Happy New Year everyone, as I type this I'm recovering from my return back to the gym after a 12 month hiatus, (primarily down to starting Atom Precision) in an effort to shed a few kg's and get everything on track as it should be. It's easy to forget how important looking after yourself can be when starting a new business, as you feel guilty about doing anything that isn't directly related to work.
Anyway, what do we have planned for 2019? More of what we did in 2018 basically! Following on from the small successes of last year, we are building strong relationships with clients to supply them with engineering solutions, be that design work and consultation, to supplying machined parts.
Talking of supplying machined parts, we are focusing more on this in 2019. We have forged strong bonds with some really, and I mean really good machine shops in both the UK and abroad, bringing only the very best solutions to you the end users. As always, Atom Precision takes full responsibility when it comes to project management and quality control, so there is never any issue when ensuring the supplied parts are within spec and supplied to the highest standards.
We want to focus on supplying Niche companies with niche components. There are some businesses I have dealt with over the last year whom I never even thought existed, dealing in industries which are pretty untapped in the CNC machining world. We want to push more for this, to give small businesses the opportunity to get the highest quality CNC machined parts that are both cost effective, and importantly, on-time.
Also we are pushing more for design work, we have capacity to look at projects including jig & fixture design, to creating manufacturing drawings and 3D models for components, including reverse engineering.
So I'll keep this short, as always, please keep following us on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn, we're going to be even more active this year with lots of exciting projects coming up. Thank you everyone for your support last year, and now, onto 2019!
Firstly, let me apologise for the lack of updates over the past 3 months, finding the time to do this was difficult when starting a company, even though now in 2018 it's considered to be a major part of marketing and growing your business, however it's still been a challenge, simply due to the influx of jobs heading our way over the past the 3 months.
So, what's new? Following much deliberation, we've invested in some accounting software, QuickBooks Online Plus. Tracking accounts and creating invoices, purchase orders and quotes manually was becoming far too laborious, so QuickBooks offered us a solution that really solved all our problems. We can access the accounts from anywhere, GDPR regulations are taken care of as all the data is in the cloud, quotes/invoices/purchase orders are all properly linked. Now the room for error is much narrower and gives a real time view of how things are going. It's a small but important investment for us during our early stages.
Speaking of how busy we've been, we've been recently working on a project for client who provides solutions for the Military, whereby we programmed the parts, designed and manufactured the jigs & fixtures, and actually went on site to install and prove out the program. This was another big step for us, showcasing our turnkey solution to provide complete machined jigs, CNC programs, and complete finished components. We also went on to design and manufacture x20 assembly fixtures to use in conjunction with the finished machined parts. Now the client is on its way to delivering their order ahead of schedule.
We'd also like to announce that we are working in partnership with automotive and Formula 1 casting giant, Grainger & Worrall. We are lucky enough to be located quite closely to them, and following a successful quick-turnaround programming job due to temporary a lack of resource, we have now gained further opportunities to work together. This again is massively important for us, to be working with such reputable businesses, operating at the cutting edge of manufacturing.
Also, I'd like to have a rethink about a previous blog post (5/30/18 - CNC Machining VS 3D Printing, what does the future hold?) I stated in that post that I doubted whether 3D printing would eve replace machining. Since then Atom Precision has worked a little more in this field, even invested in our own, desktop 3D printer, which I have been massively impressed with. It isn't used for functional parts, mainly just prototypes and physical versions of parts for us to program, as it's much nicer to program a part when you have it in your hand. Alongside this, we've recently worked with a company called Mark3D UK, the UK distributors for the brilliant Markforged 3D Printers. We designed a set of 3D printed vice jaws for a client, and Mark3D printed them, with integrated carbon fibre strands for strengthening in required areas. I was blown away by the strength and the precision of these parts, and it has really got me considering more about how I think 3D printing will eventually revolutionise manufacturing. It's easy to think that 3D printing is for making toys and trinkets, however seeing these functional, engineered parts in use, inside a running CNC miller really did it for me. If you would like to know more about these printers, contact Ian Weston at Mark3D UK, and follow the link below.
