Cutting the perfect shape with the cleanest edge without raising cost is only possible if no mistakes are made, no labor is squandered, and no material is wasted during the manufacturing process. In order to provide the best quality product with the best value to customers, manufacturers have to cut with surgical precision through incredibly durable material, without sacrificing accuracy, at a high rate of speed.

This is only possible with the use of CNC (computer numerical control) routers, which are used in the manufacturing of transportation mirrors, large domes for playground equipment, tiny domes for closed-circuit TV cameras and a wide range of even smaller parts manufactured for use on safety and security mirrors. Even parts with intricate detail are candidates for a trip through the CNC router.

CNC machine operation requires computer skills, mechanical proficiency, technical expertise and an innate sense of craftsmanship and attention to minute detail. It can take as much as a year to train someone to operate this machine correctly and to understand all of its intricacies.

Preparing the Materials, Creating the Design, and Selecting the Tools for the Job

First, computer aided design (CAD) software is used to plan the cutting operation. To visualize how this works, imagine drawing a precise picture of the part to be cut. Then use the CAM portion of the software (CAM is short for computer aided manufacturing) to help convert the picture into a series of lines of computer code that the CNC machine will recognize and obey. This CAD/CAM preparation is sometimes called CNC programming, and may or may not be performed by the same person who will ultimately be operating the CNC machine.

The computer code generated by the CAM software instructs the CNC machine about which cutting tools to use, where to find those tools on its 8-spindle tool changer, and how fast to cut. The precise dimensions, angles, depths and lengths of each cut are all spelled out precisely.

By retrieving this computer code from memory, the operator equips the CNC machine with exact instructions — and the right tools to carry them out. What is more, the operator can retrieve this same computer code one month later or one year later. The CNC router will perform the exact same operation at that time ensuring excellent quality time after time.

A Test Run, Precision Cutting, and a Finished Product

Operators should never assume that a mistake hasn’t been made in programming, so they first put their mechanical partner through a dry run. If everything runs correctly, it’s time for action. The operator uses a foot-pedal-operated vacuum pump to fasten the material to the bed of the machine. Imagine an air hockey table that sucks air down instead of forcing it up through the table’s surface.

With everything locked in place, the operator engages the machine, which takes over and uses the tools and bits to physically cut the parts. Always obedient, the machine repeatedly follows the instructions of its human master with precision. When it’s done, the operator releases the vacuum and removes the product, inspects it for any defects, packages it, and boxes it up.

It is then shipped to a customer who opens the box and removes a flawless product, without ever knowing the delicate dance between man, computer and machine that brought it to life.

The CNC router is one of the most powerful tools a manufacturer can use to achieve precision and accuracy at a remarkably high rate of speed, all of which combine to bring value to the customer. But in the end, it is just a machine. It is the human operators who choose the tools, draw the software-guided maps and who ultimately engage the router. Whether you’re working with polycarbonate, acrylic or any other material, this incredible machine — when used in conjunction with a skilled and experienced operator — can achieve a precision cut at exactly the right shape more quickly and consistently than any other method.