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. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

CNC Machining’s Best Kept Secret: Parametric Programming

Even experienced CNC machinists aren’t always familiar with parametric programming. And those that do know of it, often don’t know how to use it. Once you understand what it is and how it can improve your CNC machining life, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t taken the time to learn it in the past.

What Is Parametric Programming?

You can easily compare this type of programming to any computer program language. Parametric programming allows you to create custom macros, which as you might guess, are quite useful to many businesses. But as it stands, they’re not even using the custom macros which could boost their productivity noticeably.

Here’s some other situations where parametric programming comes in handy:

 Families of parts

Pretty easy one here. If you cut families of parts repeatedly, you’re going to benefit from custom macros.

General purpose routines: 

Okay, so let’s say you’ve created custom macros for parts families. Well, you do likely also have certain cuts you have to make on a routine basis. You know what they are. And they’re a perfect opportunity for parametric programming.

One benefit for this kind of parametric programming is that programs become shorter and easier to change. If you’d like to learn more, these routines are commonly referred to as “user-created canned cycles.”

Any complex motion you need to make: 

Let’s say you need to cut a taper on a thread. Now, that’s a difficult motion to pull off. Instead of programming that one every time, create a macro to save yourself time. To put it in perspective, parametric programming would only require 50 lines or so of code in G code. Do this on a CAM system, and the exact same process requires hundreds or thousands of commands.

 Any other process that takes time: 

Think about how you use your CNC machinery here. How long does it take you to set it up? What if you need to transfer a program? Consider all the steps you have to implement with your CNC machine, and then replace those repetitive ones with macros.

When it comes to parametric programming, the most common uses you’ll find for it include for families of parts and creating your own canned cycles. Once you get these functions programmed in, you’ll be glad you did because it saves you so much time and improves your productivity. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Everything You Need to Know to Get Started with Ballscrews

New to CNC machining? You might wonder, like many others, what ballscrews are all about.

What is a ballscrew, and why would you use one anyway?

First, take a look at ballscrew theory. Think of this as your introductory college course to ballscrews. Very simply, ball screws transfer rotational motion into linear motion with next to no friction. They do this at about 90% efficiency. This is far more efficient than any other method that does the same. This greater efficiency also means ballscrews also have a much longer life than other components that perform the same function.

Why would you use a ballscrew?

They’re usually used in situations where you have a lot of lead or need a lot of life. They compare to lead screws, which get used for the same purpose, but they’re used in smaller, lighter duty applications. Lead screws also have more customizability, as you can change the leads, sizes, and their nut configurations quickly and with ease.

How do Ballscrews Work?

They’re pretty simple in nature. The threads on a ballscrew allow a hardened steel ball to transfer rotational motion from a ball nut into linear motion along the shaft. Inside of the ball nut, there’s grooves, and these grooves fit with those on the shaft, allowing the multiple balls to travel along.

Ballscrews also have a high degree of accuracy. They can easily be accurate to 1/10000th of an inch.

Comparing 2 Types of Ballscrews

When you look to buy ballscrews, you’ll run into these common types:

Ground ballscrews
Rolled ballscrews

Ground ballscrews are made when abrasive wheels cut the channels the ball moves through. While they carry a higher price, they do have high tolerances and exceptional accuracy. They also tend to operate much more quietly than rolled ballscrews.

Speaking of rolled ballscrews, their main benefit over ground ballscrews is their cheaper cost. In fact, they can easily cost 15-20x less than their ground counterparts. However, you will sacrifice accuracy. Rolled ballscrews can be found with accuracies similar to that of ground ones. But, they also then carry the same price.

In nearly every case, ground ballscrews work out better than rolled. So when deciding which to use for your CNC machine, the question usually comes down to the accuracy you need and the price you’re willing to pay for it.

Hope that helps

Thursday, July 14, 2016

CNC Machine Modes of Operation

All right. More CNC machine basics here. Today, we’re discussing the various modes of operation your CNC machine can use.

Let’s get right to it:

Manual Mode

Note that this differs from Manual Data Input (MDI) mode. In manual mode, your CNC machine acts like a standard machine. You can operate it just like you would any other machine that doesn’t use programming. You can push buttons, turn wheels, and turn switches on or off.

The difference between manual mode and manual data input mode is that with MDI, you can do certain things that you can’t in manual mode. More on that in a second.

Manual Data Input Mode (Also Called MDI or MDA Mode)

In this mode, you can do some programming and data entry. However, everything you enter will only be done once. If you need all the functions done again, you’ll have to program them again.
The advantage of this mode is that you can do manual operations that simply cannot be done in manual mode. Some CNC machines, for example, don’t have manual controls to change the spindle speed.

 Single Block Mode

Each CNC program is made of blocks. They may be numbered something like N20, N30, and N40. When you enter this mode, just a single block of code executes. Additionally, this means your CNC machine only stops moving on its access. For example, the machine spindle keeps turning, and coolant continues to flow too.

Edit Mode

Just as it sounds, you can enter programs in your CNC machine’s memory, or you can modify current programs. Programs are usually organized by number, and you can make the program you want active.

You can also insert new info into the program, alter its current info, or delete info from it. Some, but not all, CNC programs allow you to cut, paste, find, and replace data just like you would in word processing software.

Automatic Mode/Program Operation Mode

Again, no surprises here. In this mode, you get to find out how well you did with creating your program. So, take a deep breath, and execute yours. Most CNC machines allow you to see the commands executed as they happen. So, if you notice a mistake, you will be able to easily identify where it is in your program.

Those are your basic modes of operation. Feelin’ ready? Awesome. Time to give your CNC machine a try!