Thank you again for everyone's support. I will try and get back into posting more often, we are attending the Advanced Engineering Show at the NEC Birmingham tomorrow, so check out our social media to see what we find!
What an exciting 3 months it's been. It all started out fairly slowly as a lot of these type of businesses do, but it's begun to gain a bit more momentum recently, taking on more clients, working on more and more interesting projects - the majority of which unfortunately I'm unable to talk about on here. Nevertheless I can talk a bit about what's coming next for Atom Precision.
Since starting out, I have been asked to look at some really interesting work - and a common question I get asked is "can you machine this for me?" Some of you may not know that we don't have a manufacturing facility here - my work is field and home based, where I consult businesses on how best to attack machining a component, setting up production by designing a jig or fixture setup, or simply (or not so simply!) programming a one off component for the client to run on their machining centre, so unfortunately the answer has more often than not been no. Until now.
Since beginning my career in engineering it has taken me many places and I've met many amazing engineers, and this got me thinking. Why can't I give something back by helping them to find machining work? Clients would come to me, and I would use my network to apply the correct "service provider" to the job. The machined components would come through me, as I'm putting my name to this and Atom Precision's reputation is riding on it, so I run everything through a stringent quality control procedure before it gets anywhere near the client as a finished component.
There's now a section on this website called "Machining" - this gives a little detail into what services we can provide. This ranges from simple laser cut sheet metal work, to full 5-axis billet machining, all beautifully finished with anodised finishes and laser marking capabilities.
It's a bespoke manufacturing service where clients can upload their own 3D models to quickly receive quotes for either one off prototypes or full batch production work. Is it all coming from China I hear you cry?! No, there are just some things that have to be looked at a little closer to home, however the far east does have it's place for certain applications. Luckily we have numerous contacts in multiple industries all around the globe, so there's sure to be a solution for your business in there!
I want to thank everyone for their ongoing support, and for helping towards a bright future at Atom Precision!
In the 1940's sci-fi short novel called "Things Pass By", Murray Leinster talked about an arm which draws things in mid-air, flowing molten plastic and hardening it where it stays. This was the stuff of fantasy back then, ok they also thought we'd have flying cars and live on the moon , but 3D printing has been one of the sci-fi subjects which has revolutionised the way we manufacture and engineer things nowadays.
Today, you can sit in your own home designing your own parts, hit print, and out will come a 3 dimensional representation of your design, and it's fully functional, ready to use. We are living in an amazing time!
3D printing has endless uses. You can make trinkets, keyrings, models, tools, or other fairly complex parts. From your individual at home, or a commercial business manufacturing prototype components for motorsport or the manufacturing industry. My first play with additive manufacturing came out of necessity. I had built a track-ready motorcycle, just for using on a race circuit. One of the first times using it at Donington park in the UK, I was flying along a set of curves down a steep hill, called Craner Curves, and anyone who's ridden there will tell you, it's not for the feint hearted. Anyway, when flipping the bike side to side, I accidentally flipped the ignition switch and cut the engine... NOT what you want to happen! Luckily I stayed on and was ok, so I set to work to stop this happening again. I produced a cover to sit over the switch, to prevent my hand from knocking it off. Job done.
This is an ideal use for simple 3D printing. A simple sturdy component that fits a purpose.
However, there are companies out there producing, much, much more complex designs than this, in metal. So what does this mean for the future of manufacturing? Well, lets look at the current situation. You have either Additive Manufacturing, or Subtractive Manufacturing. The majority still default to Subtractive, in the form of machining. It's cost effective, widely accurate and if really pushed with 5+ axis machine tools, can make pretty much anything. You can use plastics, metals, wood, high density foams, the list goes on. You can either buy a small DIY CNC router for home use, or a fully fledged Haas VMC with some serious material removal capabilities, so there's something to fit all budgets. Now here lies the issue; Time.
