3 Axis Machining Centers

When a customer comes to us with a simple part that needs to be done quickly for a good price what would be the best machine to use? Would we want to set it up on a horizontal machining center? Would we want to put it on a fancy 5 axis machine? Even though these machines are nice to have and give us an edge on our competition, most of the work we do is done on 3 axis mills. Especially if our customers need us to just pop out a few parts or need us to make a prototype to test out and maybe modify in the future. The machine we have chosen to use in the past have been Fadal box way machines. These are great for setting up parts quickly and are rigid enough to be able to hold up to a couple tenths while interpolating with an end mill. The return on investment with these machines have been massive over the years. Even though these machines are great for making simple parts we have also been able to make very intense parts for the aerospace, robotics and medical industries using old machinist tricks. 


The process of making parts for our customers quickly is just a few simple steps before we get the parts out the door. First we add the purchase order in our system and make a job traveler. That job traveler is then given to a machinist and a print along with the solid model if there is one. Unlike other shops we don’t use programmers and machinists. It’s an all in one deal. All our machinist’s program and set up the job. The reason we do this is so nothing is missed in the manufacturing process. After the machinist receives the traveler and everything else they need they start programming. This is where we have tried to fine tune every detail to speed up the process. We chose to use featurecam because of it’s automatic feature recognition technology. This software can program lines, features and pick your tools all within a few seconds even with complicated parts. After that is done the machinist will review the part and make sure the software programmed it correctly. This is usually a 30 minute process to program the part depending on how complex it is.  


Once the machinist has decided the part is programmed correctly they then post the program into the machine. One thing we have tried to do at Quality Machine is keep tools set up in the machine so we don’t have to reload the machine. In our 3 axis mills we have been able to keep tools like endmills in the machine but because there are so many different drill and tap sizes we obviously have to change those out. After we post the program into the machine we then touch off all the tools that we need to touch off. This usually takes around 15 minutes depending on how many tools we have to touch off. After this we will program fixture positioning. Another trick we have done in the past is we’ve kept vises and stops in the same place so we don’t have to repeat this process. If we do have to repeat this process it also takes about 15 minutes. Any chance we have to be able to skip a step we take it. All the little things we do to save time we find saves a lot of time in the long run. Then to be sure we did everything right we do 1 dry run. This takes time but is very important for setting up these 3 axis mills to just be sure nothing is going to break when we run the parts. 


After the dry run we now are ready to run the first part. Once we have done this we then do what’s called a first article inspection. If I were setting up a part I would go up to another machinist or inspection person and ask them to inspect the part for me. The reason we do this with the first part is to ensure that we don’t miss anything because a lot of times as imperfect humans we do miss things. After the first article we are ready to start running the parts. As you can see this process takes only a few hours. The reason 3 axis mills are a lot quicker than more complicated cnc machines is because there’s a lot less moving parts. Take our 9 axis turn/mill for example. There are up to 9 different movements this machine can do and some at the same time. When it comes to g code it becomes miles more complex and even top of the line software can’t figure it out some times. This is where as a programmer we have to go in and make adjustments to the g code. I wouldn’t be able to even guess how long this usually takes. It might be a quick fix or it might take days to fix. Obviously a 9 axis turn/mill would be nice because you could do a complex part all in one operation, but with a 3 axis machine set up times are a lot shorter because they are very simple to set up compared to multi axis machines.  


A pretty common mistake machine shops make is they think they need to get multi axis machines to enter the big leagues of manufacturing. Even though multi axis machines can be very useful, I can tell you that from first hand experience being able to make intense parts on crazy cool machines. Some of the most profitable jobs have been simple 3 axis machine parts, figuring out how to make them quickly and accurately through making creative fixtures. Which in turn makes happy customers because they are getting the price they want while not having to get less quality. If you have some parts in mind that we at Quality Machine could help you with on our 3 axis mills give us a call today and i’ll give you half off on your first job.