No Need For CNC Programmers?

In the future, will we need CNC programmers? Will automated CAM software make the CNC programmer’s job obsolete? Developers of CAM software are already talking about the “black box” approach to CNC programming. A solid model of the part goes in; machine-ready code comes out.

Columns From: 3/1/2003 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

In the future, will we need CNC programmers? Will automated CAM software make the CNC programmer’s job obsolete? Developers of CAM software are already talking about the “black box” approach to CNC programming. A solid model of the part goes in; machine-ready code comes out. No human intervention is required.

With the steady advances in automated feature recognition, knowledge-based machining, sophisticated speed/feed databases, adaptive or closed loop machining and so on, it does appear that we are rapidly approaching this level of automation.

However, that does not mean the end of CNC programmers. It means that the role and function of the CNC programmer is going to change. The job will be less preoccupied with handling individual workpiece programs and more devoted to the larger picture of process planning. In the future, CNC programmers will be responsible for identifying what the shop’s best practices are and for customizing CAM software to reflect these practices. The CNC programmer will become more of a strategist and less of a tactician.

There will be plenty of work to do. Machining strategies will need to be revised and updated constantly as new cutting tools, new workpiece materials, new machine capabilities and features, new techniques and new applications emerge. Testing will have to be designed and performed with the cooperation of the shopfloor staff. CNC programmers will set the rules and decision-making habits of the CAM software. And problem workpieces will still need individual attention.

How many of these new-generation programmers will we need? Let’s put it this way: There will be fewer per machine tool or fewer per workpiece programmed, however you want to measure it. That will be one of the payoffs of having an automated CAM system to handle routine programming chores. Because these “process strategists” will possess a combination of skills and experience that will not be commonplace, good ones, like today’s good CNC programmers, will be in demand. As long as CNC machining remains a mainstay in shops and plants, these individuals will have a secure future.

If you are a CNC programmer today, don’t feel threatened by the new software. Rather, be wary that your shop isn’t making itself ready to embrace automated CAM systems or that you aren’t readying yourself to become a process strategist. The trend in this direction will only pick up more speed as time goes on, so jumping on board now is the safest move.

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