The introduction of vehicles in the nineteenth century altered the face of transportation forever. A large part of the population caught up with this new wave of personal transport that gradually spread across the nooks and crannies of the country, and even beyond. It would suffice to state that this innovation created a rise in the workforce, as the demand for workers with relevant skills and experience grew exponentially. At this time, the idea of using CNC machined parts in automobile manufacturing was a pipe dream. In the early 20th century, the United States occupied the forefront of the automotive industry.
Fast forward to today, the automotive industry is one of the leading, multi-trillion-dollar industries in the world, with China taking the lead. 2016 witnessed a significant leap in this industry as more than 70 million cars were produced for the first time – thanks to the ever-growing automotive manufacturing process. During the early phase of mass production, engineers assembled cars manually – by hand. However, with the expansion of technology, there has been an automation of this process. Robots have replaced manual labor, thereby increasing functionality, performance, efficiency, and production rate.
In today’s world, CNC machining has rebranded the face of the automotive industry, as it is now easy to design and fabricate vehicle parts with the aid of computer systems and automation. This technology has led to a rise in CNC prototyping technology in this industry. Using computer programs and motorized design tools, car manufacturers can increase production rates faster, with precision. But how does it work?
CNC machines convert a model (digital format) into sets of instructions which it feeds to high-precision cutting and crafting tools like a mill, lathe, or drill. The process involves cutting out parts not included in the design to give the solid material a definite shape based on its blueprint.
Car Parts CNC Machining Manufactures
Thanks to the vast application of CNC prototyping, automobile plants can design and manufacture car components within a short period. Here are some of the machined parts this technology can create.
CNC technology is applied to the production of vehicle lighting by machining poly (methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), also known as acrylic glass; this clearly shows that the automotive industry does not use this technology to machine aluminum alone, as it also uses it to manufacture interior and exterior lighting, including headlights.
Interestingly, the process takes less time to complete, even though such materials have to undergo grinding and polishing. Hence, automakers can create light fixture prototypes of new vehicles. Additionally, PMMA is an ideal alternative to glass, as it is shatter-resistant, which makes it applicable to the production of windows and many more.
Most components that make up the combustion engine of a vehicle are produced via CNC machining. For example, after designing the cylinder block of a new vehicle using computer-aided design software, the engineer sends sets of instructions to the motorized design tool through the CNC machine, which cuts out the engine block from a solid block of aluminum.
However, as easy as this process may seem, much manual work centers on programming the CNC machine to carry out the set instructions, and this process requires a highly trained engineer. It is worth mentioning that such a procedure can be challenging and time-consuming. On the brighter side, once the programs are set, the machine handles the rest without human intervention. As a result, engineers can design prototypes of car parts without increasing labor.
This technology doesn’t just create engine blocks, but it also designs and cuts out engine components like cylinder heads and other CNC machined parts.
3. Cylinder Heads
CNC machining is not new to the automotive industry anymore. Car manufacturers can create cylinder heads and engine blocks, which are components that serve the ultimate purpose of an internal combustion engine. Depending on the company’s production needs, some of these components are hard to come by. Hence, CNC prototyping is essential in designing custom-based engine models.
Typically, such components are designed from a single block of aluminum. But it doesn’t stop there; auto shops can also manufacture powertrain components, some of which include the valves, brake systems, alternator, and fuel pump systems.
A car’s transmission system comprises a gearbox, which, when taken apart, features many gear and shaft components. Due to the high level of efficiency and precision CNC machining provides, automakers can produce this item (gearbox) quickly.
5. Interior Panels
Auto milling machines can manufacture interior components, including the vehicle dashboard, using CNC technology. One of the notable features of this technology is its conformity to various substrates, including plastic. Hence, the motorized tools are can cut out the specific areas of the panel, some of which include the indicator light, fuel gauge, and speedometer.
6. Drive Axles
A car’s drive axle system plays a crucial role in the free movement of the tires. This mechanism features two separate half axles.
Some parts are hard to come by than others, especially when these components are of vintage vehicles. CNC machining can replicate these rare components with ease. There are other parts that this technology caters to, including fluid system components, exhaust parts, suspension components, and carburetor housings.
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What Makes CNC machined Vehicle Parts Special?
With a revolution in the automotive industry and CNC prototyping industry at large, car manufacturers have machined products that offer optimum performance and durability.
CNC machining has more advantages over other conventional machining techniques, one of which includes speed. With this technology, less human intervention is required as there are automated tools that handle the manufacturing process. In producing large volumes of custom parts, CNC machining takes less time than human labor. As a result, automobile companies can produce prototypes faster.
However, conventional machining may stand out only there is a single item to be produced. It would be more convenient to manufacture a single unit than spend much time in programming the system.
2. High Precision
With CNC prototyping technology, car manufacturers can produce high-fidelity components due to the optimal capacity a system provides. The automotive industry demands tolerances of ±0.001″, due to the type of product it offers to consumers. An error in any of the components can spell doom for the consumer.
Due to the advancement in the CNC prototyping industry, CNC machines can repeat a process with high accuracy times without number. This feature enables a manufacturer to produce components of an exact size, weight, and performance in several units. The automobile industry also demands such capability as cars of the same model must appear, feel, and perform alike, without discrepancy between them.
CNC technology comes into play when manufacturing large volumes of items. Such high demand requires intense human labor with other techniques; however, with CNC machines, auto companies can meet up with the ever-growing production and market demands, and also save resources.
The Future of CNC Machines in The Automotive Industry
As CNC technology continues to evolve, the manufacturing process of several companies transitions to catch up with various trends and innovations. And even though there are fundamental principles that are still in use in the automotive industry, manufacturers are now catching up with new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotic automation. Some of these trends are already happening, while others are futuristic.
1. Advanced Materials
As the global consumption rate increases, specific policies and regulations are set in place to improve the standard of living and reduce carbon footprints to the barest minimum. Hence, vehicles have to meet various requirements, including emission, lightweight, and fuel efficiency. Auto companies are creating lightweight, advanced materials that will improve vehicle overall safety and performance.
Materials, such as aluminum and carbon-nano composites, serve as replacements to cater to body components, drivetrain, and underbody parts. With this technology in place, cars become safer, lighter, efficient, and more durable.
2. CNC Technology for Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars have been around for some years. However, the automotive industry is still in its early phase. The goal of every innovative car manufacturing company is to produce self-driving cars that are totally independent of human input. CNC technology provides the platform to actualize this dream. With a combined power of CNC machines and artificial intelligence, the future of fully-automated vehicles become closer than expected.
3. Artificial Intelligence
At an early stage, CNC machines still need human input to troubleshoot and run diagnostics consistently. However, as the application of Artificial Intelligence extends its tentacles into the automotive industry, these machines can self-diagnose and fix faults, which in turn saves excess downtime. Another area worth considering is the use of AI to produce vehicles of higher quality. The AI technology will increase performance, accuracy, and consistency in CNC machining.
CNC machining remains an ideal option for prototyping in the automotive industry – and it is here to stay. Apart from the applications listed above, there are other viable options for car manufacturers to explore. As CNC machining technology expands, car manufacturing processes will experience quantum leaps.