Manufacturing has seen a huge shift in incorporating machines and technologies designed and built for smaller and more precise work. Microfabrication has played a heavy part in allowing manufacturers to invest in smaller products that can offer high-quality precision techniques to allow them to revolutionize the way they work.
Precision manufacturing entails consistently producing parts with extremely tight tolerances, typically measured in microns or 10-6 meters. This is entirely feasible when using high-quality CAD/CAM digital equipment and modern, high-speed cutting tools.
However, some other practical considerations on a small scale go beyond the equipment used because all materials naturally expand and contract due to environmental changes. As a result, controlling tolerances in the micron range can be challenging. This is true for all major manufacturing processes, including CNC machining and injection molding, pressure dies casting, and 3D printing.
Is microfabrication making larger parts obsolete?
Microfabrication offers a wide range of benefits for the role able to be carried out by smaller products. There is no denying that this offers many benefits in a wide range of industries. However, due to the decreasing size, not everything can be scaled down, and thus there remains the need for larger parts in processes.
Why? One good point is that most products must be moving freely. They must be able to slide past one another, twist this way and that, open and close, and fit with other parts. When something is overly precise, it will bind and seize. It will be unforgiving of friction and will become “out of specification” when exposed to heat, cold, dirt – even fingerprints or water vapor! It will be impossible to maintain or service, and everyone involved will be frustrated.
Furthermore, pursuing precision in one area of a part causes it to be lost in another. This is because parts must be clamped in holding fixtures while being machined, which inevitably distorts some dimensions. This caution also applies to cast or injection molded parts that require free space to be released from their dies.
Blending micro and larger parts in manufacturing
While smaller parts can be designed with tighter tolerances, in some instances, this technology can be used alongside larger parts to allow for a more efficient product and allow for options including reducing the weight of a larger product due to the precise nature of microfabricated parts taking on the role of traditional components.
CNC machining can produce high-quality parts in various materials, sizes, and shapes, but product development teams and machinists must still keep part size in mind. Large parts can be difficult to machine because they are heavy and unwieldy. It is difficult for engineers to verify the quality of minimal features on already small parts.
Both the design and manufacturing phases can be tailored to ensure the accurate and precise production of very small or large parts. You can create something incredible — no matter the size — by designing for machinability from the start and employing the aforementioned workarounds during production.