Making Custom Molds with CNC Machining(climb milling definition Blake)

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Computer numerical control (CNC) machining is an ideal way to create custom molds for a variety of applications. With CNC machining, complex mold geometries can be produced accurately and efficiently. This article will provide an overview of using CNC machining to make custom molds, including the benefits over other moldmaking techniques, suitable materials, achieving desired mold texture and surface finishes, and proper design considerations.
Benefits of CNC Machined Molds
Compared to conventional mold manufacturing, CNC machining offers several advantages:
- Accuracy and repeatability: CNC machines can produce molds with tight tolerances down to 0.001 inches, far superior to manual machining. The programmed tool paths ensure consistency across production runs.
- Complexity: Intricate contours, undercuts, and interior features are no problem with 3- to 5-axis CNC machining. Geometries impossible to produce manually can be machined.
- Speed: CNC machining is very fast compared to manual methods like engraving or sculpting. Changes and iterations can be implemented quickly by modifying the CNC program.
- Automation: CNC machining is highly automated once the program is created. Operators simply load material and initiate the program for automated production.
- Material versatility: From metals to plastics to hard woods, CNC machining can process a wide range of mold materials.
Suitable Materials for CNC Machined Molds
- Metals: Aluminum, steel, iron, copper, and brass are commonly used. Metals allow high durability and heat resistance. Stainless steel provides corrosion resistance if mold will contact chemicals.
- Plastics: Acrylic, polycarbonate, nylon, and acetal can be machined. Plastics provide electrical insulation and low cost. However, plastics have less strength than metals.
- Wood: Dense hardwoods like mahogany and maple can be machined. Wood offers biodegradability and sustainability. Limitations include low durability and dimensional stability.
- Epoxy resins: Can be machined after curing. Provides high chemical resistance and dimensional stability. Limited heat resistance compared to metals.
Achieving Desired Mold Texture with CNC Machining
The texture and finish of the mold cavity directly affects the visual and tactile properties of cast or molded parts. Various CNC techniques can impart desired aesthetic results:
- For smooth surfaces, use higher stepover percentage on finishing pass to minimize scallop marks from toolpaths. Then sand and polish mold surface.
- For textured surfaces, program roughening toolpaths at lower stepover percentage. Or purposely use larger stepover to create uniform scallop patterns.
- Engraving tools can machine intricate textures like wood grain, stippling, diamond plate patterns, etc.
- For molds with multiple textures, change tools and settings as needed throughout program. For example, smooth finish for one section, textured for another.
- For reflective finishes, cut mold surfaces to high precision, then sand and polish. Post-plating with chrome or nickel can also increase reflectivity.
Proper Design Considerations for CNC Machined Molds
Properly designing the mold model before CNC machining is crucial for part quality and production efficiency:
- Design with appropriate draft angles (1-3 degrees) so parts release cleanly from mold. Include fillets and rounds to ease ejection.
- Minimize uneven wall thicknesses which lead to uneven cooling and warping. Maintain thickness to no more than 3:1 ratio.
- Include a machinable registration system and ejector pin locations in design. Provide channels on mold for hot runner systems if needed.
- Design proper mold venting. Venting allows air and gases to escape during molding, preventing defects.
- For multi-part molds, design so mold halves align precisely via locator pins. Halves should be CNC machined together before separating to ensure fit.
- Model mold bases, inserts, and other standard components to required dimensions if sourcing pre-fabricated. Custom parts can also be CNC machined.
- Simulate molding process digitally to correct issues before physical machining. This avoids costly rework later.
With the right design considerations and machining techniques, CNC machining is an ideal solution for producing custom molds with high accuracy, fine details, and precisely textured surfaces. Leveraging CNC machining allows mold makers to rapidly manufacture molds that would be impossible or impractical to make using manual approaches. By understanding suitable mold materials, mold texturing methods, and proper mold design factors, engineers can fully utilize CNC technology to fabricate molds for quality cast or molded parts tailored to the product needs. CNC Milling CNC Machining