In an age where we want everything yesterday and time is considered a limited resource, machining can come with certain restraints. Often machine shops are stacked out with high work loads (which for now is great!) which means your part may not make it onto the machine for a few days. then once it's ready to machine, the part has be programmed and set up - depending on the part, this could take another day or maybe more. If you want a sample for fit and function, it has to be set up and machined before production can begin, which can prove challenging. 3D printing is a different story - once your part is ready (with a little tweaking to make it printable) it can be printed pretty much straight away with minimal fuss. Your fit and function sample can be tested before a CNC machine has even been powered up. Now, this can be done relatively cheaply, however that comes with a problem. Cheap machines are unreliable and inaccurate, and often tie themselves in knots, for example if it's a filament fed machine. You can leave a part running all night only to find a puddle of mushy plastic everywhere the following morning. Really the most accurate and usable method is laser sintering, then this comes with a much, much larger cost. Also the cost for the materials can be massive. Then again, the cost of waste from machining a part from billet can be pretty high too if you're only making small batches.
3D printing really does have it's place, however I believe that it will never replace machining. There may be a time fairly soon when the two machines are combined, for example we do see printed parts with post-op machining done... I think the future won't necessarily lie with the method itself now - there is plenty of development work making 3D printing better and better all the time, this is inevitable. If anything, it will get that good that it may eliminate the requirement for casting processes. 3D printers are already in use printing moulds in sand rather than traditionally hand packing them.
What really is the future is how these processes are going to be managed. Industry 4.0 is pushing more and more automation, and along with it more companies are popping up where you upload a 3D model to a website, then a few days later your machined part arrives via courier. I think further development of this is where it's at. It's already happening. I've seen a factory in the UK with about 20 vmc's with one operator just loading billets, all making injection moulding tooling to go all over the world in all industries. None of it is programmed by a human being, not even the quoting - it's all taken care of via software and is turned around ultra fast.
Imagine a super fast and accurate VMC that can 3D print metal components through the spindle then do a tool change and create machined faces with cutting tools... have I just invented AddiSub Manufacturing? I'd better get to the drawing board....
A question often asked, is "What's the best CAM software package?" But the real question that you should be asking is this; "What's the best CAM software package for me?"
Even now, in the UK especially it still surprises me how many engineering companies haven't fully integrated a CAM software package in their CNC machine shop. It's 2018! Get your business up to date and take advantage of what your real capabilities can achieve!
There are many things to consider before committing to expensive software, but which one is the best for you and how do you know? Here I'll talk a little about some packages and why they'll be good or not so good for your shop.
We've all been there, that moment when you get handed a drawing and you think "errrm... how the heck am I going to do this?" Also, we've all seen the videos and demonstrations of some funky shapes and profiles being cut on a 5 Axis machines, made from a material packed with lead so they can run it at a million metres a minute to show off - making you feel that programming and machining skills are inadequate. Well let me tell you, you're wrong. You're simply not using the right tools for the job. It's like using one of those old hand-winding drills and being jealous of the guy with his new Makita hammer drill.
So what's available to you? And what's best for your machine shop? Well that depends on the following, in no particular order:
1. Budget - this one's self explanatory
2. Ability to learn - and with this I mean is your time "free" enough to learn
3. Flexibility - will the software work well with my machine(s)?
4. Is it suitable for the components I'm manufacturing?
All CAM packages essentially do the same thing - they basically convert drawn or generated toolpaths from your PC screen from a 3D or 2D model, into G-code for your CNC machine to read. Some are great for 2D profiling work, others are perfect for creating 3-dimensional toolpaths over complex geometry, like a mould tool for example - something that you'd never dream of writing code for these days. However, a lot of these higher end packages contain multiple features which not every engineer or shop is going to require and often, fully adopting these doesn't always go that well - as they can just do too much for what you need. That's not to say that these software packages are no good - far from it, they are superb tools for the job. It's just that you as a consumer may be over estimating what you really require.
