Category Archives: Machine Shop Blog

Rapid Prototyping Gives Dog a New Lease on Life

We’ve mentioned the revolutionary aspects of rapid prototyping here on the blog before. The technology gives us the ability to quickly and inexpensively take an idea from computer generated concept to actual physical project in less time and with less materials used than ever before.

Techniques such as 3D printing literally create a product out of thin air as the drawing comes to life line by line. Exact measurements are taken, coordinates are plotted, and rather than removing material from a raw piece of steel, aluminum, wood, alloy, or plastic, material is actually laid down pass after pass as a print head creates an actual object rather than just a printout on a piece of paper.

This technology has helped to speed along production of countless numbers of objects. However, rapid prototyping tools and technology can also be used to create final products. The highly precise nature of the printing combined with the ability to make minor changes through various production runs makes for a high quality, highly customizable product that can be created seemingly on demand.

Such is the case with Derby, a dog that was born with deformed front legs. Rather than having paws, Derby’s front legs are short and just seem to kind of trail off to nothing. Movement was difficult for Derby, as he would push the front half of his body along with with his rear legs. Running was, of course, impossible.

His adoptive owner first tried getting him a cart to support his front half. This allowed for movement but was far from ideal. Mobility was much less than it could have been and he was unable to play with other dogs.

That’s when the owner, a woman who fortunately had access to high tech 3D modeling and printing facilities, got the idea to create prosthetics for Derby using rapid prototyping.

They would go through multiple iterations of the prosthetics that would eventually allow Derby to lead a normal life. Casts were made of his elbows and the specialized 3D printing equipment was able to use two separate materials simultaneously when creating Derby’s new legs. This allowed for a hard surface to be used for the actual job of being his legs but a softer, more comfortable material was used for the cups used to attach them to the dog.

“Having these images on file and being able to pritn them is a lot easier than having to hand sculpt every single mold and rebuild these braces five or 10 times,” says the certified orthotist involved in creating new legs for Derby.

Once outfitted, Derby was off to the races. He now routinely runs a mile or two a day with his owners and the joy he has in his newly-found free range of motion is evident in almost everything he does.

Can CNC Bring Dentistry Into the 21st Century?

There’s just something chilling about the dentist’s office.

When we step into our physician’s office we’re surrounded by high tech machinery. There are instruments with lights, gauges, and computers attached to them. The doctor might carry a tablet computer to record his or her notes.

The optician’s office is much the same. There are devices that look like they came from science fiction. Pre-programmed robotics take measurements of your eye and relay custom specifications to cut precision corrective lenses just for you.

But, then we get to the dentist. One look around the dentist’s office at the scrapers, chisels, hammers, wrenches, pliers, and other seemingly low-tech solutions and it’s almost as if we’ve stepped back in time; or perhaps into a horror movie.

One dentist is using CNC to change that. The Democrat and Chronicle, a newspaper out of Rochester, New York, tells the story of Dr. Randy Raetz. Dr. Raetz is a dentist in Brighton, New York. Using a combination of a 3D scanner and an in-house CNC machine, he is able to produce custom crowns while his patients wait.

The machines, part of a PlanScan combination of scanner and CNC milling machine, is one of several models now available in the newly created industry of “digital dentistry”. The mill itself is about the size of a large breadmaker.

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, CNC mills are able to work with a variety of raw materials. Steel, alloys, wood, and plastics can all be milled to exact specifications when the machine is used properly. In the case of digital dentistry, the material is porcelain. The 3D scanner take all of the appropriate measurements and sends them to the CNC mill. The mill, in turn, works with a piece of raw porcelain and shapes it to the real-time specifications it just recieved.

A small amount of work, done by hand, is still necessary to add the appropriate final touches. But, in the end, the dentist has created a custom crown for the patient, during the initial visit, that is more accurate that any of the chalky, disgusting form-fitting molds that we have been told to bite down on in the past.

It is hard to find an industry that hasn’t been affected by CNC. CNC milling and turning has been used to create parts from the very large to the very small. Just on this blog we’ve seen industrial applications, of course, but we’ve also seen art, medicine, and using CNC to make the world a better place.

Regardless of your use of this technology, one thing that can’t be overlooked is the impact it has had on our ability to manufacture goods and provide excellent service for customers. Precision milling must be done with precision for serious reasons. At Excello, we are proud to produce the tools and other precision-machined goods that make our customers as successful as they can be.

