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Strategies for optimizing CNC tooling and keeping CNC costs low

CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing method that creates parts by making computer-controlled cuts to a solid block of material. Because the process is digitally programmed, it offers product teams a number of potential advantages, including increased efficiency and precision. CNC machines are ideal for making precise cuts that can be repeated across thousands of pieces, producing parts with high-quality surface finishes, while consistently manufacturing with high-grade accuracy and precision. The machining process can also be used with a wide range of materials, including metals and plastics.

However, producing parts using CNC machining is not as simple as designing a CAD file, sending it to the CNC machine, and clicking “start.” Jigs, fixtures, cutting tools, and any other forms of tooling required to actually make the part all need to be created or acquired before production can begin. The CNC tooling process is critical to both the efficiency of production as well as the quality and price of the final part. Your tools must be purchased from reputable vendors, and they must also be maintained and thoroughly checked before each time they are used. Failure to do so will result in parts out of tolerance.

Selecting high-quality tools should be a priority, but — as many manufacturers and the product teams commissioning work to them know — tooling costs can quickly become a concern. For that reason, it’s important that you understand the factors that affect the cost of CNC tools, as well as how to achieve a desirable balance of cost-efficiency and high performance.

Key considerations that impact CNC tooling costs

As CNC tooling affects the efficiency of production and the performance of the end product, one important factor to consider is the set of cutting operations and clamp conditions that will be used. The ideal parameters for the cutting, machine power, and spindle options need to be determined, as well as factors such as material hold-down and how scrap and dust will be collected.

The complications or concerns introduced by a part’s material, geometry, or surface finish should be important considerations when trying to optimize your cutting tool setups. The tooling required to manufacture a part will affect the bottom line, so weighing these various concerns and factors against each other can often help determine which tooling options make the most sense for your budget and the job.

cnc tools cutting metal sparks
Though custom CNC tools typically come with a high upfront price, they may be invaluable in elevating the operational efficiency of production, and therefore, saving money down the line.

While many CNC machining jobs can make use of standard, off-the-shelf fixtures, vises, jaws, faceplates, tombstones, and other components — and many cutting tool holders come in standard configuration — customized jigs and fixtures are very common, as these are used to square pieces and ensure they are properly oriented and aligned. Some jobs may require additional specialized components. In some cases, you might be able to customize specific bits, which is typically achieved with the use of disposable tool inserts that can be designed to last the length of the production schedule and be easily replaced.

It’s important to account for as many known cost variables as possible. One fixed cost to be aware of is the number of cutting tools and inserts required for the duration of the job. While individual inserts are typically inexpensive, they wear down relatively quickly, which in turn requires that they be sharpened or replaced in order to maintain high production quality. Skilled machining teams should be able to predict quantities and tool types based on job type and volume, which can then be incorporated into their quote.

It’s worth noting that developments in additive manufacturing technology are making it possible to produce jigs and fixtures via 3D printing. If machining costs are too expensive, consider whether the appropriate CNC tools can be produced additively.

Zero-in on the best-fit CNC tools with Fast Radius

Using stock tooling allows for low-cost CNC tooling setups, but isn’t alway suited to meet the specific requirements of a job. In contrast, though custom CNC tools typically come with a high upfront price, they may be invaluable in elevating the operational efficiency of production, and therefore, saving money down the line. There are a number of complicated factors involved in determining which process and CNC tools are an ideal fit for any given job.

That’s why working with an experienced manufacturing partner like Fast Radius makes good business sense. For years, we’ve been working tirelessly on the cutting edge of what’s possible in modern manufacturing, and we bring that prowess and insight to the table with each job. Our state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities have adopted CNC machine tool monitoring software to help extend the life of our tooling and pass those savings directly onto our customers. It also helps ensure that we’re able to help transform ideas into economical, marketable products at speed. Contact us today to learn how on-demand manufacturing can make all the difference for your business.

Visit the Fast Radius learning center to learn more about more about CNC machining and what’s right for your project.

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