As with any skilled profession, folks in the custom CNC fabrication world use a lot of lingo to discuss their work. Customers often feel intimidated. However, you can use this guide to get a start on learning the ideas that ground the precision CNC fabrication industry.
Blanks and Pieces
These terms are interchangeable. A blank or piece represents the raw material. If a CNC manufacturer needs to machine a block of aluminum into a large screw mechanism, for example, they have to start with an aluminum blank of an appropriate size for the job.
Due to the versatility of the custom CNC fabrication process, a company can use blanks based on many kinds of materials. Service providers often work with metals, composites, plastics, glass, and even foam.
Fundamentally, all CNC methods are subtractive processes. When an operator places a blank in the system, they expect to remove materials and reduce the piece to something smaller and lighter.
This stands in contrast to additive processes like 3-D printing. In those cases, the operator instructs the system to build the piece in segments.
CNC stands for computer numerical control. An operator will load a design into the system, and the computer will instruct the lathes to follow the design. Thanks to the high level of computerization, precision and accuracy are both high in this process.
CAD stands for computer-aided drafting. If you're going to design anything for a CNC application, you can expect to use CAD to draw it.
However, don't worry if your operation doesn't have in-house CAD talent. The typical CNC services provider usually has a few people available to assist customers with the design process. Never assume this upfront, though. Ask about design help before committing to a project.
Accuracy and Precision
You might have noticed the heavy emphasis on the concepts of accuracy and precision in the CNC business. These are not just marketing words.
Accuracy refers to the ability to make a one-for-one transfer of the design to the final product. Especially in industries where tolerances are tight, accuracy matters. Fortunately, this is what makes custom CNC fabrication appealing to many customers.
Precision refers to the repeatability of the process. If a process is highly precise, you can expect components from the last production run out of thousands to interchange perfectly with ones from the start of the run. Especially if you may need to replace parts down the road, precision makes a huge difference.