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Elevating Precision Manufacturing with CNC Micromachining

March 25, 2024
Micromachining is used to design and create small, delicate parts, especially in the electronics and medical device industries. The author lays out the main benefits and the best-suited micro-precision applications.

Precision manufacturing is becoming increasingly crucial as products get smaller and quality standards rise. While there are many ways to achieve that precision, focusing on the micromachining process is one of the best strategies. 

Machining on this scale requires specialized equipment. A micrometer isn’t visible to the naked eye and conventional CNC tools are too large to support that level of precision. However, newer tooling ends and automation make micromachining possible. 

The equipment necessary for this kind of machining is becoming increasingly accessible as the market grows. While some manufacturers may hesitate to adopt these systems, they can yield several important advantages. 

Benefits of the Micromachining Process 

Understanding how this technology can improve your workflow is the first step to implementing it effectively. Here are some of the most important advantages of the micromachining process: 

Higher Precision 

The most obvious advantage of micromachining processes is that they’re far more precise than conventional CNC milling. Standard machining tolerances hover around 0.005 in., more than 120 µm. A micro-capable mill will have a much lower tolerance, as it needs to cut on the microscale with high repeatability. 

READ MORE: Maximize Laser-Micromachining Performance with Motion Control 

That higher precision is beneficial for a few reasons. It lets you machine much smaller products, for starters. That’s particularly advantageous for electronics producers amid ever-increasing demand for smaller components. Similarly, higher precision enables you to cut more complex designs. 

Fewer Errors 

Micromachining’s precision also means production errors are less likely. CNC milling is already fairly error-resistant, as CNC spindles produce less vibration than other machining methods. Applying that advantage on a smaller scale makes you even less likely to damage the material you cut. 

Because micro-capable CNC machines remove less material at once, it’s harder to over-machine anything. Their size also means less resistance and less power, which further reduces vibrations and heat to preserve your material’s structural integrity. 

Material Versatility 

A less obvious benefit of micromachining processes is that they can work with a greater range of materials. This versatility stems from the fact that it’s a less intense process than conventional CNC machining. 

READ MORE: Top Tips on Designing Parts for CNC Machining 

Macro CNC mills may spin too fast, remove too much material, produce too much torque or get too hot to work with some delicate materials. Micromachining’s smaller form factor mitigates these concerns. Consequently, you can use it to machine even the most brittle metals, plastics and ceramics. 

Energy Efficiency 

Micromachining is also more energy-efficient than conventional alternatives. Smaller tools naturally require less power to move. Taking less material off at a time also reduces friction and resistance, further minimizing your energy consumption. 

This efficiency has two main advantages. First, it reduces your ongoing expenses by minimizing your electricity consumption. Secondly, it makes your manufacturing processes more sustainable, which is becoming increasingly important in today’s market. 

Less Waste 

Similarly, micromachining processes produce less waste. One of the few downsides of CNC machining is that it’s more wasteful than other methods because it removes material instead of shaping or adding it. Using a smaller, more precise scale minimizes that waste. 

Smaller cutting allowances ensure you get the exact proportions you need without removing extra material. The precision will also prevent material loss from mistakes. 

When and How to Apply Micromachining 

It’s hard to ignore the potential of micromachining for precision manufacturing. Still, these small-scale processes aren’t ideal for every situation. Making the most of this technology is just as much about knowing when not to use it as knowing when it’s best. 

Micromachining processes are best suited for complex or small-scale jobs. While they can perform larger tasks with higher precision, that accuracy comes at the price of efficiency at a certain point. Removing more material with a smaller mill will take longer, so opt for conventional machining when working with simple designs or larger components. 

READ MORE: Top 11 Myths of CNC Machining 

Because micromachining uses specialized equipment, it also requires special training. The manufacturing industry could be short 2.1 million jobs by 2030, so filling that talent gap could be difficult. Consequently, shops with smaller workforces may find it more economical to outsource micromachining tasks instead of buying and using this equipment in-house. 

Micromachining can also be expensive. The resulting savings will make up for those costs over time if you use this equipment enough, but not every facility will. Precision-focused manufacturers—like those making electronics or medical devices—will benefit more from performing this work in-house, but more general-purpose companies may find outsourcing more effective.  

Make the Most of the Micromachining Process 

Micromachining offers several key advantages for precision manufacturing. Understanding these benefits and which situations they most apply to will help you make the most informed decision about implementing these processes. 

Some manufacturers profit from micromachining more than others, but these benefits apply to many use cases today. Determine your needs and compare them to these advantages and applications to make the best decision.

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist. She is also the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized. She has more than five years covering stories about warehousing, logistics and distribution. 

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