve their original vision for the product. We gave them advice and guidance and talked them through the potential solutions.

Through some further in-house discussion between our CAD designers and production engineers, we decided that the only way to maintain the integrity of the design would be to use spark erosion.

We used our own onsite Sinker EDM AD55L machine to do this. This machine features Sodick’s Linear Motor Technology. It provides rapid acceleration while ensuring optimum performance at high speeds. It also reduces distortion and improves rigidity by 70%.

This machine allowed us to overcome the complexity of the engineering requirements, achieve a fast turnaround of parts, and to ensure a smooth finish without any flaws or discrepancies.

Our client was incredibly happy with the finished components, complimenting us on our speed of delivery, final product quality, and the way in which we were able to find an ideal solution to a complex problem.

Knowledge Hub

The Quantum 4 CMM Machine

Quality Engineering is a very important part of our work here at RP Technologies. Our Quality Engineers are there to ensure that the expectations of our customers are met at all times. They closely monitor projects to ensure that the highest levels of precision and accuracy are achieved.

In recent times, we have made considerable investment in this area of our business. This investment includes employment of additional members of staff, renovation of the quality offices, and investment in high precision measuring tools and equipment.

In keeping with our desire to constantly evolve and improve our service to our clients, we have recently invested in a new state-of-the-art CMM machine to replace our existing one. This new machine will significantly enhance the quality of our work and improve operational efficiencies.

The new QCT Quantum 4 CMM machine includes a hard anodised aluminium X axis bridge and Z spindle with air bearings. The machine is fitted with high precision Renishaw digital reader heads and scales. Superior Maxon motor gearbox units are used on all drive axis. The controller is QCT ACC3000 (USB) and a high-quality joystick unit ensures full multi-axis control.

What makes the QCT Quantum 4 stand out from the crowd is its QCT Inspect 3D-PRO Software. The systems graphics engine allows for quick calculations and the construction of complex features.

It has a comprehensive set of reporting tools for ease of analysis and the tracking of precise data. Reports are exportable in Excel and PDF formats and can be shared with colleagues and customers alike. Additional features include SPC Charts, Measurement MACROs and PIPE Measurement.

 

The QCT Quantum 4 also boasts the Renishaw Probe System. This is a fully motorised indexing head designed specifically for use on CNC CMMs. It provides 720 indexing positions in 7.5 degree indexing steps in both axes. The MCR20 rack allows TP20 modules to be automatically changed during a program. This probe system comes with a PH10T probe head with TP20 module and an MCR20 rack.

Quality Engineer, Andy Potter, said: “The QCT Quantum 4 will save inspection time and increase the scope and accuracy of our measuring facility.

It will also allow us to more easily compare both tooling and product to CAD. We will be able to create programs which will run automatically, as well as generate dimensional reports directly from the measured component.

The purchase of the QCT Quantum 4 reflects RP’s sustained commitment to investing in areas where we can return added value to our customers, and where we can stay ahead of our competitors.”

This machine will also give us greater scope for introducing additional quality engineering services. Our aim is to continue to expand our quality engineering offering so that we can provide a more comprehensive suite of solutions. Watch this space for more developments…

 

Quality Engineering is a very important part of our work here at RP Technologies. Our Quality Engineers are there to ensure that the expectations of our customers are met at all times. They closely monitor projects to ensure that the highest levels of precision and accuracy are achieved.

In recent times, we have made considerable investment in this area of our business. This investment includes employment of additional members of staff, renovation of the quality offices, and investment in high precision measuring tools and equipment.

In keeping with our desire to constantly evolve and improve our service to our clients, we have recently invested in a new state-of-the-art CMM machine to replace our existing one. This new machine will significantly enhance the quality of our work and improve operational efficiencies.

The new QCT Quantum 4 CMM machine includes a hard anodised aluminium X axis bridge and Z spindle with air bearings. The machine is fitted with high precision Renishaw digital reader heads and scales. Superior Maxon motor gearbox units are used on all drive axis. The controller is QCT ACC3000 (USB) and a high-quality joystick unit ensures full multi-axis control.

What makes the QCT Quantum 4 stand out from the crowd is its QCT Inspect 3D-PRO Software. The systems graphics engine allows for quick calculations and the construction of complex features.

It has a comprehensive set of reporting tools for ease of analysis and the tracking of precise data. Reports are exportable in Excel and PDF formats and can be shared with colleagues and customers alike. Additional features include SPC Charts, Measurement MACROs and PIPE Measurement.

The QCT Quantum 4 also boasts the Renishaw Probe System. This is a fully motorised indexing head designed specifically for use on CNC CMMs. It provides 720 indexing positions in 7.5 degree indexing steps in both axes. The MCR20 rack allows TP20 modules to be automatically changed during a program. This probe system comes with a PH10T probe head with TP20 module and an MCR20 rack.

Quality Engineer, Andy Potter, said: “The QCT Quantum 4 will save inspection time and increase the scope and accuracy of our measuring facility.

It will also allow us to more easily compare both tooling and product to CAD. We will be able to create programs which will run automatically, as well as generate dimensional reports directly from the measured component.

The purchase of the QCT Quantum 4 reflects RP’s sustained commitment to investing in areas where we can return added value to our customers, and where we can stay ahead of our competitors.”

This machine will also give us greater scope for introducing additional quality engineering services. Our aim is to continue to expand our quality engineering offering so that we can provide a more comprehensive suite of solutions. Watch this space for more developments…

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