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What is a machine shop? A complete guide.
A machine shop is a place where subtractive CNC manufacturing is going on there. Not a “shop” like a store, a machine shop is a room or building which contains machinery where machinists and other technical staff do certain things, where the shop is a large factory in the presumption of a small business.
The “machines” are pieces of supplies with cutting tools, where it will be used for drilling, cutting, shaping, which involves taking out the material from a block of metal, plastic or other raw material. Moreover, machine shops contain other equipment such as 3D printers as well, yet subtractive manufacturing supply should be the main issue.
Think: CNC Machine VS 3D Printer
Machine shops can be managed by manufacturers of specific branded products, and/or by third-party manufacturers (like 3ERP). These manufacturers provide a custom online machining service to range of customers beyond different industries.
The existence of machine shops date back to the 19th century. However, today’s machine shops are very different; machine shops contain several pieces of supplies, yet the range and kind of equipment rely on the size and function of the facility. In addition to other facilities, shops usually contain some or all of the following machines;
- Milling machine. A mill is a machine which utilizes rotary cutters to get rid of material from the work-piece. To allow the milling machine to handle different type of cut (from threading to roughing) there are many types and sizes of milling cutters.
- Machining center. This is an another term used to describe a CNC milling machine, a mill controlled by computer instructions. Machining centers are multifunctional pieces of equipment which can achieve complex procedures very quickly, at high production rates.
- Lathe. This kind of machine rotates a work-piece as it makes touches a cutting tool, to allow operations like sanding, knurling and facing, where a CNC lathe, or CNC turning center, is controlled by computer instructions.
- Grinding machine. A grinding machine can be described as a power tool, which uses an abrasive wheel to grind the work-piece. Grinding is generally functioned as a finishing process, because it offers a high surface quality.
- Drill press. A drill press can be defined as a mounted drill whose movement is managed by a lever. Drill presses are much more powerful and stable than handheld drills and can be utilized for several manufacturing tasks apart from drilling holes.
- Bandsaw. This is a multifunctional cutting machine, which used to make straight cuts. Its function is roughly removing sections of material before further cutting.
- EDM equipment. Electrical Discaharge Machining (EDM) is a process which uses sparks instead of a physical cutting tool to pierce the work-piece. Alternate versions of the technology use a wire for the tool electrode.
- Surface finishing tools. Most products need a surface finish of some sort, and several pieces of equipment, which are used to buff, polish, sandblast and color them.
- Coordinate measuring machine. A coordinate measuring machine (CMM) is a device which measures the geometry of parts, in order to assure that the machined part matches the original dimensional specifications. By this way, a CMM enables to guarantee accuracy and quality.
Machines achieve several manufacturing operations, and might be either manual (operated by a machinist) or equipped with Computer Numerical Control (CNC) technology. Apart from machinery, a machine shop might also involve stores of raw material that can be machined to make parts. Nevertheless, based on the scale of the manufacturer, materials may be stored in a warehouse.
To add to that, machinists might use their machine shop to digitally design parts as well. This means that the area should have computers equipped with CAD software. Moreover, computers can be used to operate CNC machining equipment as well.
Balancing CNC machining and Manual machining
Surprisingly, the rise of the CNC machine shop has not made manual machining be unnecessary. Obviously, CNC machines have many benefits over manual machines. They are as accurate and precise as can be while guaranteeing repeatability. What is more, fabrication can take place without supervision, which in turn allows staff to manage other tasks.
Usually, finding a serious machine shop that does not use CNC as a main part of its operation is impossible. Moreover, due to the inevitable benefits of the new technology, CNC shops are now taking the place of traditional machine shops. However, manual machining has its own advantages too.
Firstly, manual machines are more inexpensive than CNC machines. That means that machine shops can be operated several manual machines without spending too much money. However, this is a benefit for the machine shop than the customer, yet the lower expenses obviously result in lower costs for the customer as well.
What is even more important is that, manual machines can be managed without prior computer programming. Thus, machinists can get to work on a part of the job simultaneously, which results in quicker turnaround times than with a CNC machine. However, it should also be taken into account that manual machining still shows a valuable service and a credible option over CNC machining when one-off parts and components which require to be delivered in a faster period of time.
It is also practical for a machine shop to have manual machines around used for simpler projects, taking into consideration that they can support while the multi-axis CNC machines are not available.
Choosing the right machine shop
There are several things to think about for businesses and product developers who look for a machine shop to handle manufacturing. That is because, while some machine shops are more reliable than others, some are better produced to carry out specific types of machining than others. It can be advantageous for a potential new customer if a machine shop have experience working with clients in a specific corresponding industry. You should ask the machine shop staff about their capabilities and experience.
A good machine shop should offer all of the following:
- Competitive prices
Machine shops will have a price at different rates depending on their size, experience and other factors. Choosing the right machine shop is finding a manufacturer with good prices. However, this cannot always be at the expenditure of quality.
Although you should to think economically, you should never select machine shop because of its cheap price. Obviously, this can arise some problematic issues. For example, if a machine shop offers a price which they will not have profit from, it means they most probably want to cut down so as to develop their profit margins.
Managing custom CNC machining and other manufacturing tasks for businesses, which require an assurance of their designs to remain private are carried out by third-party machine shops. Luckily, there are legal instruments which checks for confidentiality between a machine shop and its customers. All you should do is to ask for signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) from you machine shop afore attempting any manufacturing. This will guarantee you that that your designs will not be leaked to mysterious third parties. You should deny any machine shop which refuses to sign an NDA.
- Quality, reliability & honesty
Experienced machinists and usage of modern CNC machines as well as measuring equipment should be possessed in a good machine shop. If you suspect about this issue, it is recommended to call the machine shop or to visit the facility personally beforehand your working relationship has begun.
Obviously, shops with a wide versatility of manufacturing capabilities should be favored over those with restricted facilities. Yet, it should also be taken into account that not all machine shops will be truthful about their restrictions, so it is preferred to find a shop which tells you what it can and cannot achieve in an honest way.