Getting Started with a Career in CNC

Being someone who actually makes things for a living can be an incredibly rewarding career, and working in CNC brings many things together that so many people find appealing. You’re working with your hands, day in and day out, machining new items out of solid metal, steel, alloys, and wood. You’re applying real-world math and science principles in order to create precision-crafted items that have to pass the most stringent quality control tests. You’re working with high-end modern machinery.

Put all of these things together and if they sound appealing to you then life in a CNC machining and turning shop might be just the career you’re looking for. So, what’s it going to be? CNC Operator or CNC Programmer?

CNC Operator
A CNC operator can get his or her start in a variety of ways. Some of the more common include apprenticeships and on the job training. Others choose to go the classroom route and earn associate degrees in community colleges or certifications from vocational technology schools.

Regardless, the CNC Operator must have a good understanding of math, blueprint reading, and other applications technologies. Obviously, extended training in CNC machine operation, setup, and safety are required as well.

To enhance their knowledge and set the stage for future earnings advancement and promotion, CNC Operators may choose to learn various CAD, computer aided manufacturing, and other computer programming technologies. This enhanced computer training will set the stage for programming CNC lathe, milling, and turning machines further down the road.

Training to be a CNC Operator can take time. Associate degree programs can take 2 or more years to complete and a CNC apprenticeship can be upwards of 4 years. In most apprenticeship programs, however, the apprentice operator is an employee of the company that is training them.

CNC Programmer
CNC Programmers are responsible for giving the CNC machine its instructions. They use blueprints as well as computer based drafting and design programs to tell the CNC machine exactly what to cut, where to cut, and at what angle.

The CNC Programmer can be trained through on the job training as well as an apprenticeship program. However, a 2 year degree can be helpful in various industries.

Those that excel as CNC Programmers are highly detail oriented and are generally considered to be mechanically inclined. Skills in math, reading drawings, and a basic understanding of computer technologies will always set a CNC Programmer up for success.

Which Path Will You Take?
While it is possible for someone to go straight into CNC programming, it is not uncommon for a programmer to have gotten their start as a CNC operator. The skills they learn as an operator give them a very good understanding of the machine when it comes time to program a set of instructions for a new piece.

Regardless of the path, however, the pride of seeing a shop full of high quality, high precision CNC machined pieces ready for delivery to the customer is always a part of the end of every day.

3 Incredible Examples of CNC-Created Art

CNC shops are very functional environments. Customers have very precise needs and those of us with the right CNC milling and turning equipment fulfill those needs. On any given day you see your fair share of parts for tools, pieces of industrial machinery, rows and rows of smaller pieces of machined goods, and everything in between.

Most of the time these are to fulfill orders for items that will be used in very specific roles. The creativity that went into their design happened in order to solve a problem. Something needed to be done, something needed to be made to do it, and then something was designed and created in order to complete the task.

As today’s post will explore, however, these machines can also be used to create beautiful works of art. Limited only by the vision of the artist, digital plans can be given to CNC machines which result in the creation of stunning physical forms. In many cases, these forms require dimensions so precise that only CNC is capable of making them happen.

Helmet Sculpture

How do you turn 120 kilograms (264 pounds) of aluminum into an amazing sculpture of a motorcross helmet? The only way to make that happen is with CNC.

Granted, this may not be exactly what some might consider to be art, but, we would disagree. The level of detail on this piece is absolutely amazing. And, when you’re in your garage, den, or cave in your house dedicated to your love of your bike, this piece might just bring a tear to your eye. For us, it’s the video of it being made. Take a second and check it out.

Kinetic Sculpture

The next piece uses a foot pedal to rotate a wheel around an axis which gives the impression of matchstick-formed humans walking around the perimeter. It has to seen to be appreciated and you can check it out at the Charlotte Observer.

The artist, Ryan Buyssens, describes himself as a “weird hybrid investor-artist-science guy” who pushes boundaries when he creates a new piece of art. This sculpture certainly answers that call.

Finding the Beauty in Plywood

The artist for our final example uses the precision of CNC cutting heads to carve intricate designs, patterns, textures, and shapes into ordinary plywood. The result is fantastic and can be seen on Visual News.

His name is Michael Anderson and, in his own words he uses CNC “to express art through form, texture, and spatial experience.” Most work is based on algorithms and the final product is then sanded and smoothed to clear any remaining rough edges.

