CNC Robotics And Automation:

Knowing When To Say ‘When’

In metalworking, a shop’s move from one level of automation to the next can be a business-busting decision if badly timed. This article looks at what you should consider when taking the next step toward automating an operation.

In today’s competitive CNC manufacturing environment, the need for quality is a given, and job shops often win or lose contracts based on per-part costs that vary by just fractions of a cent. Naturally, the promise of achieving cost-efficient, consistent machining results through the use of robotics and automation is attractive to large metalworking concerns and small job shops alike. But many managers considering automation wonder if the time is right for a change. Or, they worry that quality will suffer if they dare to automate the processes they currently rely on for profits.

Like any successful business venture, the move to automation is best approached by following a sequence of orderly steps. Being sure the time is right to make the move to automation can be accomplished in an orderly fashion as well. In fact, there are a number of “machining milestones” any manager can use as a yardstick to gauge a shop’s readiness for robotics. The first of these milestones is the attainment of stability—inherent reliability in the machining process being considered for automation.

 Naturally, most shop owners facing automation probably worry at least to some degree about the potential downside. However, many organizations making the switch to automated CNC machine tools find that quality actually increases with the change. Without exception, these shops share one important trait in common: the machining process they are automating has been reliable from the start.