Since its early beginnings in the 1860s, the automotive industry has rallied on innovation and progress, which have been enabled by advancements in manufacturing. Ever since the automation of the first moving assembly line, the mass production of vehicles remains embedded in manufacturing processes that deliver automation, speed, and efficiency.
One of the principal technologies that have transformed the manufacturing capabilities of the automotive industry is computer numerical control machining. As suggested by its name, it’s a computer-controlled process with a distinguishable advantage of producing parts with extreme precision. It can be performed with varying tools and configurations, allowing for layered degrees of complexity.
CNC machining has applications across industries, with production companies employing a range of services – including CNC milling services, drilling, turning, drilling, and grinding. Below we will look at its applications in the automotive industry and the numerous parts that are predominantly produced with its help.
CNC machining is regularly used in engine block and cylinder head production – the parts that cover the cylinder in an internal combustion engine. These components are typically produced from solid blocks of aluminum – a generally easy machinable metal.
It is particularly useful for limited runs or customized engines, with a specific ability to increase engine airflow. By using CNC head porting, manufacturers can widen the gauge of the car’s cylinder heads, allowing for more air to flow into the engine. This process is typically used for racing cars, as it offers a significant boost in horsepower and overall performance.
Although aluminum is among the most used metal for CNC machining in the automotive industry, there are some significant components that are manufactured with materials like acrylic glass or PPMA (polymethyl methacrylate).
PMMA allows manufacturers to produce lighting for vehicles – including both headlights and interior lighting. Although these parts typically require grinding and polishing after the CNC process, the overall turnaround is still fast. For these reasons, CNC machining allows for a fast production cycle of prototypes and finished light fixtures. Other common uses of PMMA include windows, transparent shields, and fish tanks.
Interior components like dashboard panels are typically produced with CNC machining because of the high degree of precision needed for milling a dashboard frame from raw plastic materials. The technology also allows manufacturers to create cutouts for the speedometers, gas gauges, and indicator lights that align perfectly with each other.
Drive axles in cars consist of two half axles that connect to the wheel with a constant velocity joints. This part allows the wheel assembly to move freely in a vertical direction and turn when maneuvered. These parts – and the other components inside the drive axle mechanism, like the hypoid gear and the bevel gears – are manufactured with high precision with the help of CNC machining.
As part of the transmission, a vehicle’s gearbox is made up of various gear and shaft components that are aligned in a specific arrangement to transmit power. These parts are often produced with CNC technology, as it offers the exact precision and efficiency needed to assemble the parts. Even the parts that are cast can be finished with CNC tools like milling and drilling.
The starter motor – the component of the engine responsible for starting the car – requires high precision parts that allow for smooth functioning and a shorter starting time. Over the years, CNC machining has become more and more advanced, allowing for higher quality, reduced failure rates, and improved efficiency of starting motors. As a result, drivers can now start their engines faster and with way fewer performance issues.
Due to its precise capabilities and the quick alteration of part designs, CNC machining is especially useful for customizing vehicles and automotive parts, as well as unique part replacement.
Since some auto parts are hard to find, CNC machining is the perfect method for replicating these rare parts with high precision – especially when it comes to vintage vehicles. In vintage car restoration, computer-controlled processes like CNC machining and 3D printing are combined with reverse engineering practices to create necessary parts which might otherwise be lost.
CNC machining has also largely contributed to the manufacturing of self-driving cars – specifically with the creation of electrical and mechanical components critical to the construction of these vehicles.
The mechanical components include the brake shoes, programmed engine parts, front panels, heat sinks, and the housing for different electrical parts. These electrical parts, in turn, include radar sensors that detect road dynamics, processing parts, adapters, connectors, optical instruments, and other components. All these have a superior surface quality, excellent functioning, and are created identical to each other – made possible by AI-assisted CNC machining.
Automotive manufacturing is a layered and complex process that demands high performance and utmost precision. For these reasons, CNC machining techniques – especially as they advance – are regularly employed by automotive companies for manufacturing diverse and crucial car components.
Well-known applications of CNC machining in the automotive industry include manufacturing car engines, lighting, interior panels, drive axles, gearboxes, starter motors, custom parts, and components of self-driving cars. Its wide application in the industry and undeniable benefits when it comes to speed, precision, and repeatability are definite proof that CNC machining is the past, present, and future of the automotive sector.