Monday, December 5, 2016

How to Tell if Your CNC Plasma Machine’s 5 Consumables Are Worn


You bought your CNC plasma cutting machine to make precise cuts on wide range of cuts and to keep your consumable costs low. You want to keep both of those benefits. But when your consumables wear down, you lose your precision cutting ability you’re your consumable costs start to go up.

If you’re new to plasma cutting, how do you know if your consumables are worn down or working properly…before they reach the crisis point?

Come along with us to learn the signs of consumable wear and proper functioning:

The Nozzle

Many problems happen with plasma cutting machine’s nozzles. It’s the most common source of issues out of all the consumables.

With use, the nozzle’s orifice loses its roundness. Eventually, it gets so wide that you lose the arc you’re used to cutting with. The metal that you cut, which you’re used to falling out in a certain shape, gets wider over time. You also cut slower because that constricted arc has lost some of its heat and is now widened out.  If your nozzle is shaped like an oval, it’s worn out and needs replacing.

The Swirl Ring

For the most part, you don’t notice deterioration over time in your swirl ring. However, it can eventually crack from use, or if you drop it. If it’s not channeling gas like it should, you’ll have to replace it.

Retaining Cap

Like the swirl ring, your retaining cap can also crack from being dropped. For the most part, however, that’s all you’ll have to look for.

The Shield

Slag can build up on the end of the shield over time. That can reduce airflow and the quality of your cut, so make sure you remove any slag from your shield.

The Electrode

Over time, you may find you develop a pit at the front of your electrode. Here’s a really important point: replace your electrode once the pit depth exceeds 1/32 of an inch. If you run your electrode to failure, which you’ll notice because you see an ominous green glow in your arc, you’ll cause serious (and costly) damage to the rest of your plasma cutting machine. Always change your electrode and nozzle together.

When you watch for these signs of wear, in addition to engaging in preventative maintenance, you keep your consumables in top condition so you consistently make precision cuts – and quality product your customers love. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Why and When to Warm Up Your CNC Machine



Think of your favorite professional athlete. Or, maybe you’re more of a music person. Even though they might be the best in the world at what they do, they both still take the time to warm up. They don’t suddenly run out on the field, the court, or the stage and start playing. They still have to get their mind and body ready so they can do their full performance to the best of their ability that day.

Your CNC machine’s no different. It needs a little bit of a warm up before working at full speed. This distributes lubrication oil evenly, which reduces wear on your CNC machine and increases its life. As you know, heat can also cause your machine and its tools to expand, even if ever-so-slightly. But, you don’t even want a little expansion because that affects the precision of your cutting. Warming your machine up keeps it operating at a stable temperature so you don’t have to worry about that.

When To Warm Up Your CNC Machine

It turns out your CNC machine may actually need more than one warm-up during the day. Assuming you have a shop with at least mild temperatures and that you never give your CNC machine more than a 4-hour break during the day, you only need to warm it up once. However, if it stays cold inside your shop throughout the day, you should give your CNC machine a warm-up even if you’ve only let it sit idle for your lunch break.

You should also give your CNC machine a warm-up if your project requires a tight tolerance. That means if you even take a short break to run to the bathroom, you should leave a warm-up routine executing.

For your spindles, make sure you warm those up when you need to run them at high speeds. You should also do this if your CNC machine’s spindle had not been operating for at least the last 4 days.

Your CNC machine’s manufacturer often has a custom made warm-up program for your machine. If it’s available, use it. If not, you’ll have to make your own.


Stay tuned to this blog because we’ll have a guide that helps you create the right warm-up program for your needs. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

3 Ways to Boost Your CNC Machining Speed



Do you do your job as fast as you want? Do you struggle to keep up with deadlines and production goals? Or, are you the proactive thinker, always looking for smarter and faster ways to do the job, without sacrificing quality?

Whatever the case, you can boost your speed. See if implementing any of these tips will help you:

Optimize Your Cut Depth and Width

This is tough to do manually. You can spend years trying hundreds of combinations, or sticking to a rule of thumb. But, the problem with that is you might miss out on the optimal cut depth and width for a certain project anyway.

These days, you need to rely on software. It can quickly run hundreds of comparisons for you and find the optimum cut depth and width so you don’t have to spend years trying to find them on your own.

What to Do When Your Feed Rates Aren’t Fast Enough

You can experience this issue when cutting soft materials that have big chip loads. CNC router users see this problem the most frequently of all CNC machinists.

Fortunately, it’s easy enough to work around. If you’ve maxed out your feed rate, slow down the RPM on the spindle. This in turn reduces the feed rate necessary. You can also try using a smaller cutter, and that will give the added benefit of a lower chipload too.

Finally, you can also try reducing the number of flutes on your cutter. Going down from a 4-flute cutter to a single flute gives you ¼ of the feed rate. Exceptions to this rule exist for sticky materials, but you can ignore that for now.

A Few Other Techniques You Can Use

There are a number of “high speed machining” techniques you can use to increase your speed. You can combine the rough and finish passes. Use smaller tooling because it generally moves faster. Use a cut width of 5-15% of the tool diameter because it allows the tool more time for cooling down. Also, use toolpath strategies that avoid the loss of productivity cutting corners can cause.


You can do a lot more to increase the speed of your CNC machining. But, that’s all we have time for now. Stay tuned – more fast machining tips to come in the future!

Monday, October 17, 2016

What Top CNC Machining Shops Do Differently



Some CNC machining shops way outperform others. Only common sense tells you that.

But what’s hard to figure out is why. If you knew that, then you could start to modify your CNC machine shop so you become one of the leaders. And it might even inspire  your thinking to the point where you find ways to innovate beyond your competitors.

So what do top CNC machining shops do that the rest of the pack doesn’t?

These things:

Top Shops Almost Always Use 5-Axis Machining

According to the 2016 Top Shops Executive Summary, top shops are much more likely to use this technology than others. It doesn’t matter whether this is 3+2 positioning or full contouring. It’s simply the easiest, most efficient way to create complex parts with the least number of touches.

And, most top shops use more advanced machining technology and techniques like high-speed machining and hard turning.

Only Doing Projects and Taking on Strategy That Fits Within Your Business’s Purpose

What’s the defined purpose of your CNC machine shop? If you’re like most, you probably don’t have one. So, maybe it’s time to define one.

When you define your purpose, that tells you exactly which projects you take on and why. That means you get more efficient at creating high value for your customers.

And as you might guess, that means higher profits and long streams of customers for you. So, if a certain action or customer doesn’t advance your business’s purpose, strongly consider not doing it.

If you want to be really good at dozens of things, then you’ll have to build additional shops and teams who can specialize in those.

Top Shops are Independent Shops, Not Small Components of Large Companies

While larger companies certainly are capable of success, the best of the best most often are independent shops. It may be because the independents are able to customize their tools and processes to meet niche needs much more effectively than the big guys. In general, they also focus on repeating jobs.

This data, by the way, also comes from MMSOnline’s annual Top Shops survey. Top shops make an average of 2,097 different parts per year, compared to an amazing 5,874 for the average shop.

There’s much more that the top CNC shops do that average companies don’t. Make sure you read the Top Shops survey to learn how you can stand out from the competition. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

5 Tips for Using a Slitting Saw Safely and Effectively



Do you know anyone who has had a major accident with a saw of any kind? It’s not something you want to find yourself on the wrong end of.

And, with every tool you use, you want to make sure you get the most out of it. You can avoid many mistakes with your slitting saw by reading and applying these tips:

How to Cut Deeply

With slitting saws, there’s two different ways of thinking. Some people say you should cut the whole slot in your project in just a single pass so chips don’t get caught up inside.

Others say you should only cut to a depth of 2-4 saw thicknesses in a pass. In fact, most people prefer this approach, so it’s a tough decision you’ll have to make.

Some people do push their slitting saws further than this. That’s okay if you have the perfect setup and know exactly what you’re doing. If you’re uncertain about any of your setup, avoid doing it.

Use the Thickest Saw Blade Possible

If you’re just starting, make sure you have a 1/16” saw blade and 1/8” saw blade. This makes the saw blade easier to control so you get a more precise, quality cut. And it also means the blade will have more strength and resistance to shattering.

Should You Go With Carbide or High Speed Steel (HSS)?

Carbide’s more expensive, but it’s always more rigid than steel. Steel’s much cheaper. If your budget can handle it, and maybe even if it can’t, you should go with carbide blades.

Double-Check Your Feeds and Speeds

Because slitting saws are so much smaller and don’t have much mass, they get hot quick. It’s a common experience among CNC machine operators to run their slitting saw at seemingly normal feed or speed ratess, only to end up ruining the tool. Make sure you calculate the appropriate feeds and speeds for your situation.

The larger your slitting saw is, the slower it will have to run. You’ll also needs lots of coolant when you have long cut paths. Make sure you use flood coolant because that lets you cut fast.

Selecting a Slitting Saw Arbor

When you get an arbor, make sure you get one that has a deep cap with a low profile. You’ll want to do this so you have clearance if you have to cut a project that must sit in a vice.


Those are some simple slitting saw basics. Keep them in mind as you work on your project so you get the best quality cut possible. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Are You Lagging Behind with a Legacy CNC Machine?


What blue-collar CNC machinist doesn’t like getting a decade, maybe two, out of their CNC machine? You’re hard-working, efficient, and value-conscious. And there’s no better feeling in the world than when you get your money’s worth out of anything, including your CNC machine.

But, with how rapidly technology advances, you have to sometimes consider if it might not actually be a good value-based decision to replace your machine before it breaks down. So, let’s say you still have your good ol’ reliable legacy CNC machine, or maybe several of them.

And let’s say they’re all working just fine. You don’t have to sink thousands of dollars into them to repair them. They maintain pretty decent productivity levels.

Why might you change a good thing like this? Here’s some points to consider:

You Can Streamline Work Processes for Greater Automation

Nothing wrong with doing things manually because of the higher degree of control you have. But, you sacrifice productivity because you have to do the work yourself, rather than automating it with help from your CNC machine.

New software lets you integrate directly with personal computers. You can simplify part changeover. 

You can set your machine up so when you scan the barcode for a work order, it automatically selects the program and process sheets.

With new technology, automation of processes is really unlimited.

Multitasking with 5-Axis (or more) CNC Machines Boosts Your Productivity

With just a single machine tool, you can complete many operations. That’s an obvious boost in productivity. But, you can also increase precision too because you don’t have to clamp your part into place. When you set yourself up for multitasking, you can also save yourself valuable floor space you can use for other business purposes.

All these seemingly little improvements can give you quite an edge over the competition. So, if your company seems to be falling behind, and you don’t know why, this could very well be one of your main problems.


Plus, you’ll have happier customers too because you can complete orders faster and with greater degrees of accuracy. You’ll have to decide whether the investment makes sense for your company, but the overall benefits for most companies are clear. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Is Your CNC Machine Down? Here’s What You Can Do!



It’s your worst nightmare when running your CNC machine. You’re chugging along, happy with your productivity. Maybe even excited because you know you’re going to have something to good to show your boss. And then your machine stops doing anything.

Or, maybe your CNC machine didn’t even start up in the first place. It happens because even the best CNC machinery eventually breaks down. Nothing’s perfect.

So what could be going on? Without being there, we can’t say. But, we can give you some ideas of what to do so you can save time and get back up and running fast:

Set Up a Good Maintenance Schedule in the First Place

Okay, so if your CNC machine has already broke down, this doesn’t do you any good. However, it’s a must if you don’t already have a regular maintenance routine in place because it eliminates most future breakdowns. The best way to do it is to create a baseline of all your alignments and write down all the numbers you have when your CNC machine makes a good part.

You should check your machine frequently afterwards. Base your check on how much you use your machine, whether your shop floor has settled at all, and if your CNC machine’s had a little abuse from an accident or two around your shop.

Don’t Check Your Software First! Do This Instead…

For CNC machinists, checking the software is the natural first urge. Don’t do it! You’ll only drive yourself crazy as you wander around in logistical circles.

In most cases, the real cause of your problem will be your geometric alignments. So check all those first.

Common Causes of CNC Machine Failure

The most common reasons your CNC machine fails are because of two things present in abundant quantities in nearly every CNC machining environment: heat and contaminants. Lubricants, cutting fluids, scrap metal shavings, dirt, oil, and dust can be found everywhere.

Top this off with the fact that most production floors run hot, and you have the perfect recipe for CNC machine failure at some point. Yes, the cabinets are outfitted with AC. But, your AC can get clogged with all those contaminants we talked about before.


Your routine maintenance plan needs to address these issues so you stay up and running efficiently over the long haul.