Equipment availability in the digital era
Lathes, drills & milling machines
These three pieces of equipment are particularly widely used and share a few things in common, while also being distinct from one another in important areas.
Lathes operate by rotating a piece of material, such as wood or metal, at high speeds so that tools can be applied to its surface in a symmetrical and uniform manner. Used in everything from the production of artisanal jewellery to the creation of furniture and beyond, they can accommodate jobs of many different types.
Drilling machines flip the script on standard drills by having the drill bit held in place by a larger assembly to provide precision, accuracy and consistency that would not be achievable with a hand-held equivalent.
Milling mirrors the turning process of lathes, but in this case it is the tool that is spinning rather than the material. This allows asymmetric parts to be made, with a wide range of tool designs allowing for incredible end results to be generated.
Hobbing & honing machines
When it comes to creating more complex parts, a hobbing machine is sometimes a better choice than a milling machine because it features the ability to manoeuvre the tool and the material at the same time. This is why they are frequently used for the production of gears and cogs, where the shape and angle of cuts may vary wildly.
A honing machine, meanwhile, may be used later on in the process of making gears, with the use of rotating tools allowing for holes in materials to be increased to a specific diameter while also delivering a smoother finish, following on from milling or hobbing.
Planers & grinders
If the material you want to shape is long and flat and you want to create a specific surface finish or gradient, then a planer will do the trick. Most machines of this kind will move the material rather than the tool which does the cutting, and while milling machines have partly superseded planers in certain contexts, they remain an efficient option for jobs involving sizable components constructed from metal.
When it comes to creating the perfect finish, grinders are a top option, making use of the power of friction to eliminate imperfections and deliver silky-smoothness on parts made from lots of different materials. There are actually several kinds of grinders available, with some relying on a rotating abrasive belt to get the job done while others have cylindrical tools.
Additive manufacturing & the future
The aforementioned examples of manufacturing equipment remain relevant today, even as additive manufacturing rises to prominence. 3D printers are becoming far quicker and more affordable, to the point that they could eventually replace other techniques further down the line.
Whatever changes do occur, it seems likely that manufacturing will still involve a combination of several pieces of equipment and tools, as well as the input of skilled technicians.
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