Knowledge Center

PRACTICAL APPROACHES TO AUTOMATION

An Automation Roadmap

Merging Advances: Lights-Out Machining Combines Automation and Focused Process Improvement

Peter Zelinski |

One of the most significant developments in machining right now is easy to miss because it is the union of two different advances coming together.
#zaxis

The first step in automation is often the hardest: beginning.

Many shops choose to start with simple forms of automation technology and build it step by step, process by process, to meet future needs. Cobots are a good example of this because their flexibility enables them to be added to an existing production process without safety cages or an in-depth integration processes. With beginning forms of automation in place, shops must decide what to do next. At this point, automation efforts become intertwined as they build out from each other. Modern Machine Shop Editor-in-Chief Peter Zelinski addresses this mingling of technology advances in the article to the left. He argues that automation, specifically lights-out machining, is becoming more common in machine shops because more shops are adapting a continuous-improvement mindset.

Video: Hurco Machining Center Adapted Into N95 Mask Production System

Peter Zelinski |

CNC machines can do more than we think. They are automation platforms for insourcing.

During the recent pandemic shutdowns, Hurco challenged its engineering staff to adapt a machine tool system for making N95 masks for virus protection. This task needed to be completed within four weeks. Easily redeployable automation became a key for doing this. The company used five-axis vertical machining along with a cobot to get the job done.

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Stabilizing and Standardizing Processes

Automating the production process often involves tradeoffs. Making small concessions here or there can enable shops to simplify and standardize their production process, leading to long-term productivity and capacity gains.

Lights-Out Machining

For many machine shops, the most promising avenue of expansion is not a new market or an addition, but instead the untapped nighttime hours that could be captured for automated, “lights-out” production.

The Human Factor

Automation can be a hot-button topic. Some believe it is taking away jobs; others believe it is making jobs better for skilled workers. One thing is undeniable: Automation is transforming human jobs.