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How CNC Machines Are Used in the Electronics Industry

By Peter Jacobs,

Added 17 August 2021

A brief overview of how CNC machining is used in electronics manufacturing

peter-jacobs

With the rapid development pace of technology, electronics today have revolutionised our personal and professional lives. Be it a kid playing games on a smartphone or a worker operating humongous industrial monitoring systems; electronics are everywhere.

However, with the demand surge and the increasing complexity of customer needs, electronic device designs are becoming more complicated, which has called for an automated manufacturing process called CNC machining.

Impact of CNC on Electronics

CNC machining is a manufacturing process where a pre-programmed computer program governs factory tools and complex machinery operations. Here are some quality parameters assured by CNC machining for businesses of all scales:

1. Exceptional Accuracy

The accuracy and versatility rendered by CNC machining make it a compelling manufacturing technology for the electronics sector. CNC machines can process conductive as well as non-conductive metals, including a broad range of plastics.

2. Highly Reliable

CNC machining also assures high reliability, implying that electronics manufacturers can utilize this process for small and extensive production scales of electronic parts, besides the prototyping of components.

With the advent of small CNC mills, small-scale industries have also begun leveraging the potential of CNC machining in the manufacturing process.

3. Staggering Pace of Manufacturing

CNC machining is competent enough to produce a wide range of electronic components within a tight timeframe. This perk directly results from the absence of tooling stage before production and no quality limitations associated with additive manufacturing.

Designs can quickly get iterated and modified via CAD software, which requires little to no manual operation once the toolpaths have been set by the computer or the machinist.

4. Tight Tolerances

Most electronics manufacturers demand tight tolerances for complex internal components. Tight tolerances provided by CNC machining imply that machined parts are ideal for end-use after minimal post-processing.

Implementation of CNC Machining

CNC machining is ideal for the prototyping and manufacturing of parts for electronic devices, ranging from simple handheld devices to valuable pieces of industrial machinery.

Here are some examples where manufacturers employ CNC machining to build complex electronics and other designs:

1. Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs)

PCBs are crucial to almost all electronic products and are used to electrically interlink intricate components of a device. PCBs employ conductive tracks and other elements, which get manufactured by etching. However, etching is not an efficient approach as it involves hazardous chemicals, making it impractical for usage in offices or non-industrial workspaces.

As a substitute for etching, CNC machining enters the picture. CNC machining carves out functional PCBs with greater precision and does not involve hazardous chemicals.

2. Casings and Enclosure Parts

Casings and enclosures are crucial to any electronic device as they keep all internal components fixed and protect fragile parts from foreign hazards such as liquid, dirt, and bumps.

While die casting is the most extensively used process for fabrication, CNC machining is expanding into this industry as a more reliable and higher precision method.

CNC machining helps manufacture more intricate geometries, provides tighter tolerances, and renders greater build strength than die casting or injection molding.

3. Semiconductors

Semiconductors are the backbone of the electronics sector, with the MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor) being the most extensively produced device in human history.

Machinable semiconductor parts comprise wafer chucks, wafer carriers, gas distribution plates, flex circuit stiffeners, and solder pad stencils, all of which must be made to tight tolerances.

The CNC machining process has streamlined the processing of semiconductor materials such as silicon and aluminium. It has provided tighter tolerances, which has made it an ideal choice for semiconductor manufacturers.

 4. Heat Sinks

All electronic equipment and circuitry are built from components that produce heat while in operation. As a counter, thermal management systems get installed to drain heat and maintain ideal operational temperatures.

Heat sinks serve the components that drain heat from the operational parts to a liquid coolant or air and are widely manufactured using CNC machining technology. CNC milling machines enable a machinist to fabricate heat sinks with intricate geometries from metal blocks.

CNC machining technology provides a faster turnaround, a broader range of options for material usage, and tighter tolerances. Besides, CNC machined heat sinks provide better thermal conductivity compared to bonded heat sinks.

5. Connectors and Sockets

Electronic devices interact with other devices by the usage of sockets and connectors. A socket enables the transmission of electrical, electromagnetic, as well as optical signals.

Sockets and connectors have varied sizes, shapes, and functionalities and demand extremely tight tolerances while manufacturing. A minor error while fabricating leads to a failure of connection between devices.

CNC machining enables product designers to fabricate intricate geometries that have a fast turnaround. Besides, tooling costs are economical, and prototypes can get modified conveniently via CAD/CAM software with CNC machining.

Conclusion

As the customer demands rise and the electronics industry evolves, the need to build intricate electronic parts with high-quality parameters is becoming paramount. With the influx of CNC machining in the electronics industry, the manufacturing process has gotten revolutionized.

Several electronic component manufacturers are taking advantage of the perks of CNC machining, be it small-scale businesses or large-scale enterprises. Besides rendering unparalleled precision and efficiency, CNC machining also provides better safety in the workplace.

Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general.

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