CNC machines are becoming more sophisticated and single machines are able to perform multiple tasks with fewer set-ups – in many cases a single setup. 5-axis machines have been – and continue to be - one of the latest technology trends in CNC machining. Multi-axis equipment enables a part to be completed with a single set-up, leading to more precise machining and fewer errors as well as faster cut times. For these reasons, 5-axis machines are able to fabricate higher complexity parts and often set manufacturers, like ABS, apart from the competition. One of the latest technology advancements in CNC machining has been the addition of a new axis – making some CNC equipment capable of 6-axis machining. While this technology is still in its infancy and is not readily adopted, it is expected to grow in the coming years.
Heavily Reliance on Automation
Automation continues to have a huge presence in the future of CNC machining. Automation comes in different forms with two examples being the automation rate and the level of automation. The automation rate in machine shops continues to increase with time and is the amount of machinery and equipment that is automated, replacing manual tasks. For example, cobots, collaborative robots that work side-by-side humans, continue to gain traction in manufacturing and are an example of increased automation rate on the shop floor. Cobots are easily programed and have excellent dexterity, making this form of automation a good option for manufacturers that need to be nimble in their workflows. Many robots use real-time data and artificial intelligence to collect information and “remember” – making these technologies incredibly capable. Cobots and other forms of digital automation improve efficiencies and enable machine shops to keep pace with market demand.
The level of automation in manufacturing is also increasing with time, which means more tasks along the supply chain are being automated. For example, customers are demanding more transparency in their supply chains. Quality and traceability requirements are growing and technologies such as the IIoT enable this level of real-time data collection and remote tracking. In many cases, this data is available real-time via a dashboard with the desired output summarized for easier and quicker consumption.
Businesses are often focused on the 3 P’s: people, planet, and profit; thus, sustainability is a big focus area for manufacturing including CNC machining. Manufacturers are focusing more on their environmentally-friendliness and often work to reduce their footprint. Some ways that machine shops are increasing sustainability efforts include emissions reductions, lower energy consumption, and less waste generation. For example, many CNC machine shops are increasing the level of automation in their operations – yielding efficiency gains and less waste. Additionally, during the past couple of years of supply chain disruptions, CNC machine shops often have a greater appreciation for raw materials and the value of minimizing waste. Lastly, some CNC machine shops are working with OEMs to identify opportunities to reuse and recycle materials at the end of a product’s life cycle.