It should go without saying that CNC people directly affect the productivity of the machine or machines on which they work. Because a company’s productivity is directly related to the productivity of its CNC machine tools, CNC people should be considered among the most important people in a company.
This said, I’m amazed in my visits at how many companies there are in which management is unfamiliar with the responsibilities of the company’s CNC people (and the CNC process as a whole). While managers don’t actually have to program, set up or operate CNC machine tools, they should know enough about the related responsibilities to be able to communicate intelligently with CNC people. More importantly, they should be able to make informed decisions that solve the problems that arise in the CNC environment.
One common misconception, for example, is that a programmer’s responsibility is limited to creating CNC programs. While this may be among the most basic tasks a programmer performs, programming involves much more than running a computer aided manufacturing (CAM) system.
The programmer makes almost all decisions related to the jobs her or she programs, including those related to process development, workholding device and cutting tool selection, cutting conditions selection, and documentation for the job. Of course, the quality of these decisions, as well as the quality of the CNC program, will directly impact the productivity of CNC machine tools. Indeed, the quality of a company’s programmers, in turn, affects the productivity of setup people and operators.
Because the programmer’s job is so very important, managers should know the various tasks a programmer must perform. Again, managers may not have to develop a process for a job, but they had better be able to determine whether the process used by a programmer is appropriate for the job. Managers may not have to develop cutting conditions, but they should know enough to be able to determine if cutting conditions being used are safe and efficient. Managers may not have to choose workholding devices and cutting tools, but they had better be able to tell if those being used are appropriate for the job.
Ill-informed managers will not be able to correctly diagnose problems in the CNC environment. In one company I know of, management was convinced that the excessive scrap coming from a particular CNC turning center was being caused by its operators. Management thought that these operators weren’t skilled enough and needed more training.
In reality, these operators were highly skilled. The reason for the scrap was related to the process. The process was so poor that even highly skilled operators couldn’t hold size.
Ill-informed managers tend to attribute problems to a person when the problem is, in fact, beyond the person’s control. Consider, for example, a CNC operator who is having problems with tool breakage. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the operator is unskilled when, in fact, the material being machined is inconsistent.
Conversely, a good manager should be able to spot problems that are within the control of the company’s CNC people. It is possible that programs must be changed each time they are run because cutting tools are not set up in the same manner every time the job is run. If the programmer provides more explicit documentation, the setup person will be able to set up tools consistently.
Maybe the most important reason why managers must understand CNC responsibilities has to do with training. A manager decides how much training is required for each position in the company. How can a manager make an appropriate training-related decision if he or she doesn’t understand the responsibilities of the people involved?
There are any number of ways in which managers can learn more about the CNC environment within their company. Probably the easiest is to talk more with the people in the CNC environment. It’s amazing how much people are willing to share when they know that the boss is interested. Or, there are numerous technical schools that offer courses in CNC. There are also many books available that explain CNC usage from the ground up.
Given the benefits that can be achieved by ensuring that CNC machines are being appropriately used (and the problems that can arise when they aren’t), all managers should be willing to do whatever it takes to learn about the responsibilities of the company’s CNC people.