CNC Machine Applications in the Marine Industry

Applications of CNC machining extend beyond dry land to include boats of all sizes that travel the global waterways. Manufacturing parts to construct high-quality, high-performance boats requires precision and efficiency, two primary characteristics of CNC machining.
Here’s a closer look at the role a CNC machine plays in the manufacturing of marine vessels, from start to finish.

Mold Construction

The hull is the foundation for all marine craft. A boat’s quality, durability and overall look are directly dependent on a hull that’s created from a mold built precisely to specifications.
Hand-crafted molds are time-and labor-intensive, and the human element results in a lack of consistency and accuracy. It’s difficult to create the clean edges, straight lines and identical corners that mark a high-quality hull.
A CNC machine is programmed electronically to produce uniformly precise molds and detect errors before they occur. In addition, CNC machining provides the versatility that enables manufacturers to work with a wide variety of materials.

Hull and Deck Trimming

Forming the hull and deck structures is just the beginning. Once they’re outside of the mold, these structures must be joined properly, without any gaps, uneven lines or shifting.
Determining proper alignment of the joins while these structures are “free” can be a painstaking process. Large-scale 5-axis CNC machines are capable of easily and efficiently trimming excess materials from even the largest structures while perfectly matching all parts.

Ribs and Stringers

Ribs and stringers are lengths of wood that form the “skeleton” of the hull. These parts reinforce the hull’s strength and help it retain its shape.
Stringers and ribs usually require a number of production templates and take up storage space with in-process inventory. CNC machines enable a wood-nesting process that optimizes yield while accommodating movement and placement of non-linear edges.

Interior Furnishings

Furnishings in high-end yachts and sailboats often rival those found in luxury condominiums and apartments. A typical layout might include a gourmet galley kitchen with granite countertops, plush wraparound seating and beautiful wood cabinets.
All of these items and more can be easily created with a CNC machine. The systems can accommodate everything from clean lines to intricate designs in wood, stone and a wide range of materials.
Boat building has a long and proud tradition dating back to prehistoric times. CNC machining brings the marine industry into the 21st century with unmatched levels of efficiency and precision.

7 Essential Machine Operator Safety Tips

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workplace injuries that result in six or more days of lost work cost our country’s businesses more than $1 billion per week. It’s estimated that a single work-related injury averages $38,000 in direct and indirect costs.
Workplace injuries cost time and money and affect overall productivity. Protect your employees and company by instituting these valuable machine operator safety tips:

  1. Wear Appropriate Safety Gear

    • Safety goggles and earplugs are a must.
    • Use safety boots or other suitable footwear.
    • Long hair should be covered or pulled back.
    • Avoid loose clothing and jewelry.
  2. Maintain a Safe Distance

  3. This rule applies to both people and objects. Workers always should stand clear of the machine, taking particular care with placement of hands. Operators should allow at least a six-inch margin for a safe working distance.
    In addition, the floor space around the machine should always be kept free of obstacles. Work materials should be stacked in a convenient location, but away from moving parts.
    One more note of caution: never leave a CNC machine unattended during operation.

  4. Follow Maintenance Schedule

  5. When a machine fails to perform properly, it increases the risk of injury. Wear and tear can’t be avoided, but you can extend the effective life of the machine by following the recommended maintenance schedule.

  6. Make Sure Operators Are Fully Trained

  7. On-the-job training is acceptable for some activities, but for CNC machine operation it’s a recipe for disaster. Make arrangements for employees to receive full training before assuming the operation of a CNC machine.

  8. Clean Up After Each Use

  9. The purpose of this rule is two-fold:

    • Even the smallest particles lodged in the machine can cause damage or malfunction.
    • Saw dust, wood chips and other debris that land on the floor create a hazard for the operator and other workers in the shop.
  10. Double-Check Program Data

  11. CNC machines provide previously unattainable levels of quality and precision with less labor, but what comes out is only as good as what goes in. Always double-check the programmed instructions for accuracy.

  12. Don’t Use the Machine Table as a Workbench

  13. Using the machine for makeshift purposes is one of the easiest ways to cause damage. It can also result in workers becoming more casual, making them a bit lax in observing other safety procedures.
    CNC machines can provide a major return on investment in reduced labor and increased productivity. Maintain that return by setting appropriate standards for machine operator safety.

What Causes CNC Machine Breakdowns?

CNC machines have revolutionized the manufacturing process for industries ranging from aerospace to transportation. Their versatility, durability and accuracy reduce the need for time-consuming manual work.

Like any tools and equipment, CNC machines require proper care to remain functional. Here are some of the top causes of CNC machine breakdowns.

