Category Archives: Machine Shop Blog

Bicycle Shifter From CNC Prototype May Revolutionize Low Income Cycling

CNC milling and machining is an essential aspect of manufacturing. The production of hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces, all milled to the same exact specifications, is critical in mass production. It is only possible with the kind of precision that CNC milling makes possible.

CNC prototyping, however, is an equally important yet somewhat overlooked aspect of the services that a CNC machine shop can provide. At Excello, for example, our facility covers more than 25,000 square feet. Yet, our shop can be used to provide a single prototype piece just as easily as it can provide hundreds of identical parts.

Rapid prototyping is the use of a CNC facility to quickly create a single proof of concept piece that can be used to further expand on an idea. Design drawings and engineering schematics certainly have their place but it is only when a piece is actually created that the designers can truly see the results of their efforts.

An organization called One Street Components used CNC rapid prototyping to create a prototype of a bike shifter they had been working on. Recognizing the importance of the bicycle as a mode of transportation, particularly in low-income and developing areas, they set out to create an easily replicated shifter that could be made from scrap aluminum.

Their goal was a strong yet inexpensive friction shifter that could be used on virtually any bike in almost any application. In particularly hilly areas, geared bicycles are essential. However, broken shifters can often be disastrous. The gears make climbs easier but when a shifter breaks the people often lack the resources to replace it. And, many of these areas are remote. If a lack of financial resources wasn’t an issue, the lack of any surrounding infrastructure would be.

One Street Components created a shift lever made of only six parts, one of which is a bottle cap. It was an exquisitely simple design but it needed to be tested. Reaching out to a CNC milling shop, they created a prototype of the shifter to ensure that it could function as designed. In the end, they created a shifter that could revolutionize bicycle maintenance in areas that need it the most.

For more information on how CNC rapid prototyping can take your project to the next level contact us today.


Types of CNC Machines

When people think of CNC milling, many will only think of one type of machine. Maybe they saw some CNC work in an online video or perhaps they’ve had occasion to use one themselves. The truth, however, is that numerous types of CNC machines exist and each serves a particular purpose.

Computer numerical control is simply the means by which something is made. If a machine can be controlled by a computer and given a specific set of sequences to follow, that machine is capable of CNC. High-tech plasma cutters and 3D printers on a factory floor are just as much CNC machines as the embroidery machine in your local alterations shop. Today, we’re going to tell you about some of the main types of CNC machines in use.

The CNC mill might be the first type of machine to come to mind. Capable of cutting all types of materials, the CNC mill’s primary function is to move its cutters and various other tools to specific locations on a piece of material and then cut that material to a desired depth.

The lathe uses a different technique. While the mill uses coordinates on a plane to determine where it will drill or cut, the lathe spins the material at high speeds while a series of drills, cutters, and other tools make small, precise cuts in it. At the same time, water is pumped onto the cutting surfaces to keep them clean and cool.

Those who took shop in high school may remember using the wood lathe. The CNC lathe is the same concept however the work is done by automated tools and the shape of the finished product has been programmed into the computer. Additionally, CNC lathes are used to cut metals and other alloys – something your wood shop lathe could not begin to touch.

Plasma cutters use the power of physics to cut through metals including steel and any number of alloys. Grade school science always taught us that matter generally has three states; solid, liquid, and gas. There is a fourth state of matter, however, and that is plasma. Plasma occurs when a gas is heated or exposed to strong magnetic fields. This causes a release of electrical energy (usually seen as an arc) which heats the gas to the point that it becomes plasma.

The plasma has two effects. First, it is so hot that it simply melts its way through whatever is being cut. But, because the plasma originated as high-pressure gas, the force of the gas is enough to continuously remove the excess material that is being melted away. This leads to the impression that the plasma is cutting through the material when, in fact, is melting the material and the force of the gas is simply pushing it away from the site of the cut.

Electric discharge machining, or EDM, is similar in that it uses electrical arcs in the process of machining a given part, however, it is electricity and not plasma which shapes the piece being made. Electricity is passed through a special fluid between two electrodes located at various points on the piece of material being machined. As the material is exposed to arc after arc, small pieces of it are removed over time and the finished product begins to take shape.

