The Latest Advances in CNC Technology

New challenges for manufacturers thanks to the unusual market conditions of 2020 and 2021 have, in all likelihood, accelerated the pace of innovation in CNC technology. Industry designers are responding quickly to the growing demand and need for flexibility and these advances may help manufacturing industries to meet current demands more efficiently and in less time.

Six-axis CNC machines, computer-assisted design software, collaborative CNC robotics and predictive maintenance are all set to help companies improve their productivity and stay competitive, keeping steel manufacturers ahead of the curve.

Six-Axis CNC Technology

While small manufacturers take advantage of the more efficient five-axis machines which continue to become more compact and cost-effective, the six-axis machines, hailed as one of the major innovations in the past few years, arrived on the market in 2019. These are now becoming more popular although still a rarity in many industries due to their price tag.

CNC milling machines work by cutting or shaving away sections of raw metal to achieve the desired shape.   The six-axis machines provide additional axes of freedom over the more conventional but simpler CNC models by turning from both ends of the fixture without causing any defect in the final machine. More complex shapes can also be milled without the part being worked on having to be removed or adjusted.

Six-axis CNC machines were designed for volume machining of aluminium, cast iron, model making materials and steel and have the power of converting raw metal bars into a final product far quicker than other milling machines. The amount of time saved is also significant and these machines may help to cut production time by as much as 75% thereby vastly improving manufacturing speed and efficiency.

Due to their fast turn-around time, the machines are generally used for large volume applications where components or tools are required quickly.  They are an excellent machining solution for the high-accuracy production of large aerospace and automotive parts, mould applications, workpieces in shipbuilding and components for the alternative energy industry. Complex geometrics like turbines or engine blocks are all fair game for six-axis CNC technology.

Robotics and CNC Technology Collaboration

It is only recently that collaborative robots or “cobots” have seen widespread adoption in conjunction with CNC machining. Cobots are designed to work closely alongside a human workforce and are programmed to work intuitively, even being taught their intended operation with manual movements. Vision systems like those fitted in Tesla vehicles can be attached to cobots which teach it to recognise, see and pick up and place parts in a machine shop.

Cobots require minimal programming and training and are incredibly versatile. This technology is set to help make workers more productive while significantly reducing the cost of human error in the manufacturing industry.

IIoT and Networked CNC Machines

New industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices makes it easier for manufacturers to network CNC machines with other manufacturing equipment. The devices use the internet to send and receive data which can enable a range of new features for CNC machines.

A particularly helpful feature is the remote machine monitoring which speeds up machine troubleshooting and monitors preventative maintenance tasks with minimum delay thus reducing site visits by service teams to solve issues or facilitate repairs.

IIoT sensors can be used for predictive maintenance by tracking the operational parameters of a CNC machine. Using the gathered performance data one can create predictive models to forecast when a CNC machine may fail or require maintenance. By improving the standard of predictive and preventative maintenance, manufacturers can extend the lifespan of their CNC machines and also reap significant cost-savings on maintenance.

These exciting trends and developments in CNC machining agility promise to make technology and innovation more accessible, more reliable, and less costly in the now and beyond – giving manufacturers a competitive advantage as consumer expectations fuel the rise of on-demand manufacturing.

Steelmor is the leading supplier and manufacturer of stainless steel in South Africa. Give us a call today on 011 747 5700 for the best advice on all things stainless steel.