Poor Maintenance

This is likely the No. 1 reason for CNC machine breakdowns. If filters aren’t changed, fluid levels aren’t checked and chips aren’t cleared, the machine can’t perform at maximum efficiency and its lifespan is drastically shortened.

Heat and Humidity

Heat is one of the more common stress factors on CNC machines. Sources are two-fold, including the machine’s internal temperature and the ambient temperature inside the shop. Excess heat increases wear and tear on machine parts, leading to reduced precision and accuracy.

Lubricants, cutting fluids and other liquids used with CNC machines also are affected by the heat, resulting in high humidity levels. Moisture then condenses on circuit boards and causes corrosion and equipment failure.

Improper Settings

It stands to reason that a machine running at excess speeds will wear out more quickly. On the other hand, slow feed speeds mean that materials remain in the machine longer than necessary, which also has a negative impact. Feeds and speeds should be adjusted based on the job itself and the type of material that will be used.

Poor Programming

Malfunctions caused by incorrect programming are sometimes difficult to solve because they’re initially misdiagnosed as mechanical problems. The issue most often occurs when newer employees don’t know correct codes and best practices.

Chatter

Interaction between the tool, toolholder and spindle creates a natural vibration. Chatter occurs when vibrations leave waves in the finished surface that create a variable load during succeeding cuts. The vibrations then feed upon themselves in a process known as self-excited vibration.

As chatter intensifies, finish accuracy is compromised and spindles can wear out more quickly. It may seem counterintuitive, but the problem often is speeds that are too slow rather than too fast. Chatter also can be reduced with use of a more rigid cutter.

Contamination

Chips from the machining process, along with dust and other particulates, can accumulate in filters, pumps and other parts. As a result, the CNC machine has to work harder, which limits performance and eventually causes a full breakdown.

Tool malfunction affects job performance and reduces profitability. Safeguard your investment and extend equipment life by watching for these causes of CNC machine breakdowns.

Ways to Integrate Smart Devices With CNC Machining

Integration between CNC machines and smart devices has been slow in coming for many machinists. The industry can be conservative, and many people are mentally still in a world that has barely put down the slide rules of old. However, your smart devices can do a lot that will have your CNC machining operation working better than ever.

Maintenance Scheduling

Scheduling maintenance on a CNC machine used to be part marking it on a calendar and part simply checking it over carefully to find any wear on a reasonably regular basis. In the modern world, your smart devices can make the process easier by both automatically pinging you when maintenance should be performed, and even checking subtle changes to the speeds of the motors or flow of power through the device as a diagnostic your eyes cannot see.

Angle Identification

Smart devices can often identify the angles of objects as simply as pointing them at the angle to be measured and essentially taking its picture. By doing this, the smart device can aid you in selecting the angle by which you are going to make a given cut on the materials. The smart device may even be able to aide you by helping determine the cut depth and whether you are using the best possible cutter.

Cut Course Planning

Cut courses can be determined through a variety of calculations CNC machinists are required to know. However, human error does still play a role. Thus, the less direct calculating you do, the better for your CNC machining. Allowing your smart device to suggest the courses of your cuts can reduce your mistakes, as the smart device requires few inputs from fallible human sources.

Durability Research

Have you ever been curious if a given material would be ideal or simply “okay” for a given cutter? With a smart device, you can research the relative merits instantly, and even set up automated warnings to yourself if there is the potential for cutter damage due to an incompatibility between the blade and the material.

Smart devices integrate well with CNC machines. With open-mindedness, the experience is an even better one.

CNC Lathes Grow Your Productivity

With a CNC lathe, you can expand your productivity due to solid feed speeds. Further, you can focus on repetition that allows you to produce many of the same piece. Finally, a CNC lathe lets you think a couple of steps ahead for work that may require several pieces to be completed effectively.

Feed Speed

The speed of your feeds is an important part of how a CNC lathe increases your efficiency. Being able to place a piece into the device with a specific orientation and have the speed be precisely known takes away much of the guesswork that is usually associated with traditional manual milling techniques. The less adjustments that you need to make in order for your CNC device to function as it is intended to, the more efficiently you can prepare the next piece while the machine is working on the current piece.

More of the Same

There is a high level of efficiency that you gain when you can produce a virtually unlimited number of the same type of piece. With CNC lathes and their ability to be programmed for repetition, you essentially have a backup person that can handle the lion’s share of the cuts and adjustments. Once you have your axes properly calibrated, the coordinates of your spindle’s movement and the cuts all planned out and you have braced the pieces in a solid and repeatable manner, you and your machine can essentially become a small scale assembly line with relative ease. Being able to produce many pieces of the same type without having to commit many of your mental resources is an extreme measure of efficiency.

