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Mitigating Risks for CNC Machine Accuracy

Precision CNC manufacturing consistently holds the tension between speed and accuracy to provide cost-effective solutions for clients. There is any number of factors that contribute to precision, and as machines become more intelligent and tools are able to work faster, a new set of factors is introduced. Mitigating risks for CNC machine accuracy can be isolated into mechanical and environmental categories; both of which can be controlled.

Levels of Precision

CNC machining can control many variables in the cutting process to produce finer cuts more consistently. Not all processes require the same degree of accuracy. Consider, for example, the precision differences between a medical device that measures airflow or dispenses finite materials into capsules compared to a bicycle gear. There certainly needs to be a degree of accuracy in each for safety and performance, but the medical-grade product will require a much higher level of precision. Understanding precision as it suits each client application is paramount in providing competitive pricing and high quality. These quality factors are affected by material choice, tolerances, and finish specifications. The setup on the shop floor that affects these is what is critical in maximizing accuracy and mitigating risk.

Mechanical Factors

Mechanical factors include machine settings like speed and calibration, tool choice, tool angle, and workpiece holding options. The physical capability of a CNC machine or its spindle will affect vibration and tolerances. Heavy raw stock simply can’t be run on a machine that can’t handle the weight or size.

Positioning errors of guides and machine tools are also imperative to quality. The material composition of the cutting tool, any wear on the tool, and the speed and angle at which it runs are the extensions of the CNC machine that affect precision.

The third mechanical setting is the work holding, which needs to be firm and accurately placed to hold the raw material stock in place during the cutting process. Again, vibration is the enemy of precision tooling for both finish and accuracy.

Environmental Factors

The environmental, or extraneous, factors are by-products of the mechanical factors. CNC machines are capable of running at incredible speeds. Many operators don’t run them at full capacity for fear of tool or part damage. Running a tool too slow will build friction and reduce tool life. Fast, shallow cuts reduce wear on both the part and the workpiece. Further, the friction causes heat, and heat can damage both the tool and the workpiece. Material warp due to both heat and cutting pressure will also take material out of tolerance.

While coolants play a big role in temperature control and lubrication, removal and cleanliness of the coolant are also important in controlling quality. Coolant can also help to remove chaff to keep the cutting surface clean to prevent uneven cuts or tool damage. Regular maintenance between jobs, and on a regular schedule is important to keep fluids, tools, and the machine in top condition.


Many of these mechanical and environmental factors can be controlled through the design and creation of the toolpath with intelligent software. Software can now manage the tension that exists between speed and precision to provide the highest quality finished parts for the client. The Mastercam Dynamic Motion software addresses the tool path and eliminates errors processing parts at incredible speeds. This feedback system controls the tool approach and speed which translates into control of heat, friction, and extended tool life. Mastercam is one of our primary partners that help us in mitigating risks for CNC machine accuracy. Dynamic Motion software is just one of the Mastercam benefits we offer at Rapid Enterprises.

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