In previous generations, machinists had to look at readouts on tables and manually lay out plans before going to work on a part. But exciting advancements in computerized numerical control (CNC) technology have made machining far more predictable, repeatable and efficient. In the modern era, builders can gain an advantage by choosing a manufacturing partner on the cutting edge of CNC machining technology.
CNC: Machining in the Modern World
Today's CNC equipment allows for a level of motion control that simply cannot be achieved with conventional methods and equipment. As long as the part is clamped in the right position, operators can use a predefined software program to "command" their equipment to mill and drill various shapes over and over again exactly the same way.
This level of predictability and repeatability has opened doors to unattended machining — the process is so reliable that operators can set the program, walk away and do something else while the CNC-driven equipment handles the job.
Not only does modern CNC machining create consistent and accurate parts through predictable, repeatable production runs, it also reduces human error and takes the guesswork out of timeline planning and scheduling. With predictability comes the ability to pinpoint on a calendar exactly how long it will take to complete, say, a 1,000-piece run.
Modern CNC machining also allows operators to utilize more efficient techniques. For example, helical milling moves three axes at once — the X axis, Y axis and Z axis — to create a bore on a part. This would simply not be possible with a conventional machine.
New Hiring Opportunities and Simplified Training
Modern CNC techniques also open new doors for labor and personnel management.
Since traditional milling methods require a far more sophisticated and specialized level of skill, it is much easier to hire in the era of modern CNC.
CNC training can be done in house, with an experienced employee showing a new hire how to use the equipment. Recruits used to serve long apprenticeships under master tradespeople with years of experience, but today's new hires need only to learn a few core concepts, such as setting coordinates, setting tools, understanding how to download and run a program, and how to stop if they want to check something.
Engineers and programmers are trained on CAD (computer-aided drafting) and CAM (computer-aided machining) software. They learn how to use CAD to model and draw parts, and they learn how to use CAM to determine the machining parameters, including which tools to use and which metal-removal methods to apply.
Just a Handful of Parts? Probably Not Worth a CNC Setup
CNC technology has revolutionized the milling process, but it usually isn't worth the engineering time required for setup on a run of just a few parts. Generally, when milling a low-production run of fewer than four parts in a standard shape, manufacturers don't reap CNC's repeatability benefits. In those cases, it's usually less expensive and faster to just do it on a conventional machine. It is important to note that this rule only pertains to standard shapes. If even a single part is complicated, it makes sense to use CNC.
CNC machining provides a level of motion control, predictability and repeatability that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. The manufacturers who utilize it create better parts faster and cheaper, and they can further reduce costs and streamline operations through hiring that is much more open and training that is simpler and faster.