08/20/2021 The most expensive employee in a quality machine shop is the CNC machine. There is a constant drive to keep those machines running – sometimes twenty-four hours a day. You and your staff may always be busy, but that elusive flow of steady clients and the feeling of getting ahead may not be your reality. Many factors can take your eye off the prize. These challenges for every machine shop seem simple, but play a major role in determining the success of a quality shop.
Reducing Delivery Time
Efficiency often translates into time. There are many other factors tied to efficiency, but every customer wants to know: how soon can I get it? The benefits of CNC machining speed up manufacturing time, but designs can now be much more complex so short lead times for finished products can still be elusive.
Speed of production must be balanced with precision. Design and programming, inventory control, and personnel all play key roles in the speed of delivery. Automation helps this process with applications at every stage. CAD systems speed up design simply by virtue of computer use. Designs can also be saved, however, and often new designs are simply a re-work of something you have manufactured before. Programming through CAM software follows the same strategy. Computerized G-codes can be gathered straight from following a 3D model, or adjusted from a similar program or cloud-based feedback from monitors on the shop floor. Personnel and inventory can be assigned based on lead times determined for the production runs. Working on the whole operation using the LMP (Lean Manufacturing Principle) model will effectively reduce delivery time.
Maximizing CNC Utilization
A further look at CNC machining is critical to the precision work you aspire to produce. This dynamic is more critical for your more expensive machines, namely the 5-axis ones typically producing the more complex parts. The stakes are higher in every respect with these machines because any error — in the program, execution, or part — is much more expensive to fix.
A few seemingly minor details can be the difference in the effective use of your machine. Always invest in training from the manufacturer and maintain an ongoing relationship with them to advise on software and hardware compatibility. Training can help understand left- or right-hand cutting tool loading in relation to force, for example. This will impact the longevity of your machine.
Understanding your CNC machine also extends to the type of work you take on. Taking in work you are not familiar with will cost money in setup time and trouble-shooting. Staff will not be trained and your machine may not be fitted with the right tools for the job. Expanding your services is a good idea, but it should have a slow and deliberate learning curve with an overall business strategy.
Improving Part Quality
Improving part quality when the speed of delivery is a factor is becoming less of an obstacle with the brilliant software programs providing feedback on metrology, speed, toolpath, and more. Precision manufacturing used to be a slow and deliberate process often utilizing several machines and processes under the skilled hands of a machinist. Now computer programs can produce a near flawless finish using intelligent systems that design an optimal toolpath and feed the cutting information back through cameras and other sensors.
Keeping quality a priority is more important, in our opinion, than speed. If your machine shop is not yet embracing Industry 4.0 fully, manual efforts must systematically be followed for every process which will slow delivery times. Quality issues will compromise your manufacturing department’s profitability. Worse yet, if those issues persist, they can damage your reputation in the industry. So maintaining quality is a constant challenge.
CNC machines are finely tuned pieces of equipment. The work they produce is robust and tough, but they are sensitive and require delicate care and attention to keep them running their best…