As advancements in technology continue to evolve and integrate themselves in everyday operations, so too does our knowledge as an industry continue to develop. Designers and clients are becoming more creative in their inventions, and engineers and tradespeople are creating more complex solutions to bring these ideas to life. The challenge is then put to manufacturers to implement these solutions and create the products that raise their entire industry to a new standard.
Often the challenge is in working with new input materials and manipulating them to suit specific applications. As many of you know, input materials chop and change with each passing season. The architectural influence and changing designs require different shapes, fixings and surface finishes with varying structural needs and in most cases a tight budget. The average design project can include dozens of different materials from wood, plastics, metals and composites; each with their own manufacturing challenges.
Aspen Commercial Interiors in Armidale create masterful office spaces and joinery for high-end clients across Australia and New Zealand. A large focus for their operations manager Roy Heaney is research and development. Mr Heaney constantly works with designers on new products to increase their offering to their clients. One of their recent designs uses colourful EVA foam desk partitions with curved edges to bring a softness to the working space. Mass producing this profile proved difficult as a clean edge couldn’t be achieved using their current wood CNC tooling and the curved profile could not be achieved consistently or easily using a knife and panel saw. It seemed, they needed to invest in dedicated machines or outsource the work. However, all they really needed was a $35 tool with a specific geometry that suited the exact material. Without introducing any new machinery, expensive software package or hours of set-up they were able to produce the partitions.
This is just one example of how a small investment in tooling can eliminate a large investment in capital or the cost, lack of control and lead times of outsourcing. It is also just one example of different materials becoming prevalent in the industry.
Most of the input materials used in the cabinet industry can currently be broken into four subcategories: wood, composites, plastics and metals.
Natural and engineered wood products such as solid timber, MDF, chipboard and plywood are without a doubt the most prevalent materials used in joinery.
Plastic is a synthetic material made up of polymers. Compact laminates, acrylic, foams and corian panels are also increasingly used by joiners. Each of these materials can be machined on a standard nester, given the correct tooling.
Aluminium sheet has always been a major component of shopfitting and sign making. Thin sheets can be cut dry using standard tooling. Metal by-products such as vermiculite, ACP and magnetic panel are also common examples.
A composite is the combination of two or more distinct materials to achieve certain properties that cannot be met by standard alloys, ceramics or polymeric materials. It generally has a series of layers in the form of hardened particles, fibres or structures with a soft or flexible core. The composites that we are most excited about in the cabinetmaking industry are structural composites in the form of sandwich panels.
Modern manufacturers are constantly looking for materials that are strong, lightweight, cost-effective and visually appealing to fulfil their increasingly ambitious designs. Composites make this possible by allowing the designer to hand-pick the materials with the best properties and combine them. Particularly used in aerospace and megastructures, composite materials such as honeycomb core sandwich panels, s-flute panels, steel foam sandwich panels not to mention fibreglass, carbon-fibre and magnetic sandwich panel can be used in applications that would exceed the capabilities of standard materials.
CNC machines are the most versatile machines on the planet in terms of the number of materials and applications that can be performed. Client demands have evolved and will continue to do so. If manufacturers don’t familiarise themselves with the new materials hitting the market, they will miss opportunities.
Will you be able to keep up with the future of joinery in 2020?
5 Things to consider before purchasing your next CNC machine
For the people working with CNC machines day-to-day; life before CNC seems like a distant memory. You never forget your first, nor the process of choosing and installing it. It’s an exercise in patience, fast-paced learning and sometimes mistakes.Don’t be too hard on yourself though, “those who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Nonetheless, a question I always like to ask the manufacturers we visit is, “What are the most important things you wish you knew before purchasing your first CNC?”
Here are the top 5 responses:
1. Get the right software for you! The software can be more important than the machine...
Sometimes referred to as ‘digital tooling’ the software creates a link between the hardware you are using and what you are trying to produce. Software includes CAD and CAM programs, code editors, part optimising programs, and feed speed, chatter and spindle load calculators. Digital tooling should be given as much thought and consideration as the physical hardware of the machine.
2. Don’t buy too much machine
You don’t want your machine overloaded and working all the time, but an idle machine is still costing you money. Consider the bottlenecks within your operation before and after the machine is installed. E.g. The biggest and fastest CNC won’t speed up your output if you have the smallest and slowest edge bander. Always consider the bigger picture and what other investments are required to realise the potential of this one.
3. Think about what you currently produce, but more importantly what you would like to produce if you had the equipment
CNC machines are some of the most versatile machines on the planet. They can machine many different materials and create complex parts. What will you use yours for? Often the solution can come from a tooling integration. Many operators would be surprised to find out the true capability of their machine with a few different tools. Consider what is done in-house, outsourced and if there any special processes required.
4. Plan how you will service and maintain the machine
Aim to keep your machine clean and well-greased and understand the limits of the motors and bearings. Ask the machine supplier what needs to be done to minimise the risk of breakdown.
5. Get advice on the initial tooling you need and get them to explain the best machining processes and parameters for the tools
Relating to point 1 and 3, the tooling selection will affect what you produce and how you produce it on your CNC machine. Tooling is material and application-specific. Standardise and consolidate where possible to minimise operational cost and machine time. Tooling is an ongoing investment in the quality of the products you manufacture!