If you're small-ish job shop with a couple of decent machines, you may not really require the all singing, all dancing latest version of Siemens NX - this really would be a money-no-object direction, and can take some learning. Consider, that generally F1 teams default to NX, not that it's the best because it's the most expensive, but because some of the applications within the software can really be put to their paces in an F1 manufacturing environment. For a smaller company, the budget can be much less, also with a considerably shallower learning curve.
Lets say you have no CAM experience whatsoever, but want to venture into trying out some new things with your machine. You may even be a hobbyist. The outright winner here would be Autodesk's offering, Fusion 360. Fusion 360 has been around for a few years now as a full blown, cloud based CAD/CAM package, and is now really growing some legs in the market and becoming a real consideration for a lot of machine shops. It's cheap, (even free for a year on a Start-up or Educational licence) and it's really, really easy to use. There's also a huge community following on their support forums so if you're stuck and need a hand, you can jump on there and join the discussion. Alongside this, there are a few Autodesk employees on YouTube who post regular tutorial and Q&A videos - I'd be stunned if even the greenest of CADCAM users couldn't make something well within a week of studying alongside the support of someone like Fusion360 expert - Lars Christensen.
Fusion is not so much a focused CAM package however - it's a very well rounded piece of software which specialises in 3D and 2D design, for manufacturing in general, offering drawings, assemblies, 3D printing integration and so on, also with the CAM side of things, there isn't really much restricted to base users, with multi axis programming available right out of the box.
A proper CAM package that I am a big supporter of is OneCNC, it does support 3D and 2D design work however I will say it's perhaps not as intuitive as other design packages and I have often found users like to use different software for design, and OneCNC for the CAM side. However this is where it shines. The user friendly interface is so easy to learn it's unreal, and compared to other packages it's fairly inexpensive, especially if you are able to recoup the cost after a few jobs have ran. The support is superb (I can only talk from the perspective of OneCNC UK) but I have heard that support elsewhere in the world is really good too, also once you've got the software, you have access to a support forum of other users, including OneCNC staff who can help. A big (really big) plus is the post processor support - unlike a lot of other CAM packages, it comes pre-loaded with libraries of post processors which are pretty much ready to run for almost every machine you can think of, at no extra cost. Also if your post isn't present, a quick call to support will more often than not see you running with a post that works. This sort of support is a big winner for OneCNC and makes it stand out fro the rest. This flexibility is one of the reasons why it's the main CNC CAM package I turn to all the time.
These are 2 great packages, and can easily hold their own now with the likes of Solidcam and Mastercam, which are both awesome in their own right, and there are a lot of shops out there swearing by them, but that doesn't mean they're the best for you, they may be though and that's the point.
You need to think about what it is you're making and how much you have to spend. Also consider your ability and time to learn. OneCNC and Fusion360 are incredibly fast to learn. In the past I've trained a non-machinist to go from becoming a push-button operator to a proficient programmer in around a year, using OneCNC as part of the process. Writing programs for a multi-axis Haas VMC from scratch, even with up to 20 different offsets. Obviously a lot of that is down to the individual, but if it wasn't for OneCNC being so user-friendly then I'm not sure it would have gone so well.
Follow Lars Christensen on his YouTube channel here
Find out more about Fusion 360 here
Also find out more about OneCNC here and find your local vendor for a demo.
In the meantime, have fun making stuff!
Lets look back 15-20 years ago, how was the majority of machining and engineering work sourced? Reputation? Word of mouth recommendations? Yellow pages? It all worked fine did it not? Especially for those in the UK, with small engineering firms, churning out high quality components. Maybe it was a location thing, you were the only machine shop in a 15 mile radius with capabilities like yours, so work found you no problem.
Even now, it's not to dissimilar in this industry. Reputation is everything - and a few well manufactured parts and jobs can take you a long way. However, there are now more ways than ever to show off your capabilities, using social media platforms.
