Complex, repetitive, and precision machining can benefit from computer control at every stage of the manufacturing process from design and simulation to quality control. Computerized machining combines human expertise along with the efficiencies and repeatability of computer controlled devices. From large-scale automobile factories to precision custom part production, computers can turn requirements into results. With the introduction of new 3D printers, computers now produce prototypes quickly.
Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing systems provide ways to design a machined part or product and prepare instructions for manufacturing it. These systems have evolved over decades and can not only assist an engineer with complex designs, but verify that the design can be manufactured and assist with any special procedures such as those involved in routing lines, checking electrical characteristics and ensuring parts placement makes sense on a multilayered circuit board design.
Once the design is complete, computers create patterns, machining instructions and data files that allow machinists to produce the product using manual, computer-assisted or highly automated machine tools or a combination. What once took days or weeks of skilled and detailed work is now be produced by computer software as a stage in the design and manufacturing process. If a test piece or prototype needs modifications, repeating the process to incorporate changes saves even more time.
Most machine tools can now be automated to produce complex parts using motors and sensors to guide the lathe, drill, saw or other specialized device. Factors such as cutting around a curve, reducing the amount of scrap material left over and making sure that cutting tool size or width is accounted for in the final dimensions are all part of the computerized process, avoiding many potential human errors.
Production functions such as managing data files, machine tools and related components, such as cutting blades, can be handled by specialized manufacturing computer systems. Production records maintained by the system can be used to conduct quality analyses, introduce efficiencies in the process and keep histories of how each part was manufactured along with identifying workers involved and machine condition. Manufacturing management can use these records to modify processes for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
New devices called "3D printers" make on-the-spot parts from plastic and other materials using similar design and production processes. Soldiers in the field use these systems to produce spare parts on location using data files shipped over a computer network. Machine tool technology is expanding into areas never before realized, such as biology laboratories where living tissue can be manufactured.
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