CNC Machine Services – Evolution, not Revolution
CNC Machines – Martin Price, Operations Director at the Engineering Technology Group, explores the evolution of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining and technology. He explains that whilst some of the founding principles remain the same, the future now lies in a desire to be ‘connected’.
The CNC machine shop floor of the 21st century is a far-removed environment from 15 years ago. It is even more different from the CNC machine shops that had just emerged in the days of World War II.
Rows and rows of CNC machinery and automation now stand across the remarkably clean floors of our production facilities. Our machinery reminds us of where the CNC manufacturing industry came from. But, more importantly, it also reminds us of where the industry is heading.
Recently, there has been a steady rise in the implementation of the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is giving us access to real-time data at our fingertips. Data is king, we are all now beginning to realise that.
However, while the state-of-the-art exteriors of the Nakamuras, the Quasers, the Hardinge, Bridgeports and Chiron Group machines reflect modern-day life, some of the cornerstone technology behind CNC machines remains unchanged.
CNC machines are unchanged despite the rise in futuristic technologies and Just in Time principles.
From the bare bone concepts of the early days to the advanced systems of today, all automated, motion-control CNC machines require three primary components. These components are a command function, a drive/motion system and a feedback system.
The Evolution of CNC Machine Services
Back then in the 1940s, I wonder whether or not John T. Parsons expected the founding principles of his invention, numerical machine tool controls (NC), to have such a profound effect on modern-day manufacturing. Numerical machine tool controls are the forerunner of today’s CNC machines.
As Parsons has since explained, when he was brainstorming solutions for aircraft parts, necessity was the mother of his invention. Consequently, his vision and engineering expertise paved the way for today’s outstanding CNC machine services. We manufacture and distribute these machines to industries such as aerospace, electronics, nuclear, healthcare and medical. In short, being able to cut metal efficiently proves to be useful for every sector.
In the twenty years that proceeded it, we saw plenty of changes. With each decade introducing new advances. However, the 1970s were particularly important for the advent of CAD/CAM. Furthermore, the first full introduction of CNC machines arrived in the 1970s.
From there onwards, digital technology has entered the fray. Also, in more recent years, automation in production processes has provided manufacturers with the tools they need to produce complex components faster and more efficiently.
However, the story is only just beginning…
CNC Manufacturing Today
Smart machining, connected factories, additive manufacturing and ‘lights-out’ all used to be buzzwords of the past. Now they are playing out their true meaning in companies of all shapes and sizes.
The world has become digital, and so, too, has our manufacturing plants. CNC machine tools today are complex and, more importantly, always connected to automation. A lot of CNC machine tools are also connected to MRP systems and in-machine measurement probes. Our strong relationship with Blum-Novotest is a prime example of the latter.
However, when a lot of CNC machines are connected together, problems begin to arise. One problem is that there is always the possibility of a breakdown in communication somewhere in the integrated solution. This could be a very costly issue and can halt production lines. Also, this problem can result in poor quality and remove any spare capacity a firm might have.
The good news is that there is a solution developing that calls for closer relationships between software providers, machine tool builders and robot suppliers. When
close relationships are forged, we can iron out the problems early on, so they don’t manifest themselves at a more crucial stage of the job.
Moreover, these partnerships will mean that sub-contractors have more choice when it comes to integrated solutions that offer better reliability and performance. Partnerships can also take away the need for ‘pick and mix.’ Which is important as so often CNC machine purchasers struggle to piece together the perfect package.
Higher Demand for 5 Axis CNC Machines
Lately, there has also been a higher demand for 5-axis CNC machines.
A 5-Axis CNC machine is a machine which can move a part or cutting tool along five different axis simultaneously. This feature enables the machining of complex parts, as often seen in aerospace and F1. 5-axis CNC machines can also create parts in the automotive industry, where car designs are becoming more diverse and advanced.
There are other factors driving the CNC machine purchasing trend. For example, some of these factors include single set-up machining, improved tool life and improved cycle times through achieving optimum cutting positions.
From conversing with our Regional Sales Managers, we noted another anecdotal trend:
We discovered that over the last few years, machined part suppliers are searching for reduced set-up times, so they can move on to the next job to meet customer demand.
Speed is one element. However, there is also an increasing number of part design changes which need to be accommodated in CNC machines. Thankfully, controls for CNC machines improved to meet this desire.
Today’s machines are as powerful as the newest and best PC. In fact, the PC has now become an integral part of CNC machines.
Improvements have also kept pace on the software side. The standardisation of hardware and user-friendly programmers ensures that we can effectively achieve the complexity of future machines.
CNC Machines in the Future
Advanced CNC technology can help a business remain competitive and win new products. Furthermore, advanced CNC machinery reduces costs and work with an ever-increasing arsenal of materials. We have proven this in one of our recent case studies.
However, progress will not stop there. Machine builders are continually challenging the status quo of performance. The Industry 4.0 movement is helping to push these boundaries. Smarter, more connected, data-driven machines are inevitable.
CNC machines are learning on their own and will gradually require less human interaction and dependency.
Manufacturers will be able to achieve greater insight into their CNC machines and processes. This will, in turn, provide opportunities for them to plan more effective maintenance, reduce material waste and achieve better quality.
There will no longer be a need for ‘trial on error’ on parts, as design softwares to process 3D models of parts.
CNC machining is here to stay and will continue to be a bedrock of the manufacturing world. The CNC machines will just be progressively sleeker, smarter, faster and more likely to talk to each other.
If you have any queries related to CNC machines or software, feel free to contact us.
Introducing the new ETG Machine Tool Configurator (Box-Out)
This is a new way of ‘purchasing’ and enables clients to easily configure machines to their desired specifications online, whilst browsing the wide array of turnkey solutions available.
Other benefits of this new approach:
- Quotation time reduced from six weeks to just fifteen minutes
- Easy-to-print quotation document (PDF) automatically generated
- Simple navigation through a huge range of specifications and accessories
- Advantages using certain machines/manufacturers clearly outlined
- Engineering training courses built in to the configurator
Our CNC Machines Tool Associates include: