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Is it cheap plastic or is it precision CNC machining?

precision CNC machining
precision CNC machining

Remember when Apple came out with the iPhone 5c? At first, the idea that Apple would introduce a plastic iPhone seemed counterintuitive. After all, the iconic iPhone has a reputation to maintain - one of substance - and encasing the iPhone in a plastic body had the potential to cheapen the brand. Though the iPhone 5c is less expensive than its 5s counterpart, Apple adds heft - and maintains its integrity - by using precision CNC machining in the manufacturing process.

In an Apple YouTube video, Jony Ive, Senior Vice President of Design from Apple, describes the iPhone 5c as "beautifully, unapologetically plastic." He describes the manufacturing process as follows. First, the iPhone 5c starts with a single piece of polycarbonate which houses a steel reinforced frame. The frame adds rigidity to the plastic shell while doubling as an antenna. A rear plate is added inside the shell which will serve as the backbone for various internal components. Using CNC machining processes, holes are drilled into the shell. From there, the entire assembly is finished using a variety of sanding, polishing, and lacquering processes to present a durable, glossy surface. As a result, the iPhone 5c has both the elegance Apple is known for and a substantial feel. It also has a lower price point thanks to the lower material and manufacturing costs associated with precision CNC machining.

Using advanced manufacturing technology such as precision CNC machining has allowed Apple and other manufacturers to take advantage of plastic without sacrificing product quality.

Applications for Precision CNC Machining
While the iPhone 5c is shining example of precision CNC machining, it's far from the only one. CNC machining is used by a wide range of industries including aerospace, medical, dental, veterinary, biotech, marine, oil field, signage, retail, pharmaceutical, electronic, manufacturing, food, and military to name just a few.

Precision CNC machining is used on metals and plastics to create everything from assemblies, bushings, fittings, fasteners, covers, sockets, valves, and housings to biotech test equipment, instruments, manifolds, prototypes, OEM parts, tanks, and more.

How Precision CNC Machining Works
CNC stands for "computer numeric control," an important part of the precision CNC machining equation. With computer numeric control, a component's design (which is created in CAD/CAM software) is converted into numbers which are similar to coordinates on a graph. These numbers remain absolute and are used to guide and control the cutter's movements. As a result, the computer-controlled cutting process is extremely precise. It is also extremely fast as the cutter can be guided through thousands of coordinates accurately.

In addition, because of the absolute nature of the coordinates, each piece produced is exactly as specified. Tolerances of plus or minus .001 inches are possible with precision CNC machining.

From acrylic signs and medical test equipment to the iconic iPhone 5c, precision CNC machining is an excellent choice for machining parts from metals and plastic polymers alike.


The author of this article has gathered sources from the website of Acrylic Art precision cnc machine shop to write this article.

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