This is nothing new I hear you cry, I get it, you've had a Facebook account for years and a company Facebook page, of course you have. In fact, if you've found this blog it's probably highly unlikely that you have no social media presence. But there is one major aspect to this that a lot of us vastly overlook and underestimate. In 2018, Facebook has amassed an active usership of 2.2 billion individuals. Even if 0.01% of these users are engineers, machinists or looking for machining work, that's 200,000 people. The potential is ridiculous. Instagram is proving to be another major player, with around 800 million users. Now obviously I'm well aware that most engineering firms have caught on to this and now have their own social media pages and accounts. However, I think they are going about it the wrong way.
Social media is all about interaction. Reality, people being themselves and bringing whatever they are good at into the spotlight and presenting it to the world. Whether that be a big machine tool manufacturer or an independent cake maker producing artisan cupcakes. It's important for engineering companies to be like this to attract a real audience, and inspire them! Probably one of the only big firms doing this, and doing it quite successfully is Haas - they engage with their audience and show things the user really wants to see. Just posting things that have no value are simply a dull waste of time. You don't have to be a big player to have a go at this either. Take a look at Helical_Fresh on Instagram, who takes his awesome design and machining capabilities and combines them individuality which is just inspiring! Or Kemal Alpay of Kalpay who does a great job of documenting his amazing machining work for his company, Rapid Prototype Machining Corp, no doubt helping him to grow his business tenfold over recent years - he's managed to attract a following of 30k followers.
It really is that important, and hopefully we will see some of the other engineering companies being a lot more real and a lot less corporate on social media in the future. Not only is it important for growing your business profile, it's vital for inspiring young engineers of the future - lets not forget, their future is based around using these apps on their phones and tablets, this will continue to develop and further platforms will emerge from this, meaning now is the time you have to be at the sharp end!
If you have a social media account for yourself or your engineering firm, post on it, now. If you haven't - go and create one, as soon as possible...
Find us on Facebook Here
So you want to be a machinist right? Who doesn't? There's no better feeling of accomplishment than when you watch something appear out of a block of solid metal that you've spent all day setting up and programming from a drawing. But one thing that I've come to learn during my time in this industry, is that it doesn't come easy, and some individuals take to it a lot differently to others. But what does it take to become a skilled machinist in 2018?
Let's talk about the fundamentals - drawings. I'll be frank - if you can't read technical drawings, you stand very little chance of getting your first gig in a machine shop. This should be the first place everyone should start. Understanding 3rd angle projection is still something that can catch out some people, and it never ceases to amaze me how it can catch me out in the most awkward of situations, in front of clients, fellow workmates always in embarrassing fashion. Not nearly as embarrassing as it would be however if someone handed you a drawing and it seems as though it's written in a language only found in outer space...
A good way to simplify learning reading them, is to learn how to draw them. Grab yourself a set of Vernier calipers, a simple component, and draw some simple layouts of it, dimensioning critical dimensions. Ask someone if they understand what you've drawn - that will help you find the dimensions required to make something simple, and grow on that. Then there's tolerances - the dimensions tagged with +0.00/-0.002; it's simple stuff to some, but to others, understanding that a shaft has to fit in a bearing and therefore cannot be larger than a certain dimension or smaller than another, is quite a challenge.
That's all before we've even stepped foot in a machine shop! I had the benefit of learning to machine manually first, personally I feel this gives any machinist an advantage, however as I'm sure some CNC'ers may agree, you lose a really important part of machining with CNC - feel. It's this sensory input which helps you understand the material you're cutting, the feed rate, the RPM, the way the tool behaves - it's all taught by the connection with that handle. In contrast, I've known CNC machinists who've blown me away with their ability, only to really surprise me that they've never touched a manual machine! It's not everything, but I think it helps.
If you work in a large-batch production environment, you'll find you spend a lot of your time on the same job, obviously. Unless you get moved around a lot onto different work, there's a strong chance you won't work with different CNC controls and importantly different tooling. Smaller precision engineering firms often run smaller batches, meaning one job is generally completely different to the next. This results in a requirement for some fairly extensive tooling knowledge, knowing what tools can be used for what features, what speeds and feeds are to be used for the tool and the material. There are plenty of books and resources out there to give you these, especially the tooling manufacturer, however they're just indicators - nothing can tell you what's perfect, other than experience and actually running the job.
