Since its beginnings in the 1860s, the automotive industry continues to build itself on innovation and technologies. Many of the biggest innovations in the automotive sector are tied directly to manufacturing advances. CNC machining for automotive applications drives many of the manufacturing advances in the industry.
In 1913, for instance, Henry Ford revolutionized automaking with the first moving assembly line. With this, he brought mass-produced vehicles to people around the world. Since then, precision auto parts have remained two key goals of the automotive industry.
In recent years, there have been advances in design, robotics, and manufacturing processes. All these led to significant increases in the automation of automotive machining. These same technologies have also led to improvements in vehicle design and performance. There are several applications of CNC machining. However, this technology plays several important roles in the transformation of auto-making.
Advantages of CNC Machining for Automotive Applications
CNC Machining for the automotive industry has become popular in recent years. Manufacturers across the globe seek to benefit from the process’s many perks. Such perks include speed, automation, repeatability, and more. Here are some of the advantages of automotive CNC machining:
From medium to high production volumes, CNC Machining offers rapid production times compared to traditional machining. This is because of its automated nature, which eliminates the need for lengthy and labor-intensive manual machining. Some steps help speed up and optimize the machine’s run time in the production planning process.
Automation is in itself an advantage of CNC Machining. Not only does it allow faster production times compared to manual processes, but it also makes the automotive manufacturing process more streamlined. If you sent a part for manufacturing on a CNC Machine, robotic arms could assist in the removal of the part once finished. Therefore, workers can dedicate more time to design and innovation tasks.
As a computer-controlled process, automotive CNC Machining also brings with it a guarantee of repeatability. This is a crucial element in any industrial-grade production setting. In the automotive industry, it is crucial to ensure that parts are consistent from batch to batch. This way, all CNC cars rolled out will be up to the same standard.
In line with repeatability, CNC Machining is capable of achieving tight tolerances for parts that demand it. For automotive applications especially, this reliable process can meet the required tolerances for the engine and other functional components. Thus, you can be sure of getting precision auto parts at the end of the manufacturing process. The process is also capable of producing complex parts for vehicles.
Though it may not suit well to customization as additive manufacturing, CNC Machining helps the automotive sector produce customized parts. This advantage comes with short lead times, either as one-offs or in small production volumes.
Prototyping Applications of CNC Machining for Automotive Industry
CNC Machining helps in the automotive industry for both prototyping and production applications. In the latter category, the process offers the benefit of producing high-quality, functional prototypes. The prototypes are then tested and validated before going into production.
Because of the wide variety of materials compatible with CNC Machining, the process is suitable for many vehicle parts. It is perfect for metal or plastic parts for under the hood applications. You can also employ automotive CNC machining to showcase design features for car interiors.
For instance, rapid prototyping of lighting components is easy using CNC Machining and clear acrylic materials. In the development of new car models, CNC Machining can also rapidly produce high-quality functional prototypes for testing performance.
Production Applications of CNC Machining for Automotive Industry
Asides from its many prototype applications, automotive machining also assists in the production of many parts for CNC cars. They include:
Interior vehicle components such as the dashboard panel can be manufactured using CNC Machining.
This process has the necessary precision for milling a dashboard frame from a block of raw plastic materials. This helps ensure that the cutouts for the speedometer, gas gauge and indicator lights perfectly align when installed.
Car manufacturers continue to find uses for CNC Machined metal. Complex parts such as starter motors, for instance, can be produced using CNC Machining. The precision and complexity of the process allow for the optimization of these parts. Manufacturers can also easily improve them in terms of performance, durability, and reliability.
In the automotive and motorsport industries, CNC Machining for automotive industry also offers several advantages. These benefits come in producing engine blocks and cylinder heads, which cover the cylinder in an internal combustion engine.
The technology is particularly useful for limited runs or customized engine models. These components come from a solid block of aluminum, which is an easy metal to machine. Other powertrain components, such as alternator housings, brake system valves, and fuel pump systems, can also be produced using CNC Machining.
In a car, the drive axle is made up of two half axles, which are each connected to a wheel by a constant velocity joint. The critical part enables the wheel to assemble to move freely vertically and to pivot when the car is turning. CNC machining helps to produce precision auto parts in the drive axle mechanism, such as the hypoid gears and bevel gears.
The gearbox is the second stage in a vehicle’s transmission system and consists of various shaft and gear components. These parts can be produced with CNC Machining, which offers high precision and good efficiency. Finishing parts of the gearbox that are cast are possible using CNC milling and drilling tools.
OEMs can also employ CNC Machining for the production of customized components or rare replacement parts.
In the restoration of vintage cars, computer-controlled processes such as CNC Machining help. They work in combination with reverse engineering practices to create one-off parts which might otherwise be obsolete.
CNC vs. 3D Printing for Automotive Applications
There are multiple kinds of digital manufacturing technology used in the automotive industry, and it not always clear which is the best option for a project. The rise of production-quality additive manufacturing provides an alternative to CNC machining with its own set of unique benefits.
Products of CNC machines are different from products of 3D printers. That’s because CNC is a subtractive process. That is, it cuts material away from a solid workpiece. On the other hand, 3D printing is an additive process. That is, it introduces new material layer by layer.
However, it is now possible to make some parts with either of the processes. Interior panels fit into this category. While CNC machined panels are sturdy and can come from a wide range of materials, 3D printed panels provide a new alternative. This is especially so for rapid prototyping.
Other 3D printed precision auto parts include brake components. Ford has used Carbon 3D printing tech to make a parking brake bracket from epoxy resin. Volkswagen also demonstrated its use in making custom gear shifts.
So, which manufacturing method should you choose? Of course, automotive machining is a common application of CNC machine technology. CNC machining for automotive industry results in durable, reliable car parts. On the other hand, 3D printing provides a high-speed alternative that helps to create ultra-lightweight and highly customized parts.
RapidDirect CNC Machining Services
At RapidDirect, we offer several CNC Machining capabilities, including three, four, and five-axis machining. We also offer a broad range of materials, such as aluminum alloys, steel, titanium, plastics, and more. Leveraging our CNC Machining expertise and vast manufacturing network, we can deliver automotive components in as little as three days for our customers.
Our manufacturing network and in-house equipment allow us to fulfill all manner of part orders, from single-run prototypes to large volume manufacturing. Since the automotive industry is a high-risk industry, we recognize the importance of precision and quality control when making car parts.
For the most critical parts in your inventory, we can accommodate extra-fine tolerances, down to +/-0.01 mm. This gives you the ability to build complex interlocking systems with a tight fit.
We also guarantee quality via several quality control techniques. Technical assessments are carried out prior to manufacturing to identify potential design flaws, and material verification is available on request. This helps to confirm material heat number, grade, dimensions, and other specifications.
We fit our CNC machines with on-machine inspection probes, and we observe in-process quality control and first-article inspection (on request). A full dimensional inspection report is also available on request. All of these come at competitive prices
One application of CNC machine technology is prototyping. In the automotive industry, CNC machined prototypes can include anything from headlight covers to engines. But CNC also helps to make end-use car parts. They include cylinder heads, starter motors, gearboxes, and one-off custom components for rare and vintage cars.
Simple or one-sided car parts can be made from many kinds of CNC machines. However, complex items like cylinder heads and blocks generally require expensive 5-axis machining centers. This provides a much larger range of cutting tool angles. It also enables the creation of highly complex geometries with tight tolerances.
Different parts require different materials: sometimes metal, sometimes plastic. The manufacture of cylinder blocks and heads is perhaps the most important application of CNC machining for automotive industry. It works well with aluminum since highly conductive aluminum heads expel large amounts of heat from the combustion chamber.