Advances in metal machining support efficiency

No matter what area a manufacturing company is focused on, they share some concrete goals. Paramount among them are efforts to reduce material costs, cut down production times and improve customer satisfaction.

It is not uncommon for firms to outsource their metal machining operations to contractors. While this can be more efficient that handling the processes in house, it can also spiral out of control if too many companies get involved. A recent article on Manufacturing.net dealt with this issue.

"The more layers of vendors involved, the slower the precision metal fabrication process and worse the transparency," said Don Vitale, Vice President of Operations/Engineering at Clinton Industries. His company, based in York, Pennsylvania, designs and manufactures medical exam tables, treatment tables, blood drawing chairs, physical therapy equipment, and tubular steel medical accessories. "If you have to juggle several subcontractors with limited capabilities to fill a large rush order, any delay can snowball. One delay or error will impact the next vendor, since most vendors only understand their small piece of the puzzle." 

The solution is to find ways to manufacture parts in the fewest steps possible, seeking out one-stop shops for many of the necessary steps. Many CNC machine services offer a variety of custom services that allow them to fabricate components, and even reverse engineer parts when a blueprint no longer exists.

Looking for methods to streamline the supply chain is not the only way that firms can reduce their costs and improve their efficiency. There is also the matter of the metal itself. Recently, scientists have begun work on new metal machining methods that may have a significant impact on the industry.

Researchers explore new ways of making low-cost metal components

Metal, as another article on Manufacturing.net highlights, is often used in compliant mechanisms. This refers to mechanisms that may flex, but are not permanently deformed as a result. Such devices include springs and paper clips, as well as many more complex contraptions.

Metal's ability to do this is part of the reason why it is so useful. But it can be costly to make. Recently, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Brigham Young University and the California Institute of Technology have worked out a way to fabricate low-cost compliant mechanisms called "bulk metallic glasses."

"We've demonstrated that these metals not only have desirable properties for applications where flexibility and durability are required, but can also be injection-molded like a plastic and made cheaply," said Douglas Hofmann, principal investigator of the research at JPL. "It offers an entirely new industry for high-performance metals."

The news source added another useful material, titanium, has previously filled this role, but it can be difficult to work with. Researchers say that the metal machining methods they have developed surpass the performance of titanium alloys.

New developments such as this one continue to demonstrate the direction that the manufacturing industry is headed, in which the creation of new materials opens doors to opportunities previously believed to be improbable. Once this technology becomes mainstream, CNC machine shops can lead the way in its implementation.