In the realm of CNC technology, the growth of a business can pose unexpected challenges. One such challenge lies in the management of staff. As production volumes increase due to the demand for CNC machining, machine shop owners find themselves struggling to locate skilled machinists in a timely manner.
CNC machining is a complex task that demands specialized skills, and the supply of proficient machinists falls short of the demand. Consequently, many machine shops resort to hiring individuals with limited knowledge of machining and providing them with training. Unfortunately, this approach prolongs the employee preparation period. However, the expansion of a successful machine shop often necessitates a more rapid response.
Another factor to consider is that while employees work for a limited number of hours per day, CNC machines remain idle in the shop. Leveraging the capabilities of CNC technology can significantly increase both employee and machine tool efficiency.
Let us delve into the challenges faced by machine shop owners and explore how they overcome these limitations without expanding their workforce.
Challenge 1: Insufficient Workforce to Match Equipment Capacity
This predicament is a common issue in the manufacturing world. A machine shop in Tennessee faced a similar problem during the Great Depression. With the need to increase production while lacking resources for additional employees, they made a strategic decision. The shop invested in automated CNC machines and trained their workers to handle two machines simultaneously.
To this day, the Tennessee shop maintains this practice. Recently, they acquired three automated CNC machining cells, including a 5-axis Machining center, a chip conveyor, coolant pumps, and a part collector. The entire system operates as a cohesive unit. The machinists have been trained to oversee two cells concurrently. The shop plans to acquire more cells without increasing the number of machinists.
Challenge 2: Underutilized Machine Tools
The director of a rapid production facility identified an opportunity to maximize machine tool utilization during nighttime hours. Recognizing that human employees can only work a limited number of hours per week, whereas machines can operate up to 120 or even 168 hours, he sought a solution. Through advancements in CNC technology, complete automation of all processes became a possibility, eliminating the need to hire and train additional staff for night shifts.
Firstly, the director extended the chip conveyors of all machine tools and directed the chips into a larger tank, requiring emptying only once every two days. Additionally, he installed cutting tool change mechanisms capable of accommodating 64 or more tools. This allowed for the mounting of duplicate tools, ensuring seamless tool replacement when necessary. Furthermore, the director invested in automatic feedstock mechanisms for lathes and robotic hands for milling machines. These automated systems could load blanks into the tools without human intervention. Lastly, special part collection systems were purchased for unloading purposes.
This innovative approach yielded positive results. At the end of the workday, the machinists would prepare the automatic manufacturing system, which would operate throughout the night. In the morning, the shop would have accomplished two days’ worth of work in a single night. Consequently, larger and simpler batches could be moved to automated production, while machinists focused on more complex and captivating single prototype jobs.
Challenge 3: Overcoming Prejudices Against CNC Technology Automation
There is a prevailing misconception that the development of CNC technology, robotics, and automation threatens job security. However, this notion is fundamentally flawed. Robots are designed to enhance labor efficiency, not to replace human workers. For instance, the use of robotic arms for loading and unloading operations saves valuable time and effort for workers. They can then oversee the operations of multiple machine tools instead of being confined to a single task.
Considerations for Successful CNC Technology Automation Implementing automation in CNC manufacturing is a multifaceted process that requires meticulous planning and validation. Each automated system is unique, with its own algorithms, volumes, and tooling. To achieve optimal automation efficiency, several factors must be taken into account.
While most CNC machine tools are equipped with chip conveyors, the chip tank typically requires changing at least once per shift. To sustain extended automated jobs, machine shops need a centralized chip removal system, often comprising a custom-made conveyor that collects chips from all machine tools and directs them to a central location, necessitating less frequent emptying.
Continuous Coolant Supply
A constant supply of coolant is crucial for maintaining optimal cutter performance and ensuring high-quality parts. This requires the installation of specialized sensors and additional pump systems within the machine tools. When the coolant level in the tank drops too low, a dedicated pump line activates to refill it to the required level.
Depending on the types of parts manufactured, different end part tanks may be necessary. When automating systems, careful consideration of container volumes is crucial. Automated systems are highly efficient but require ample space. Failure to allocate sufficient space may result in parts scattered across the shop floor and the system becoming immobilized due to an overfilled container, rendering it unable to retrieve a new blank.
By addressing these considerations, machine shops can optimize their CNC technology automation efforts and unlock the full potential of their operations.
In conclusion, the adoption of CNC technology automation offers machine shops the potential to address the challenges posed by limited manpower and idle machine tools. By leveraging automated systems and optimizing resource allocation, businesses can enhance efficiency, increase productivity, and explore new avenues of manufacturing. Embracing automation not only benefits employees by eliminating mundane tasks but also enables them to focus on more intricate and engaging projects. With careful planning and consideration of key factors, CNC technology automation can pave the way for a brighter future in manufacturing for Want.Net and other businesses alike.