Thinking Ahead

Perhaps the most important way that your CNC lathe is able to expand the efficiency of your operation is when you can think beyond the current piece to a few pieces down the line, this expands on your ability to machine different parts that together serve a larger and more complicated whole. Having the ability to think a few steps ahead, and plan what cuts your machine will be making once the current set is done, frees up your mind to make higher level decisions than simply crunching the numbers.

Upcut Versus Downcut Router and Your CNC Operation

Your router will, usually, always turn in the same direction, but an upcut versus downcut router can make a significant difference to the end results of your CNC operation. If you use the incorrect bit for the job, this difference can result in poor feeding or even in visible damage to the piece being worked upon.

Feed Speed

The speed of your feed is important to understand. The CNC machine will naturally have to have the path modified if you use a cut that moves in the direction of the blade’s movement. If the blade is fed too quickly, it can make a less effective cut than if there is a more relaxed feed speed. Changing the feed speed can also be useful depending on how much is to be removed to make the prevention of buildup easier.

Feed Direction

The direction of the bit’s movement and the direction from which it originates both matter to the cut. Among the debatable aspects of an upcut versus downcut router is from which direction you are approaching the piece versus the spindle’s rotation. In every case, you want to avoid potentially unseating the piece from its restraints, and attempting to take off too much at a time can damage or even snap the bit regardless of its orientation.

Piece Removal

When you use upward cutting bits, you will often find greater difficulty in chip ejection. Fighting gravity as well as the rigidity of the materials is of importance because of heat and premature wear on the bit. This influences the speed at which you would be advised to feed the piece as well as the speed of the spindle and how often you have to disconnect to ensure the bit is clear.

Visibility in the Completed Project

In many cases, the speed at which you have the bit approach the piece can result in murmuring, particularly for upward cuts from the bottom. For pieces that will be visible in the finished product, downward cuts are often superior for their ease of keeping a clean cut. However, adjusting the speed can compensate for this to an extent.

A Simple Guide to 5-Axis CNC Machining for Designers

If you plan to invest in a new CNC machine, consider the capabilities as determined by the number of axes. In standard CNC machines, the machining tools can function in three axes. The machining center will move along the x- and y-axes of the equipment to carry out the required machining on the part being made. The cutting tools incorporated in the set-up can also move up and down along the z- axis during machining.

A 3-axis machine is sufficient for most standard manufacturing applications. If you are handling more complex work and creating intricate parts with your new equipment, you should consider acquiring a 5-axis machine.

What is 5-Axis Machining?

5-axis CNC machining design makes it possible for the machine to move its cutting tools through the material being machined in 3D space along with rotation about the center of the spindle holding the cutting tools, as well as their inclination (the additional two axes)—the same kind of freedom, more or less, which the wrist of the human hand has. The machine functions on the x-, y-, and z- axes, just like conventional equipment. The difference between 3-axis and 5-axis CNC machining is the extra two axes. These are known, normally, as the a- and b- rotary axes.

The a-axis is the fourth. It refers to the rotational movement around the z-axis. The b-axis is the fifth. It allows for the inclinational movement around the basic y-axis. During the process of 5-axis CNC machining, the part or tooling can be moved in all five directions simultaneously. There are infinite design possibilities for manufacturing parts.

Advantages of 5-Axis Machining

When you choose 5-axis CNC machining, the potential for increases in productivity is high. This is because you can create parts and custom products in a single setup. This saves time and energy when compared with a multiple step process. There is less fixture preparation required, so labor and time costs are minimal. Higher efficiency means more profits. This type of machining setup also promises higher accuracy and repeatability because the workpieces are not moved through several work stations.

A 5-axis machine can be expensive. Evaluate your needs and financial resources and do your research before committing to a purchase.

Simple Guidelines on Preventative Maintenance for CNC Machines

Proper maintenance of your CNC machines is essential for a successful machining operation. The practice will promote efficient performance of the equipment which translates into higher productivity. The servicing tasks will also prevent premature breakdown and complete failure of your machinery. Consequently, you will be able to avoid unexpected downtime and high repair charges. Here are some simple guidelines on preventative maintenance for CNC machines.

Lubricate the Components

There are multiple moving components in all CNC machines designed for manufacturing purposes. These should be lubricated or greased regularly to ensure smooth movement and performance. If the surfaces of pertinent parts are dry, friction will be generated during operation. This will translate into premature wear of the affected surfaces. In addition, your machines will become more prone to overheating and subsequent damage. You should note that the wrong lubrication could affect functionality. Therefore, check the owner’s manual for suitable recommendations.

