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3D printing and the future of machine shop prototype development

[July 15th, 2013] As economic analysts continue to report good news on the precision manufacturing front, including the milling and machining sector, our thoughts naturally turn to the future of the CNC machine shop industry. Your go-to Colorado CNC machining company in Longmont, in keeping up with industry trends, recently acquired a top of the line Zeiss Metrology CMM, and APM co-owner Kirk Tuesburg has accepted a teaching position at a local college doing his part to keep qualified CNC machinists in the workforce. We recently blogged about 5-axis CNC machining technology, and this month we'd like to briefly introduce you to the future of prototype production and a new technologies' expanding role in the modern CNC machine shop.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process whereby a three dimensional solid object is created from a digital model using an additive process. In essence, a 3D printer lays down successive layers of a material, usually a liquid, paper, powder or sheet material, until a desired shape and form are obtained. Whereas a traditional CNC milling machine removes material, a 3D printer adds material, hence - additive manufacturing. For the precision CNC machine shop, this new technology is not meant to replace the time-tested methods of milling and machining metal parts. Instead, additive manufacturing technology stands to revolutionize the process of prototype development, and in some cases even provide end-use parts created out of engineered plastics for example.

The potential benefit of adding 3D printing technology is worth looking into for your Colorado machine shop, and is high on our wish list. The process of producing a prototype part for a customer is a necessary step in the precision machining process, but requires manpower, machine hours, setup time, bar stock costs, etc. Additive manufacturing, depending on the job, has the ability to put many samples into the hands of a CNC milling customer, and allows them more flexibility in designing then choosing the end-use component. 3D printing, depending on the desired material, even has the potential to replace with plastics some parts traditionally machined from metal, at a far less cost to the customer. We came across the following article from Additive Manufacturing, a quarterly publication devoted to the 3D printing and direct digital manufacturing technologies. It describes the role of production 3D printing in a small CNC machine shop, and we found it quite intriguing. Intriguing enough to start exploring this emerging technology for our own shop!

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About the Author

Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he partnered with his friend and colleague, Kirk Tuesburg, currently APM’s machine shop manager, together launching what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor, and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.


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