One of the problems that successful CNC technology shops encounter is growth. Yes, it seems strange that the growth of your business is an issue but it is nevertheless so. The main consideration of machine shop owners when their ventures grow is the staff. It takes much more time for the director to find a capable machinist compared to the time when the additional workforce is in demand due to CNC production volume growth.
The Labor Problem In CNC Machine Shops
CNC machining is not an easy task. It requires qualified personnel with specific skills. The market simply doesn’t have so many capable machinists to deal with all the demand. Therefore, the majority of machine shops hire people that are more or less knowledgeable about machining and teach them specific stuff. This leads to a long period of employee preparation. However, the development of a successful machine shop can demand a faster response.
In addition, people can work only 8 hours a day while a CNC machine stands in the shop there all the time. Using the capabilities of CNC technology it is possible to increase employee and machine tool efficiency.
Let us look at the problems that machine shop owners encounter and see how they manage to overcome the limitations with a fixed employee count.
Problem 1. Too Much Equipment, Not Enough Workers
This first issue is one of the most common problems in the manufacturing world. A machine shop from Tennessee got into such an issue back during the Great Depression. They had to increase their production volume while having no resources for additional employees. They decided to invest in automated CNC machines and teach their workers to manage two at a time.
Today, they have kept this tradition. The Tennessee shop has recently bought three automated CNC machining cells. Those include a 5-axis Machining center, a chip conveyor, coolant pumps, and a part collector. The whole system basically works as a single block. The owners have taught their machinists to watch two cells at a time. They are planning to buy more without increasing the number of machinists.
Problem 2. Machine Tools are Not Working During All the Allotted Time
A director of a rapid production facility took notice that his equipment could work at night as well as during the daytime. He saw that while a human full-time week has only 40 hours, the machine tools can work 120 or even 168 hours a week. CNC production overnight could up his output at least by the times without hiring and training new people to man the tools at night because the Cnc technology has developed that complete automation of all the processes is possible.
The director first installed all his machine tools with longer chip conveyors and directed all the chip from the shop into a larger tank that needed emptying only once in two days. Next, he installed large cutting tool change mechanisms with 64 tools or more. That way he could mount duplicate tools into the system and arrange for the machine tool to use new cutters after the old ones were worn. Next, he purchased automatic feedstock mechanisms for his lathes and robotic hands for his milling machine tools. If set up correctly, they could install blanks into the tools without human help. And lastly, the director bought special part collection systems for unloading.
His idea brought good results. At the end of the working day, the machinists would spend the last out setting up the automatic manufacturing system. During the night it would work and notify the chief engineer if anything was amiss via an app. Then, in the morning, the shop would get a whole two day worth of work in one night. This made it possible to move larger and simpler batches to the automatic production and let the machinists deal with single prototype jobs, which are more complex and interesting.
Problem 3. People Have Prejudices Against CNC Technology Automation
It is a common misconception that CNC technology development, implementing robots, and automation will make people lose their working places. However, this is fundamentally wrong. Robots simply increase labor efficiency. For example, using robotic arms for loading and unloading operations doesn’t get the worker fired. It just saves him time and effort of doing mundane tasks. Instead, he can oversee the work of not only one machine tool but a number of them.
Possible Issues With CNC Technology Automation
Automation is a complex process that requires serious design and validation. An automated system is unique in its algorithms, volumes, and tooling. His order to efficiently automate CNC manufacturing systems, you have to take into account a number of possible issues. Firstly, the chip removal. The majority of CNC machine tools have a chip conveyor. However, the chip tank is usually changed at least once a shift. In order to carry out long automated jobs, the machine shop will need to have an individual central chip removal system. Usually, it refers to a larger custom made conveyor that collects the chips from all the other machine tools and puts them in a large room that needs emptying much rarer.
Another issue is providing the equipment with necessary coolants at all times. Coolants ensure that the cutters work as long are they are meant to and that the part quality is maintained. Ensuring that the coolant is provided at all times requires installing special sensors and additional pump systems to the machine tool. Once the fluid level on the coolant tank is too low, a special pump line opens up and fills the tank to the required level.
Depending on the parts you manufacture, the different end part tanks are necessary. In general, when automating the systems you must always look at container volumes. Automated systems are very efficient and require a lot of space. Otherwise you’ll come to the shop in the morning finding parts strewn all over the floor and the system stuck because it couldn’t get a new blank from an overfilled precious container.