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Integrating CNC machines and automation for smarter manufacturing

12-07-2021
by 
in 
lathe

With the ever-increasing demand for production efficiency, the market for software-driven, or CNC, machining is expected to skyrocket. CNC machines are being paired with automation systems and simulation software to fuel the production rate.

Automation directs the tools to provide greater precision and accuracy relative to manual controls. A program only needs to be created once and can operate an entire factory of CNC machines with minimal human intervention.

The only situations where human intervention is desired are for loading and unloading workpieces, ensure quality control and troubleshooting. 

The global market for CNC is being dominated by lathe machines and is expected to hold this position through the forecast period. Estimates show that the value of CNC machines will rise to US$70 billion in 2024.

Lathe machines are set to dominate the market, primarily due to their enormous area of application. Besides lathe machines, CNC mill machines are also predicted to witness substantial growth.

By including automation in the CNC machining process, the precision levels involved in the manufacturing of parts have risen significantly. Besides that, the pace of delivery to meet the surging requirements has also witnessed a boost.

Advanced programming spikes CNC machining productivity, and process automation streamlines the production processes while reducing the workload on human labour. Automated cuts enhance speed and accuracy, two factors that are crucial when developing prototype parts. 

CNCs depend on digital directives from computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) in daily operations. The next step is for the CNC machine to interpret the design received from the CAM/CAD instructions.

Tips to automate CNC machining:

While the idea of incorporating automation in CNC machining sounds rewarding, here are some practical tips that can help you achieve this feat and proliferate profits for your CNC shop:

  1. Train human operators:
    The first step to embracing automation is to invest in training human operators. They must be educated about the technical skills required for CNC machining, CAD/CAM design, and G-code programming. Several industrial machines use G-code, which is why employee training can help teach your operators about almost any machinery you purchase for your shop.
  2. Conduct research before investing in CNC machinery:
    While employee training is critical towards successfully automating your CNC shop, it will only take you so far if you do not invest in CNC machinery wisely. Prefer buying machines from reliable brands that offer quality support and seamless integration options for businesses of all scales.
  3. Make the most of your current situation:
    Limited automation is feasible, be it minor production facilities. Several CNC machines, especially those manufacturing large parts, can operate for several hours without any human mediation. A well-trained workforce with well-maintained machinery can stretch quality production way beyond the end of a shift.

Despite the profusion of perks of integrating CNC with automation, CNC machines cannot be left uncatered to after being automated. You cannot expect them to operate all night and weekend in the dark.

CNC machines can only be set up to perform finishing cuts and operations overnight if appropriate programming and inspections have been made by the operator.

Here are a few scenarios where human intervention is paramount -

  • Humans must inspect the condition of the cutting tool and check for wear-and-tear since the CNC machine does not catch wear on a tool bit.
  • Programmers must ensure that the programmed parameters are set appropriately.
  • Although thermal expansion algorithms can detect a tool that is out of tolerance, operators still must adjust warning indicators and record parameters post the machining process and change it if required.

As market demands have constantly been on the rise, CNC machines must cater to specific requirements while ensuring timely delivery. Such a feat has been made possible via integrating automation, which not only streamlines the operational workflow but also delivers a better-quality finish.

Programming and automation are augmenting CNC machines to deliver results swiftly and accurately. While human employees cannot entirely be left out of the equation, several tasks that were earlier conducted manually have now been successfully automated. 

Peter Jacobs is Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters.

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