There are plenty of Design for Manufacturing resources out there that will tell you all the things you can’t or shouldn’t do when designing precision machined parts.
But where’s the fun in that? Most DFM rules are so general that they often limit good design ideas. When you work with Wagner Machine, you should consider DFM more of a rough guideline as opposed to a strict set of rules.
At Wagner Machine, we’re in the business of making the impossible possible. Those intricate heatsink features you assume can only be 3D printed? We can machine them. That highly complex part other shops have no-quoted? Send it to us—we’ll figure out the most efficient way to make it.
With our advanced software, skilled machinists, and wide range of in-house manufacturing capabilities, we’re equipped to get you the complex machined parts you need—and in many cases, we can save you money.
Think these features are impossible or expensive to machine? Think again. Here are five complex features we confidently machine at our shop:
When it comes to thin walls, customers know that machine chatter can result in a poor surface finish. They may assume these features need to be avoided. But thin walls are by no means a precision machining dealbreaker.
If you need a thin wall for structural purposes (e.g., lightweighting a part, creating more interior space) and a cosmetic finish isn’t a requirement, we can machine thin walls fast—no problem. If you need a thin wall with a good surface finish, we have strategies for making it happen. For instance, we may 3D profile the wall instead of side-cutting it, which ensures a better and more consistent finish.
There’s a common misconception that undercuts are difficult to machine because standard tooling can’t access undercut features. However, with 5-axis machining capabilities like ours, we can easily access features that are impossible with a 3-axis process, and it adds almost no extra time or cost. You might need to adjust some features to add corner radii, but it can be done.
The selection of tooling available as “standard” has also greatly increased in recent years, making it easier to machine more complex undercuts. Ten years ago, we had to invest in custom ground tools to achieve certain undercut features, extending costs and lead times. Now we can literally machine around corners using off-the-shelf tooling and simultaneous 5-axis machining.
Small features are a non-issue for our precision machine shop. We regularly use tools down to 0.01” in diameter. With our machines’ high RPM spindles, we can maximize tool efficiency to create small features without compromising on tolerances, surface finishes, or lead times. Small features aren’t a big deal if you follow the same general guidelines for length to diameter ratios that you would use for larger features. 3×1 is easy, 6×1 is not bad. Greater than 6×1 starts to slow things down and add cost, but it can be done.
Freeform geometries and generative design processes are associated most frequently with 3D printing. But with 5-axis machining, we can machine many parts with 3D profile features faster, more cost-effectively, and with better surface finish and accuracy than we can print them.
The preferred solution is project-dependent. For instance, at Quantity 1, 3D printing might be less expensive and the finish might be acceptable for testing. At Quantity 3, CNC machining might be more affordable and provide other benefits. That was the case for this aluminum glasses frame used for augmented reality tech:
It’s also important to consider the full manufacturing process. The glasses frame shown above was cheaper to print than machine at a quantity of 1, but it still required extensive finish machining. Fixturing and handling for finish machining would have made it substantially more expensive, so we machined it complete in two ops.
It can be very difficult to align printed parts for finish machining operations and to make sure that the machined features blend with the printed part. The bottom line is that it’s helpful to have precision machining and 3D
printing as options for parts with 3D profiles, but you have to know how to apply them correctly. We’ll work with you to make the right call about which manufacturing method or combination of methods to use.
Most Design for Manufacturing tips advise customers to avoid deep holes because special tooling is required when dealing with large length to diameter ratios. In reality, this kind of tooling is readily available, and we use it regularly. Most of our machines have through-spindle coolant systems to reduce cycle times for deep-hole drilling.
We encourage our customers to push the limits and design the ideal parts for their application. The right shop (cough, Wagner Machine, cough) will be inspired—not deterred—by the challenges you present. One of our favorite customers regularly starts emails with, “I’m not sure if this can be done or not, but. . .” and guess what? They have the best products in their field because they don’t compromise on their designs.
At Wagner Machine, we leverage our advanced capabilities and technologies, decades of expertise and experience, and our ability to combine multiple processes in-house to enable our customers to make the impossible possible. Go ahead—try us.