Innovative Machining Approaches

Using Inspection Tools to Extend the Reach of CNC Equipment

When manufacturers possess the skills and sophisticated inspection tools needed to augment the capabilities of their equipment, they can bid on projects that would otherwise be out of reach and pass on enormous savings to their customers.

Surpassing the Limitations of Machines

Some projects require the machining of parts that are too large for the natural travel of a manufacturer's CNC machines to accommodate. To bridge this gap, many manufacturers machine the portion that is within reach, slide the next portion over, machine that portion, slide the next portion over, and so on.

This common technique enables machines to surpass their limited reach, but it also leaves the door open for minor flaws and inconsistencies that are unacceptable in critical-use applications. With inspection tools such as laser trackers, however, the most skilled manufacturers can move parts within the machine's travel with a level of continuity so flawless that it appears that the part was machined in a single setup.

A Reliable, Cost-Efficient Process

Specialty machines designed for use on even the largest parts do exist. They are so cost prohibitive, however, that the hourly rate would put an intolerable financial burden on the customer. By using inspection tools instead, the most experienced and well-equipped manufacturers can achieve identical — or nearly identical — results at a fraction of the cost with their own in-house machines.

The process is reliable and predictable.

When independent inspection tools are incorporated into a machining operation, it becomes possible to account for even the most minor variations in accuracy and repeatability. This enables teams to adjust CNC programs until they produce a feature that is far more accurate than the machine could have produced on its own, even across multiple setups.

These adjustments can then be referenced in later operations to ensure accuracy throughout the remainder of the pattern and setups.

Accurate Quoting, New Opportunities for Bidding

By bringing the most creative technical planners into the bidding process early, manufacturers can review proposals and develop quotes knowing that they are able to stretch the limitations of their machines if the project calls for it.

Once a team knows how to extend the natural reach of its machines, it can surpass the dimensional boundaries of its traditional capability list. Now it becomes possible to place bids on projects that would have otherwise been beyond their ability to complete. Many less savvy manufacturers walk away from jobs that they deem impossible because they don't have an intimate understanding of their machines, and how to augment their capacity through the use of inspection tools.

Most projects don't require machine augmentation. Generally, fewer than 25 percent of jobs call for expansion through the use of independent inspection tools, and those that do usually require this technique on just a single part or two. These are the parts, however, that prevent manufacturers from placing bids.

By pushing their machines beyond their natural limits, manufacturers can expand their capabilities, extend the range of projects on which they can bid and look past their own limitations. By eliminating the need to invest in rarely used, but wildly expensive equipment, they can do the same work for a fraction of the cost. When manufacturers develop this level of mastery over their equipment, jobs that were once deemed impossible become difficult, but doable.