Smaller batches also mean there will be challenges thrown at you when the customer presents you a drawing, with no setup guide or fixture. Understanding how best to hold the component takes a fair bit of understanding - more than I can put into a few words here to be honest. You need to understand program efficiencies, the materials involved, the accuracy and repeatability required, the speed of reloads, the list goes on.
That all sounds like hard work - and to someone who isn't a machinist but likes the idea of becoming one, sounds quite unachievable. However, I can tell you with the right guidance you can get to the point where it comes naturally. Luckily there are many sources for learning to get you started, much of which you can do before even getting in front of an operational machining facility. One such example, a great operation has recently not too far from Atom Precision, is the Marches Centre of Manufacturing Technology. Offering apprenticeships to young students in the UK in many different engineering and manufacturing fields. It's initiatives like this that will keep us striving to continue to excel in manufacturing. If you or anyone you know is interested in finding out more about the MCMT, follow the link below.
Do you have any top tips for upcoming manufacturing engineers and machinists? Comment below!
So some of you may have come to this site, wondering what it's all about.
You may be a job-shop owner/machinist thinking, "Why would I want someone off-site to program my jobs?!" So let me tell you a bit more.
Currently there is a crisis in the manufacturing industry, especially in the United Kingdom. Up until fairly recently, for well over a decade, the educational system has told pupils and students that in order to be successful, and in turn keep the economy successful, your must aim to get yourself to University and get yourself a college degree. This is all well and good, and for some, a very important part of the early stages of their careers.
However, fast forward to now, this has had an adverse effect on one of the biggest industries in the United Kingdom; engineering and manufacturing. In days gone by, machinists and toolmakers were in high demand, however there were plenty to go around. Many people left education at 14-15yrs old to follow an apprenticeship in their local engineering firm as toolmakers - this became a highly respected profession, however, when the digital age dawned, a shift occurred.
The education system deemed engineering a dirty, grubby job. Why would you want to get your hands dirty when you could make websites for a living? Thus, the number of apprentices fell, and although technology kept spurring on forward (driven by those who remained passionate about engineering) fewer and fewer people were available to become toolmakers, machinists, and equally as important; CNC programmers.
I can remember when I first started out, out of my own choice, at an evening course at my local technology college. This was just over 10yrs ago. I was the only person there off my own desire, the remaining students had been sent by their respective companies and bosses, and didn't really want to be there. However I saw the opportunity - I knew there was a gap here to be filled by someone passionate and ambitious.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself running a manufacturing facility, with a CNC machine shop and 6 CNC machines at my disposal, which sounds great. However - I, like many in this industry today found trying to source and hire quality Programmers was like searching for a needle in a haystack. Mainly due to the older generation of engineers retiring, with no one younger to come up and learn the ropes properly - they're all too busy developing iPhone apps in their air conditioned offices with ping-pong tables...
So what I'm trying to tell you, is that now, it's a time where you can utilise the high-tech side of manufacturing, but without the headache and cost of trying to employ someone qualified enough to do it (and then keep them!). Also, a lot of job-shop owners will do this themselves, which is great, however what they may be failing to see, is that the time they are spending programming a part or designing a jig or fixture, is not time spent building and developing their business. It's just not the best approach these days. There are quite a few companies out there offering offline CAM programming services, with good reason, there are plenty of companies out there who need it. Sometimes it can be just as simple as they have a job from a client, which is too complex to program conversationally or in ISO, but they can't afford to shell out the cost for CAM software - and then spend hundreds of hours learning how to use it. Alternatively, there may be firms who simply have so much work in the order books, their current resources can't keep up, so they need a little help. If you get an expert to subcontract the work for you, you can focus on your business and not worry about how the next job is going to get done. It works!
What do you think? Hit the comment button below the title if you agree or disagree! Would you let someone loose on your CAD files to develop a program for you? Let us know!