The human need to express one’s self through art is an amazing example of using technologies to create something new and beautiful. Through the ages we have drawn on rocks, carved into trees, painted on paper and animal hide, and formed gorgeous works from iron and steel. Now we use technology to create pieces that test the boundaries of our own abilities and require the precision of computerized control to form the physical manifestations of what we imagine in our heads. These works are just a couple of the examples out there of people using CNC to add beauty to the world around them.


What Services Can I Find in a CNC Shop?

It’s easy to look at the theory of CNC and to talk about the advances that the technology has made possible. But, in the end, the question always boils down to one key fundamental: What can a CNC shop do for me?

Just like the machines that make the work possible, the services available from a CNC shop are vast. Obviously, here at Excello, we take great pride not only in our technicians and our machines, but also in our facility. 25,000 square feet of floor space allows for an incredible level of output. So, what exactly can you get out of it?

CNC machining is at the heart of any CNC shop and ours is no different. 11 CNC milling machines stand ready to carve out parts, tools, and other pieces ranging from the fairly simple to the most complex imaginable. At the same time, our 10 CNC turning lathes, all with a wide variety of tools on them, are also available.

CNC drilling is also a part of a CNC shop. Once pieces are formed and shaped, some must then be drilled in order to attach or receive another part of the final product. To that end, our 8 drill presses, ranging in size from 8 to 30 inches, are available for just about any project.

Services don’t stop with CNC turning and milling, however. Any shop is going to need to be prepared for other miscellaneous needs that come up. For example, here at Excello we have 4 engine lathes as well as a variety of grinders. Add to that our manual milling machines, saws, blasting machines, and our 10 ton press and you have a shop that is well suited for just about any manufacturing need you might have.

All the manufacturing capacity in the world isn’t going to help you, however, unless you hold yourself and your work to the highest standards. And, for that, you can’t beat a good quality control department. Ours happens to be second to none. Our coordinate measuring machinery as well as our team of inspectors ensure that nothing leaves our facility that does not meet specifications.

You see, when it comes down to it, a CNC shop really should offer just 2 things: parts that have been machined to absolute perfection and customers that are nothing less than 100% satisfied with the outcome. Without these two things, it doesn’t matter if your shop is 5000 square feet or 55,000 square feet – you’ll never reach the level of pride or confidence that we here at Excello have in the product we produce.

Rapid Prototyping Aids Development of Life-Saving Device

Rapid prototyping and CNC go hand-in-hand. The level of precision that CNC provides combined with the ability to rapidly fabricate units before production are changing industries across the board. Earlier, we brought you the story of the low cost bicycle shifter that is changing the relationship that low-income and under-developed areas have with transportation. Today we look at the opposite end of the spectrum.

A heart attack and the subsequent damage of such an event used to mean bypass, possible damage to other organs, months in the hospital, and years of recovery. Treatment was largely reactive – given only after a major cardiac event. But what if the heart could be given an opportunity to rest and heal itself before such an event became inevitable?

That’s the story over at OnlineTMD in their profile of Aortix – a small device, implanted via catheter, made specifically to provide an alternative to the months and years of pain and recovery that heart failure or heart attack can bring. It is incredibly small and takes about ten minutes to implant during an outpatient surgical procedure. Months of time spent laying in a hospital bed after undergoing a serious and lengthy surgery have been reduced to a procedure that takes less time than a trip to the grocery store.

Aortix is also special because of how it was developed. Procyrion, the creators of Aortix, is an extremely agile group. Idea development happens in rapid-fire sessions where one person’s thought might change an entire product’s design. Rapid prototyping allows them to go from the birth of the initial thought to being hands-on with a physical prototype within a week.

Rapid prototyping also allows the team to quickly create multiple test parts for a given project in a cost-effective manner. While cost or time to production may have previously impacted design ideas or changes to a design to make it more effective, the low cost and low turnaround time of rapid prototyping reduces these concerns almost to the point of irrelevance. The group can now focus on getting the best product possible out of their design choices rather than being forced to settle based on budget constraints.

Computers have made access to the world’s information nearly instantaneous. Research that took months can now be completed in hours. And now, through developments in rapid prototyping, these changes are occurring in the physical world as well. Ideas can go from nothing more than a twinkle in someone’s eye to full physical manifestation faster than ever before.

The amount of advancement and change in rapid prototyping is already changing people’s lives. The coming years will be no less exciting.

Using CNC to Craft a $230,000 Watch

Take a walk through a CNC machine shop and you’re likely to see rows and rows of parts that have been machined during the day’s runs. In many cases, these parts and pieces can be quite large. Chess pieces turned from the lathe, tools milled from raw steel, aluminum, and alloy, gears for cars – these are all things that you might encounter. At the same time, however, CNC can be used to create things that are very small.

How small? In the case of the Perpetual Calendar Terraluna created by watchmaker Richard Lange, small enough to bring 787 individual pieces together into a single watch that costs over a quarter of a million dollars. A post by Bloomberg takes a look inside the processes that make the creation of the watch possible.

Most have probably never heard the name of the watchmaker or the watch. Connoisseurs, however, share stories of the handcrafted timepieces as if they were legend being passed down from generation to generation.

It is easy to see why, once you become aware of what goes into creating one of these machines. 787 pieces, most of which are precision-crafted using CNC techniques, are brought together over the course of several months and thousands of working hours.

Each individually machined part is hand-inspected and verified to be to the exact specifications necessary to function in the watch. The parts are cleaned and smoothed in order to remove even the smallest imperfections, again, all by hand.

After the machined parts have passed inspection, cleaning, and finishing, each watch is assembled, disassembled, and then assembled again. Why? To ensure that no damage was done to any component during the initial assembly. This damage includes physical damage to the watch parts themselves but also can include even the smallest scratch. Each individual part (all 787 of them) is also re-cleaned during this process.

The end result is a watch that the wearer knows is both physically and mechanically flawless, inside and out. Dozens of the world’s best watchmakers had a hand in creating it as they worked to bring over 700 pieces, most which were precision crafted on CNC machines, together into a watch that can cost more than a house.


4 Keys to a Safe CNC Shop

There are really no two ways about it – working in a CNC machine shop can be dangerous. It is an enclosed area full of machines designed to cut, burn, and otherwise impose their will on materials far tougher than a human body. Lathes spin while cutters slice material away piece by piece. Water jets shoot water, mixed with abrasives, through metal and alloys like scissors cutting through paper.

The dangers are the same regardless of whether you’re in a 25,000 square foot machining facility like ours or working on your hobby project in your garage. The principles that will keep you safe, however, are also largely the same.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

The shop is no place for distractions and it is imperative that you’re aware of what’s going on around you at all times. This is not the place to be checking your phone or listening to headphones. Be aware of the sounds around you and keep an ear open for sounds that don’t belong. It could very well be that a machine will make an out of the ordinary sound before something goes wrong with it. You don’t want to miss that clue because you were too busy checking Facebook or finding a song to listen to.

At the same time, be aware of your presence in the shop. Know your proximity to machines, other people, and anything else that could pose a problem if bumped, run into, or disturbed.

Know Your Machine

Know the specific safety risks posed by the machine or machines you plan on using that day. While a CNC milling machine is designed to be as safe as possible, the fact that most activity takes place within its enclosed spaces does not make it “safe.” It is still full of sharp implements and metal shavings, not to mention liquids and fluids that can spray all over you and your shop in the event something goes wrong.

Likewise, the spinning action of a CNC turning lathe can grab hair, loose clothing, aprons, or anything else that gets too close to it. Shards of metal and other materials can go flying, posing a significant risk to eyes and other exposed flesh.

Be aware not only of the safe operation of a particular machine but also of the specific safety risks posed by that machine.

Inspect the Shop

Take a look around before you start working. Is everything you need within reach? Are there extra parts laying around or sharp instruments that should be put away? Do you have sufficient safety gear accessible to you to protect eyes, ears, body, and hands? Are there items on the floor that could trip you or cause you to otherwise fall? Is the ground dry? Were there any spills that need to be tended to?

The moments invested in a quick check of your shop can save a lifetime of pain, discomfort, or disability. Don’t miss this crucial step simply because you’ve assumed that things are the way you left them the last time you worked here.

Be Careful on a First Run

Motorcycle owners will tell you that it takes a while to get comfortable with a powerful bike before really seeing what the machine is capable of. While the temptation to open up the throttle on a new bike can be strong, most will tell you it’s a gradual process. You ease into the capabilities of the bike as you learn them.