Clean the Machine

You should inspect the CNC machine and perform housekeeping tasks after every shift. Typically, when the equipment is used for any work, chips of the raw materials and other forms of debris will fall on the surfaces. Moreover, most workshops and industrial set-ups are exposed to environmental dust and dirt. If the machinery is not cleaned, these small materials will flow into the moving components. When another shift is carried out, the accumulated dirt and debris will cause friction and wear and might even damage other sensitive internal systems. Daily clean-up will prevent these detriments.

Service the Peripherals

Numerous accessories and peripheral components are incorporated into CNC operations to promote productivity and convenience. These can include cooling systems, chip conveyors and work-holding fixtures. While these are not per se part of the primary equipment, they can affect overall performance. Therefore, you should perform servicing tasks for them as part of your maintenance program. For example, you should ensure that your work-holding fixtures are aligned, the coolant nozzles clear and chips cleared. This will minimize total operational downtime.

When establishing a preventative maintenance program for your CNC machines, you should take into account the schedule recommended by the manufacturer for optimal results.

Maximizing the Effectiveness of Your CNC Machine

Using your CNC machine effectively comes down to understanding its operation and getting any hindrances out of the way. With the mindset of constantly seeking better ways to solve problems, your CNC machine will be as effective as possible.

Quality Cutters

If you are a novice with your CNC machine, starting out with HSS (high speed steel) cutters is a wise move because they are less expensive but still of solid quality. Doing your best to find name brand cutters at a reasonable price will mean it will be less irritating when they inevitably break due to early mistakes. Once you have better proficiency and can zero the cutter heads easily, you can move on to carbide cutters. Using solid cutters, particularly as you get into finer sizes, will allow your CNC machine to make cleaner and more accurate cuts.

Workholding

Your workholding setup is vital to the success of your CNC operation. Much of the work that goes on within the CNC machine is completely dependent on what happens outside of the device. The use of an effective clamping and vise kit to hold materials in place—for many machining requirements—and an understanding of where the material needs to move in order to be milled effectively are highly necessary. Also keeping a set of parallels to support the mass of larger pieces lets you mill effectively with less concerns about material movement. To use your CNC machine effectively, it is important to remember that a CNC machine is not merely working on a single cut, but holistically on a larger object.

Chip Management

Chips that get caught in the area to be cut can lead to rapid failure of your cutters. In some cases, this can be dangerous. Even in the best case scenario this can lead to dulling the cutting tools and making poor cuts on important and potentially expensive materials. The solution that makes your CNC machine work more effectively is to be extremely careful about chip management. This can be done, generally, by putting together a misting setup and applying the mist at angles that push the chips away from the cutting tool and its subsequent path.

Feeds and Speeds Calculator

Determining the effective spindle speeds and feedrate necessary for your cuts through “playing it by ear” are poor methods when using a CNC machine. Getting, and making a habit of using, a feeds and speeds calculator is very important. This will allow you to use your machine and your cutters optimally, minimizing wear-based damage caused by attempting to estimate a cut. This is also a better method when working with various materials, as they are less likely to be burred or otherwise damaged by improper cutting speeds or feed angles.

Tips for Working with Large Materials in CNC Machines

Milling large materials in CNC machines is a challenging task, but one you can do if you are careful. With the right cutter—understanding the power curve of your machine’s spindle and keeping access strategy in mind—large materials in CNC machines will be a challenge you can meet.

Use the Right Cutter

Using a higher-end cutter is very helpful for larger materials, particularly if they are of an especially dense or hard makeup. Better cutters allow for more precision, more control over your feed speeds, and the ability to process larger pieces without as much concern about the cutter burning out or having to overly reduce the speed. A better cutter is not the same as having a larger CNC machine, but for large materials in CNC machines of a smaller size this helps a lot.

Understand Your Machine’s Power Curve

Your spindle has only so much power, and keeping the movement of the piece to be machined within the power curve is important to avoid sticking points. For large materials in CNC machines that are either less powerful or smaller, keeping the power of your spindle in mind is important to effectively machining the piece and avoiding shape or finish-related mistakes.

Keep Access and Entry in Mind

The size of the piece is less important to consider if you mentally run through the operation to determine where the piece will enter and its travel path. Often, a larger piece can be fit through a smaller machine in much the same way as a long stick can be fit into a bag, simply by rearranging the path the piece will travel, including opening windows on the machine or even removing the enclosure altogether. So long as the piece is able to complete a given component of its milling, you can rearrange it along another unusual entry point, just so long as you can find effective access between the material and the cutter.

Remember All Three Dimensions

It is common, particularly among less experienced CNC operators, to forget about the Z axis. Ensuring effective clearance can mean rehoming your machine so the Z axis begins in a different place for mathematical ease. In some cases, significantly adjusting the angles of the piece is effective. Further, going to additional angles for multiple cuts may be an effective way to accommodate the larger height of the piece.