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How CNC Automation Impacts Your Machine Shop

CNC Automation Impact



Published on

May 8, 2023

This is the first of a two-part series on how CNC automation impacts your machine shop. This series looks at six important ways that adding a machine-tending robot helps your machine shop.

Reading time: 4 Minutes

Word count: 1184

Key Takeaways: This post explores why machine shop leaders are flocking to add CNC automation.

At first glance, loading and unloading a CNC machine appears easy. The steps are consistent and repeatable.

  1. Open the door to the work envelope
  2. Blow out any excess chips
  3. Ensure the work-holding device is open far enough to accept the incoming part.
  4. Insert the raw stock in the work-holding device
  5. Adequately tighten the work-holding device
  6. Close the door to the work envelope
  7. Press the start button and wait until the cycle time is complete
  8. Blow off any chips and liquids from the finished part

The complicated work is all done by the CNC machine.

Those simple loading and unloading steps can be fraught with errors. Those errors open up the possibility of more than scrapping a part because it wasn’t properly inserted in the work-holding device.

Using a human machine operator can be comfortable because you’ve always done it that way. But that machine operator can also put your machine shop at a competitive disadvantage in customer acquisition. It can also place you at a disadvantage in terms of profitability.

Those things happen not because the people are bad. They are NOT. The job is bad, and that is why so few people want to be machine operators.

If you aspire to become a machinist and want to learn from the ground up, being a machine operator for a short time gives you some real-life experience.

Chances are you wouldn’t knowingly choose either of those disadvantages when mapping out your strategy for growing your operation.

Automating CNC machine tending can have a significant impact on reducing your operational costs, which will result in a fatter bottom line.

Understanding the Impact

We haven’t yet found a machine shop so well optimized that they wouldn’t benefit from adding a machine-tending robot.

And we haven’t yet found a machine shop that didn’t significantly benefit from automating that process.

The scope of impact is inversely related to machine shop size. If a machine shop has 10 CNC machines, adding two robots immediately impacts the bottom line.

A machine shop with 50 CNC machines that adds two robots will immediately impact the bottom line, but not on the scale that the shop with ten machine tools sees.

Market Trends

We are seeing larger machining operations planning their robot acquisition over three years. Some of the larger machine shops are adding a robot a month. Some are planning on even more.

Why the rapid movement to add so many CNC machine tending robots? They see the value.

They see the impact of adding one robot. Things become really attractive by multiplying that impact over the next 50 machine tools. Even though the bottom-line impact of one robot is smaller in a larger operation, all it takes is back-of-the-envelope math to realize that there is no way to walk away from automating 12 or 24 machine tools a year.

Many of the larger machine shops already have an advantage over smaller shops. Their scale allows them to react differently than the smaller operations to the same business trend.

If you have a staff of 30 machine operators and two calls off, you can probably adjust, move some people around, and throw a little overtime at the problem, and unplanned absences do not impact their customers. They are still going to deliver parts on time.

If you have eight machine operators and two call off, how can you adapt? Keeping delivery promises can be a struggle.

Larger machine shops already have an inherent advantage in size. That brings the question, what do those bigger machine shops see that makes them clamor to add more robots at a frenetic pace?

It Starts with Quality and Reliability

Variables are the arch enemy of repeatability and quality. Humans can drop finished parts. They can have insertion errors that lead to scrap.

If the machine operator fails to tighten the work-holding adequately, you may end up with scrap, a damaged or broken cutting tool, or damage to your machine tool. You may even end up with all three.

Even worse, the machine operator could be injured on the job. No one wants that.

This is where CNC automation has a distinct advantage. The robot is calibrated for distance and movements. It is bolted to the floor next to your machine tool, so expensive handling errors are virtually eliminated. So are workplace injuries.

Your customers appreciate the consistency in the parts your run for them. Your bottom line will also appreciate the lowered costs from errors and inefficiencies.

This reason alone is enough to sway the larger machining operators at back-of-the-envelope math by adding robots. But there are still some powerful reasons behind their movements.

Reduction in Labor Costs

No one grows up wanting to be a machine operator. Why would they? The job is unpleasant at best and physically dangerous at worst.

The people are NOT the problem. The job is the problem.

Add to the boring nature of tending a machine tool; the pay is low because it is low-value work. Loading and unloading your CNC machine must be done. But the value in the process is done by the machine tool, not the machine operator.

But the machine operator is NOT the challenge. It is the job.

We see savvy machine shop leaders redeploy their machine operators to new roles in the company. They get to upskill and earn more money because they do something that adds more value to the process and product.

When people upskill, there is a positive ripple effect across the organization.

Smart leadership encourages young people to take selfies with the robot and post them on social media. That helps reduce the cost of recruiting and brings in more young people into the organization.

They come because they can see a future. They know if the leadership has invested in robots, that operation has a long-term plan and will likely be a place for those young people to grow.

But the only way to get to that point is to add a robot to tend the CNC machine.

All of that leads to greater productivity and reduced cost of labor. It also acts as a hedge against inflationary wage and benefit pressures.

More Production from the Same Space

Even if you own the building, you know floor space is expensive. This is a frequently overlooked factor with RoboJob-USA robots.

Our robots take up very little space. They are positioned so your machinist can easily access the work envelope. That way, they can change a cutting tool or a collet without hindrance.

They can also get in and run a test part or even a job.

Robots are all about doing more with less. That means you don’t need a new machine tool to get more production from your shop. That means you don’t need to expand your square footage to expand production in the same space.

That is a real advantage. For some reason, it can easily be overlooked.

More importantly, not all robots offer that same minimal footprint. Safety cages take up space. Some robots require a larger operating space. Over the last fifteen years, we’ve focused on minimal footprint with maximum output.

Ready to explore your journey to automation? Call us at 866-952-9020 and press 1. Or, you can engage with the chatbot!

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