October 26, 2020

Automation Ensures Machining Reliability

By Amanda Tierney

In today’s market, we know you have many options when it comes to choosing your contract machining manufacturer. Local shops, brokers, and service bureaus are everywhere, giving you lots of options to order machined parts. We also know that ordering the parts is only half the battle, you need to trust that your manufacturer can deliver what was promised at the time of check-out.

Unfortunately, in some cases, parts may arrive late, damaged, or not up to specs, putting pressure on your already tight deadline. That’s why, at Protolabs, we believe reliability is the most important benefit we can offer engineers. In fact, when asking engineers what matters most to them when selecting a manufacturer, nine out of 10 times they say “reliability.” So what makes a manufacturer reliable? Automation.

Infinite Capacity
Tech-enabled automation ensures machining reliability no matter what your need may be, from early development testing to end-use production parts.

Automation Ensures Reliability in Machining

Automation is what truly makes us unique. Yes, I know what you are thinking, CNC machining (a form of computer-automated machining) has been around for decades and provides a level of automation that we have all come to know and depend on in machining, so what makes you guys at Protolabs unique?

 Well, I’ll explain. Even though traditional CNC machining is partly automated, the full operation still relies on having a skilled machinist. Accordingly, when you remove the need for a machinist through technology-enabled automation, you not only remove the chances of human error, but you also can operate machines 24/7, providing a service that works around the clock!

Additionally, when we talk about automation, we aren’t just referring to one stage of the process. We have automated everything from the front to the back end, through the digital thread. Once you upload your 3D CAD model online and request a quote (RFQ) from us, our auto-toolpathing software analyzes your CAD model and generates manufacturing information and instructions specific to your design within hours.

Our massive capacity includes 500-plus CNC mills and lathes, as seen here at one of several machining facilities we operate in the U.S.

This data is then stored and used to automate not only the digital quote with design for manufacturability feedback, but the data also automates the eventual digital machining instructions. Because this information is generated and collected up front, we can quickly cut and ship custom CNC machined plastic and metal parts in as fast as 24 hours. This is useful for development testing; part qualifying; bridge production; final-part production; and many more uses depending on your industry or product.

Infinite Capacity Supports Machining Automation

Now that you know we can run machines 24/7 using our tech-enabled automation, another part of the puzzle that ensures reliability is our concept around infinite capacity. What that means is we are guaranteeing fixed lead times. Our standard lead time for machined parts is three days. No matter the time of year or the quantity of parts you order, you will always receive the same quoted lead time. This digital approach to machining is unlike traditional manufacturers that take longer to quote, and—because of the manual nature of those businesses—fluctuate on lead times and pricing that’s based on shifting capacity levels.

Beyond automation, sheer numbers of machines matter, too. Our lineup of more than 500 CNC machines also ensures parts are shipped fast and on time—yet another way we’re committed to reliability. Our CNC milling processes feature 3-axis and 5-axis indexed milling to rapidly cut solid plastic and metal blocks into final parts. Our CNC turning with live tooling combines both lathe and mill capabilities to machine parts with cylindrical features from metal rod stock.

So, if you are one of the nine out of 10 engineers who find reliability an important factor when choosing your next machining manufacturer, we want you to remember that pairing automation with infinite capacity gives you a reliable service, every time.

For more information, check out our Designing for CNC Automation guide that will help you prepare your CAD model to ensure you breeze through our end-to-end digital manufacturing process.

In addition, you can always feel free to contact our applications engineers at 877-479-3680 or email us at [email protected].

Amanda Tierney is the product marketing manager for CNC machining and sheet metal at Protolabs. She has 10-plus years of experience marketing to manufacturing engineers and designers across multiple industries. She holds a B.A. in business and marketing from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont.