The use of industrial automated machines or robots has proven to be advantageous for both discrete and continuous manufacturers in diverse ways. These advantages include efficient production processes and increased productivity. Despite these benefits, their uses have been limited to machining smaller items. This is because industrial robots struggle with working on larger structures due to sensitivity to process loads and limited workspaces for SMEs. These challenges have led to the use of computer numerical control or CNC systems and other portable machine tools to enable machinists to efficiently work on larger projects.
This article will discuss:
- The integration of CNC systems in manufacturing shop floors
- The benefits of utilizing CNC systems in manufacturing plants
- The role CNC Mobile applications play in automating machining activities
Integrating CNC systems in manufacturing plants
The above-stated challenges highlight some of the disadvantages of using industrial automation systems which led to the introduction of CNC systems, but these aren’t the only reasons for its integration. Another important reason was to deal with the downtime of stationary equipment.
In the aviation industry, downtime caused by stationary machines has been responsible for the backlog in the production of aircraft. The slow rate of production led to a backlog of approximately 12,500 aircraft for both Boeing and Airbus, two powerhouses in the aviation industry. Thus, to optimize production efficiency, reduce downtime, increase machining accuracy, and automate machining processes, CNC systems were developed and are currently being used across diverse industrial niches.
CNC systems also double as edge computing devices as they are fitted or built with data-capturing, processing, and reporting features. The standard CNC mobile system consists of a mobile platform that allows the CNC robot machining arm to be moved from one location to another with ease. The system also integrates a CNC control which provides the platform for using software applications to control the movement and operations of the machine. This makes it possible to integrate these machines into shop floors with limited space and easily move them from one workstation to another to execute machining tasks.
The benefits CNC systems bring to manufacturing plants
Some of the major benefits of using a CNC mobile system have been outlined in the previous section. For a better understanding, we require an in-depth analysis of how these systems reduce downtime, optimize productivity, and automate traditional manufacturing processes.
- Reducing manufacturing downtime – To reduce downtime, the CNC mobile machine must be seen as a supportive power tool by shop-floor operators. This is because the mobile machine will be used during a planned machine downtime. Thus, instead of grinding production to a halt, the CNC mobile machine will be moved to areas where it is needed. Also, in terms of machining quality, CNC systems bring the power and accuracy of the traditional machining equipment, under maintenance, to the task.
- Increase machining speed – The marriage between computer numerical controlled systems and machining is one that ensures the machining process is automated. With automation comes enhanced precision levels and, more importantly, speed. The portable nature of CNC systems also extends the application of these machines. One example is the use of CNC mobile machines to handle intricate machining projects.
With a traditional lathe machine, the cutting process requires positioning and repositioning the material to be cut multiple times so the cutting tool can be applied. This process is cumbersome and comes with its own safety challenges. The introduction of CNC systems means the machining tool does the moving around while the structure to be cut largely remains stationary
- Provides more control – Many large enterprises manage the machining of intricate or complex components by outsourcing these projects to machine shops. While outsourcing comes with multiple benefits, control over the machining process is not one of them. The versatility and size of CNC mobile machines provide the option of handling intricate machining tasks in-house.
Manufacturers which have used these portable machines have recorded increased productivity levels and more control over every aspect of their manufacturing activities. This means setting production deadlines and meeting them without having to worry about the production efficiency of a third party.
- Integration with CAD/CAM platforms – The use of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software introduced digitization to manufacturing operations. Today, CAM tools have made digital manufacturing reality and the CNC mobile system is one of its beneficiaries. The CNC mobile machine makes use of the detailed models and real-time information provided by CAM applications to ensure multiple parts are precisely machined.
The input CAM provides includes tolerance data of a material, dimensions, and design. The inputted data is received by the CNC mobile machine’s code control language unit which directs the axis motion of the machine tool. This eliminates human error while delivering consistency throughout the machining task.
- Creates opportunities OEMs can explore – The aim of the pioneers of portable machine tools was to combine mobility with the power and abilities of stationary equipment. This includes the lathe machine, mills, boring equipment, and flange facers. OEMs can take and have taken on the challenge of integrating industrial-grade features into a mobile machine, and this led to the creation of the CNC mobile machine. The future will see more OEMs explore the possibility of infusing mobility into large and (otherwise) stationary installation and repair equipment. When this is done, traditional maintenance processes that required disassembly and shipping to machine shops for repairs will be reduced. This then creates a cost-effective and quicker process for repairing equipment within manufacturing plants.
CNC mobile applications and smart manufacturing
With the increased use of CNC systems comes the need to control and monitor these machines remotely. The increased use of IIoT also created avenues to explore the use of mobile applications to manage and connect CNC systems with existing networks and systems. Today, these mobile applications exist.
CNC mobile applications are used to view the status of a mobile system, collect machine data, and send notifications concerning its performance to operators. The ability to achieve this makes automation easier and provides the data needed to drive Industrie 4.0 concepts such as data-driven plant performance optimization.
CNC systems or machines provide diverse use cases for manufacturing enterprises to explore. Automated CNC mobile machines also serve as edge computing devices which create other possibilities and use cases manufacturers can explore. These use cases include machining, repairs, installation, and maintenance activities. The benefits that come with the introduction of mobility onto the shop floor will enhance manufacturing efficiency and reduce operational costs, which is what every manufacturing plant hopes to achieve.