CNC Machines – Evolution, not RevolutionPosted on August 13, 2018
CNC Machines – Martin Price, Operations Director at the Engineering Technology Group, takes a look at the evolution of CNC machining and technology and explains that, whilst some of the founding principles remain the same, the future now lies in a desire to be ‘connected’.
The manufacturing shopfloor of the 21st century is a far-removed environment from 15 years ago, let alone a machine shop that had just emerged from the rigours of World War II.
Rows and rows of CNC machinery and automation littered across the now remarkably clean floors of our production facilities creates a picture of where industry has come from and, importantly, where it is heading to with the implementation of the Internet of Things (IoT) and a growing desire for real time data at our fingertips. Data is king, we are all now beginning to realise that.
However, whilst 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 actual cornerstone technology behind CNC Machines (Computerised Numerical Control to give its full title) remain unchanged – even surrounded by this futuristic kit and new just-in-time manufacturing principles.
All automated motion-control manufacturing CNC machines, from the bare bones concepts of the early days to the highly advanced systems we see today, still require three primary components. These include a command function, a drive/motion system and a feedback system.
I wonder if US engineer John Parsons ever thought back then in the 1940s that the founding principles of his invention of numerical machine tool controls (NC), the forerunner of today’s CNC machines, would still be having such a profound effect on modern-day manufacturing.
As he has since explained, necessity was the mother of his invention when he was coming up with a solution for aircraft parts, but his vision and engineering expertise paved the way for the outstanding CNC machines we are currently producing and selling to customers in automotive, aerospace, electronics, medical, nuclear and healthcare. In short, being able to efficiently cut metal, accurately and quickly leaves its mark on every sector.
In the twenty years that proceeded it we saw plenty of changes, with each decade bringing with it new advancements, whilst the 1970s were particularly important for the advent of CAD/CAM and the first full introduction of CNC machines.
From there digital technology entered the fray and, in more recent years, automation in production processes has continued to give manufacturers the tools they need to produce more complex components faster and more efficiently.
However, the story is only just beginning…
CNC Machines Today
Smart-machining, connected factories, additive manufacturing and ‘lights-out’ production all used to be buzzwords of yesteryear, now they are playing out their true meanings in companies of all shapes and sizes.
The world has become digital and so too has our manufacturing plants. CNC machine tools today are complicated, complex and, importantly, are often always connected to automation, MRP systems or in-machine measurement probes. Our strong relationship with Blum-Novotest is a prime example of the latter.
However, when more CNC machines and technology are connected together 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, result in poor quality and remove any spare capacity a firm might have.
The good news is there is a solution developing and that calls for closer relationships between the software providers, machine tool builders and robot suppliers so these problems can be ironed out at the earliest possible time and don’t manifest themselves at a more crucial stage of the job.
These partnerships are a positive and mean sub-contractors will have more choice when it comes to integrated solutions that offer better reliability and performance. It will also take away the need for ‘pick and mix’, so often a cause of frustration for CNC machine purchasers trying to piece together the perfect package.
We have also seen a major increase in the number of customers wanting 5-axis machines, which, in layman’s terms, means using CNC machines to move a part or cutting tool along five different axes simultaneously.
This enables the machining of very complex parts as often seen in aerospace, F1 and increasingly automotive, where car designs are becoming more diverse and advanced. There are other factors driving CNC machines purchasing trends, including the desire for single set-up machining, improved cycle times through achieving optimum cutting positions and improved tool life.
From talking to our Regional Sales Managers, the other anecdotal trend we are finding over the last few years is that machined parts suppliers are searching for reduced set-up times so they can move on to the next job in order to meet customer demand.
Speed is one element, but there are also an increasing number of part design changes that need to be quickly accommodated in CNC machines.
Thankfully, controls for CNC machines have improved tremendously 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 the CNC machine.
Improvements have also kept pace on the software side and the standardisation of hardware and user-friendly programmes has done much to ensure the complexity of new and future machines can be achieved effectively.
CNC Machines in the Future
New CNC technology can help a business remain competitive, win new products, reduce costs and work with an ever-increasing arsenal of exciting materials as some of our recent case studies prove.
However, progress will not stop there, and machine builders are continually looking at stretching the boundaries of performance, an appetite that is being fueled by the Industry 4.0 movement. Smarter, more connected, data-driven machines are inevitable.
These CNC machines are learning on their own and will gradually require less interaction with, and dependency on, their human operators.
Manufacturers will be able to achieve greater insight into their CNC machines and processes, giving them the opportunity to plan more effective maintenance, reduce material waste and achieve even greater levels of quality. ‘Trial and error’ on parts will also be removed as software can now play out the process in a virtual world.
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: