Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machining uses pre-programmed computer software to dictate the movement of machining tools as part of a manufacturing process. As a staple of any modern factory setting, CNC machining has progressively replaced manual machining, in which an operator uses physical controls to alter the machined material as he moves the tool manually. Implementing CNC machining for processes in a factory can be costly and demands more expertise due to programming requirements. However, moving towards CNC processes is undoubtedly beneficial. This article will present the main advantages of transitioning to fully automatic CNC processes.
Precision and capability
The most important feature of CNC machining is the elimination of human error by using extremely precise templates to program a machining process. Manual machining is subject to the level of skill and precision exerted by the operator. Different operators have different levels of skill, which can alter the produced goods from one unit to another. Further, some patterns, textures or designs simply cannot be achieved by even the most skilled operators. CNC machining can allow companies to manufacture more complex products with higher degrees of detail and without compromising their quality.
CNC machining allows for constant and continuous production with very few breaks, only needed for cleaning and tool changes. This is quite contrasted with human operators, which rarely work for over 8 hours and experience fatigue throughout their shifts. Fatigue and changes in personnel make it harder to achieve a perfect product standard. Moreover, continuous production makes it more feasible to attain economies of scale through mass production by reducing the per-unit share of fixed costs such as permits, rent or heating. Better quality and cheaper per-unit production costs are without a doubt important in companies obtaining a competitive advantage.
One of the greatest advantages of CNC machining is the increased flexibility in production that it can achieve. Manual machining requires operators to develop expertise specific to a type of product. CNC machining uses templates that can be interchanged quickly to suit a new manufacturing process. No prior experience in machining a specific type of product is required. For companies that are subject to changing customer demands, being able to pivot production towards what is most in demand is crucial in obtaining a competitive advantage in a given market. CNC machines are increasingly becoming more user-friendly, allowing changes to current designs more easily applied. Overall, flexibility paired with maintained quality is part of the dependability most firms seek to develop.
CNC machining is particularly cost-effective. Rather than having one operator per machine as is tradition with manual machining, several machines can be simultaneously operated by a single operator. Because this operator is only required to be physically near the machines during maintenance or cleaning tasks, other tasks in the factory can be accomplished during this downtime. Not only are general workforce costs reduced, but better workforce efficiency can be achieved by diversifying the scope of the workers’ tasks. The initial purchase of CNC machines is fairly costly. However, for many applications, the payback period is only a few years, arguably similar to manual machines.
CNC machining reduces the number of operators on the floor as well as reducing the amount of time physically spent by operators near machines. Because work accidents in a factory setting most often occur on the floor when using high-powered machines, the implementation of CNC machining inevitably decreases the chances of an operator encountering a serious injury. In many jurisdictions, work accidents warrant the shutdown of production for several days, meaning delays and unforeseen costs for the firm.
So what’s the catch?
While transitioning to CNC machining may seem like a no-brainer, a few hang-ups do exist. First, the start-up costs are fairly substantial and CNC machines typically cost more than manual ones. For small companies, such costs may be a dealbreaker. Second, replacing all operators with machines can result in an important loss of machining expertise that could still be of value. Third, automation nixes jobs, which can upset workers’ unions, lead to long legal battles and jeopardize employees’ loyalty if they think they could lose their jobs at any time. Nonetheless, all of the cons of CNC machining can be worked around and don’t outweigh its benefits. No wonder so many companies have made the switch!
Retrieved from Medium. Article written by Thomas Stringer.