Finally, we arrive at water jet cutting. The process of using a waterjet involves moving water through a nozzle at such high speed and pressure that it is able to cut its way through metal, rock, or anything else that it comes across. Sand or other abrasives can be added to the water depending on the application of the waterjet but the final product is the same – water is being used to cut through a solid material.

As we mentioned, there are many types of CNC machines in use today in a wide variety of industries. These are only a handful of the many options available to someone seeking to use CNC to manufacture tools, parts, or prototypes.

Our experts are ready to talk to you to determine your needs and put our CNC machines to work for you. Contact us to find out how the CNC mills and machines at Excello Tool Engineering and Manufacturing can machine the highest quality parts and prototypes for you no matter the application.


55 Years of CNC – A Look Back

As a new year approaches and we look ahead to 2015, we thought we’d use this post to take a look at where we’ve been; not just as a company but as an industry. Many people believe CNC milling, prototyping, and machining is something relatively new. The fact is that we were working on ways to program computers to make physical goods for us before we learned how to program the computers themselves.

CNC, or computer numerical control, comes from its ancestor NC, or just numerical control. Before machines went digital, we used punched tape to program their routines into them. These first machines were developed in the 1950’s and presented a radical new way to look at manufacturing. Industry was slow to adopt the new technology however. So, in an effort to help speed things along, the Army purchased 120 numerical control machines and seeded them throughout key industries.

NC Becomes CNC

Over time, NC grew in popularity as industry began to see how an increase in automation could dramatically boost manufacturing output. More companies began building their own NC machines and each used their own methods and languages for programming them.

As the computer revolution of the 60’s took hold and NC became CNC, the industry began a period of rapid growth and development. CNC programming languages began to standardize and the computers running those languages became less expensive and, simultaneously, more powerful.

While CNC was mostly a US-based industrial effort, it did not take long before other countries began to see the benefits of the technology; both in speeding along their own manufacturing processes and creating CNC machines themselves.

By the 80’s, the US had lost its lead in the CNC marketplace. The Germans led CNC output by the end of the 70’s but Japan took the lead from them just one year later.

Present day, CNC continues to be a cornerstone of international industrial machining. The machines have gotten faster and you only need to look at your desk or in your pocket to see the advances in the computing technology powering them.

These advances have also made CNC milling and machining technology available to the masses. No longer a tool only found in massive industrial operations, CNC machining now even exists for the home user and the hobbyist. CNC software can be found as open source programming projects. And, 3D printing is simply seen as the next step in this technology’s evolution.

Looking Ahead

Just as we shudder to think about the days that computers used to fill entire rooms, we marvel at the rapid acceleration and miniaturization of CNC milling and machining technology. Excello Tool Engineering and Manufacturing has been operating since 1960; we’ve had a front row seat to the history we’ve just described. The past 55 years have shown us things that we never would have imagined.

Here’s to the next 55.

Benefits of Prototyping

Prototypes serve a range of purposes, all of which are aimed at saving the company time and reducing their overall costs. The creation of a product for any purpose begins long before any actual manufacturing takes place. It always starts with an idea; however, for that idea to be able to take shape it must be explainable to those who will provide the funding and expertise to bring it to life. While verbal explanations and even drawings can be open to interpretation, a physical or computer generated prototype allows a concrete explanation to come to life, giving the idea the proper, tangible form.

Most people think of prototypes as an entirely functioning early version of the final product, made with the same materials and to the same standard. While there may be occasions and points in the manufacturing process when this is necessary, it is not the only way to create a prototype. Here are four very different ways you could consider creating a prototype depending on its purpose and audience.

  • Pen and paper drawings and plans

    In a very real sense, your preliminary drawings and plans are your first prototype. A good plan will include thoughts on materials, how to overcome difficulties, measurements and may even identify manufacturing processes. It is the ideal prototype for getting an idea of the ground, finding that initial funding and working out how to go forward.Advances in computer technology often mean that pen and paper plans are a thing of the past. A computer generated plan can have the added advantage of being developed into a 3D image and allows a high level of collaborative working. A graphics program that can simulate the products movements or intended purpose can also provide an opportunity to see the product ‘work.’

  • Cardboard / plywood models

    Where graphic programs are either not available or are deemed not to be suitable, very basic materials can be used to create a prototype. While it will fall short of a fully functioning prototype, it will provide information about the key ideas behind the product. It will bring plans to life and allow manufacturing teams to ask questions, consider materials and processes and to raise concerns. Again this type of prototype can be used to raise investment or to show progress to investors.

  • 3D printers

    3D printers are still quite new on the market, providing you with not fully functioning prototypes that are not made from the final materials. This method boasts of all the advantages of the cardboard or plywood model; however, 3D printer will deliver a more refined version of the plywood model. If you need to present your idea to investors or other businesses in a more formal setting, this refinement is a definite positive.

  • Fully working and scale models

    All of the above versions of prototypes are highly useful and efficient in the early stages of product development. However, at some point in the process, the product will need to undergo a full test of how it works and whether it is fit for its intended purpose. This can only be achieved with a prototype that is made from the finalized materials, even if it is on a smaller scale. This prototype will serve as the standard for which the finished product must adhere to. If there are problems at this stage, they can still be remedied without too much additional cost. However, if earlier prototypes have been used throughout the process, then difficulties at this stage should be very rare.

From computer and scale models, to full-scale models made from a range of simpler or cheaper materials, creating a prototype is a way for manufacturers to ensure that the product will meet and exceed their customers’ expectations. However, the specific type of prototype will depend mostly on its purposes.

Prototyping to Save Time and Money

How does this save time and money?
The creation of a new product is far from a seamless, linear process. The finished product is rarely, if ever, a carbon copy of the initial idea. There are layers of design, funding, wrong turns and production misfortunes to be experienced before the completed item ever sees the light of day. It is a costly and time-consuming process that is often completed under the pressure of the competition. Create a prototype can feel as it is only adding to these pressures and may seem counterproductive. However, there are three main reasons why adding an additional layer of design and manufacturing, through the creation of a prototype can save time and reduce costs.

  • Reduce costly mistakes
    No matter how well thought out an idea is, and how well the product is made, there is always the chance that things will go wrong. Mistakes happen, they are part of the learning process. However, when and where these mistakes are found can mean the difference between postponing or, in the worst-case scenario, canceling the launch of the product and paying millions in compensation, or needing to recall all your products. The use of a prototype is the best and the least expensive way to find the fault or mistake in the early stages of the production process. In this view, the prototype allows ideas to take form and to be tested. If you expect a product to do one thing and it does, in fact, do something entirely different, you can take apart and redesign the prototype, rather than issuing apologies and recalls.
  • Raising and maintaining investment
    Products are thought up, designed and brought to life by people who are experts in their areas. Unfortunately, these experts and the work they do cost money. The sources of this money are rarely experts in the same field and the concept needs to be explained to them clearly, ensuring the investors understand the purpose product and are confident it will bring them a return on their investment. This can be very difficult to manage unless you have some way of reaching them at their level of understanding. A prototype can do this by demonstrating what it does and why it is worth investing in.
  • Trying something new
    If companies never experimented with new ways of working, or new materials, no progress would ever be made. However, taking these types of risks increases the chances of things going wrong or breaking. A prototype allows these progressions to be tested without negatively affecting the end result. 


Ensuring that the product is fit for purpose is essential to customer retention. A company that cannot retain repeat customers will find that it has higher marketing costs as it constantly has to attract new customer segments. The product is fit for purpose if it completes its assigned task effectively and lasts for an acceptable amount of time. Customers may be happy to replace clothes pegs every six months but will consider a vacuum poor value for money if it has to be replaced that regularly. This can be avoided by testing the product before the mass production. A prototype allows the testing of the product for potential weaknesses without the cost of producing the finished item. With improvements in computer generated models and 3D printers facilitating the process, making a prototype should be a straightforward decision for the companies that aim to save significant amounts of money in the long run.