Friday, October 22, 2010

AMTS, CNC, CAD/CAM...acronyms, acronyms, acronmys

For those of you who do not know, I have been doing my research on CNC (Computer Numeric Controlled) Milling machines in order to write for a Technology Grant available at Miami University. The interesting thing is that we already have two CNC's on campus, a 3-axis in Engineering and a 4-axis one in Architecture. So the challenge has been trying to find a machine that offers different possibilities then the other two on campus.

To explain a bit about the difference between a 3-axis, 4-axis and 5-axis:

A 3-axis has an x, y and z axis. Meaning, that the drill bits moves in a left-right motion as well as a front-back and up-down motion. This allows flat sheets of material to be shaped from the upper side only.

A 4-axis has all the same features as a 3-axis, but has a rotary attachment that allow the object being cut to rotate allowing it to be shaped from the top, bottom, front and back. The only thing this does not allow for is undercuts.

A 5-axis gives the drill bit (or in some cases the table of the machine) the ability to move at different angles allowing for said undercuts.

So back to my research. I had the opportunity to go to the Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Show (AMTS) in Dayton on Thursday. Being one of about 20 women at this show, as well as probably the youngest person actually looking to purchase a machine, I felt a little intimidated at first, but adjusted quickly.

I found it quite easy to talk to manufactures as most of them seemed quite interested in my endeavors. Being in a group of mostly engineers, many were shocked to find out that I was an art student and that this machine would be going to the School of Fine Arts for use. Many had no idea that some artists knew so much about CNC's (as I was told on several occasions) or that we used CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing) in our work.

Although I went there at first telling manufactures that I was looking for a smaller scale, CNC Milling machine with 5-axis capabilities that could cut non-ferrous metals, I quickly learned that the difference between a 5-axis and 4-axis is not all the substantial and that most 5-axis machines are not 'true' 5-axis machines.

The biggest concern in writing this grant is that we find a machine that can cut non-ferrous metals (something the other two CNC's on campus do not do). The question has now become, what is the best bang for our buck. Right now there are two possibilities:

1. A 4-axis machine that fits on a desk top, can cut wood, plastic, wax, non-ferrous metals etc. but cannot do undercuts, for about $22,000-30,000 with the software that we need.

or

2. A 5-axis machine that is 4ft x 2ft x 2ft, can cut ANY material with undercuts, for $85,000-95,000.

Although the 5-axis would be very different from the other machines on campus, it is a little overkill and the likelihood of us actually getting it, considering the cost, is not that great. The 4-axis machine would serve virtually all the purposes we need it for, can cut metal, is an ideal machine for jewelers (and is actually advertised that way) and is about $60,000 cheaper.

I was told I would learn a lot and I certainly did. Now we need to make a decision...