The same is true of running a CNC program for the first time. Regardless of your confidence with the parameters or the program being used, caution should be used the first time a particular run is set up. Make sure tool movements happen as you expect them to. And, under no circumstances should you leave the machine alone. Be ready to shut a machine down at a moment’s notice. You might even consider leaving your hand on the emergency stop button.

With a little common sense, a lot of attention, and a healthy dose of respect for the machines around you, you can ensure that your time in your machine shop is fun, productive, and, above all else, safe.

The Benefits of Rapid Prototyping

You’ve been working on this idea for weeks – months even. You have drawing after drawing of what it should look like and even have some basic ideas laid out in some CAD files. What’s next? How do you turn these drawings and files into an actual physical product?

The answer is rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping is essentially the “rough draft” of the manufacturing world. Using CAD data and all of your design information, a rough prototype is quickly fabricated in order to create the first physical version of your product.

The process dates back to the 80’s. It was around this time that decision makers started noticing trouble in the American tool manufacturing market. A pivot was going to be needed to keep pace with the advances being made in Europe and Asia. In response, a number of government agencies including NASA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and others conducted studies to determine a course of action.

After a number of years, a set of processes known as solid freeform fabrication were developed. These processes would later be known as rapid prototyping.

The benefits of prototyping a single piece prior to manufacture are immeasurable. A lot of preparation goes into a manufacturing run. Materials must be procured, equipment must be set up, and work must be done to the most exacting standards. However, in a rapid prototyping situation, the work is done simply to provide a working model. In many cases, this is done through 3D printing or some other method of additive layer manufacturing. The piece is built line by line rather than being cut out of a piece of raw material.

As the technology advances, more and more is being done with rapid prototyping. This includes small manufacturing runs. Once the prototypes have been developed, tested, and approved, the same machines can be used to create small batches of the product. Because the manufacturing process is additive rather than subtractive, there is less waste and less use of raw materials. Under normal circumstances it is not cost effective to manufacture a small batch of parts. However, using rapid prototyping, small batches of product can be produced in an economical way that also provides the highest levels of quality and precision.

This is a fast moving and rapidly growing technology and is opening doors to manufacturing that were once closed to all but the largest shops. The use of computer aided graphics and design combined with the use of low cost, computer aided manufacturing means that a prototype of some products can be created in just hours.

Contact us here at Excello to discuss how our rapid prototyping technology and team can take your product off of the paper and drawings and put it into your hands.


What Does Machining Actually Mean?

When working with a CNC milling and machining shop for the pieces you need, you might encounter a lot of terms that you haven’t heard before. Or, you might say one thing but, to the machinist, that word might mean something completely different.

We all know that what happens here at Excello Tool Engineering and Manufacturing is done through machining. And, while that term has come to mean different things throughout the ages, at its base we know that it’s how you get a finished product from a piece of raw steel, aluminium, wood, alloy, or any of the other materials going into a CNC machine.

Turning is a process of machining that rotates, or turns, the raw material on an axis while lathes of various shapes and sizes are pressed against it. Material is removed as the piece rotates, and the action of the lathes shapes and forms the raw material into the finished product as it turns.

Milling is the opposite of turning. When a piece of raw material is milled it is generally held stationary while cutting tools of various shapes and sizes are used to make cuts and begin to shape the final product. Milling generally happens in a fully-enclosed container to prevent pieces from flying away and causing injury.

Drilling can happen on lathes or mills but generally takes place on a drill press. Just as in milling, the raw material is held stationary while bits or other rotating blades are gradually applied to the material. In the case of drilling, however, these bits and blades are used to make a precise series of holes.

We covered various types of CNC machines in a previous post and some of those are paving the way for more advanced machining methods. Remember, machining is the act of making the actual piece. And, with advanced techniques like plasma cutters, water jet cutting, and electric discharge machining available, it is possible to shape parts and components in ways never thought possible. Water jet cutting uses water to cut through steel while plasma and electric discharge machining use the brute force of pure physics to burn, cut, and shock their way through their materials.

The prototyping process is helpful in determining the best machining method or methods necessary to craft a particular piece. Once initial plans are made, various machining techniques can be used in the creation of the first prototypes to determine the most efficient way to create the pieces that will make up the order.

Excello has been machining quality pieces and parts to exact specifications since 1960. We know how to determine the best machining technology for your job because we have watched the industry develop and grow through all of them. Take a look at the machines we have at our disposal or contact us today to put those machines to work for you.