Knowledge Center

PRACTICAL APPROACHES TO AUTOMATION

The Case for Automation

Running Unattended at Night Lets Machine Shop Serve New Customers During Day

Peter Zelinski |

Precision Tool Technologies found capacity for diversification not by adding machines, people or space, but by freeing up time. Running unattended—running so it can machine through all 168 hours in the week—has enabled this shop to use hours when staff is present to deliver work that lands outside its established specialty. To achieve unattended machining, some of the biggest challenges have related to basic details such as chips and coolant.
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One of the major, ongoing trends reshaping manufacturing is automation. No longer is it something used solely in automotive applications in which large batches of the same part are produced over and over.

Instead, varying degrees of automation are now feasible and practical in machine shop applications in which small volumes of a variety of parts are produced. It is up to individual shops to decide how automation could be effectively applied to their unique situations. For instance, some shops are looking for ways to expand their capacities without larger buildings and more staff – the latter of which has become an increasingly large issue given today’s challenges of hiring and retaining skilled workers.

Learn how one shop, Precision Tool Technologies, found extra capacity by freeing time. This shop decided to take the work that accounts for the majority of its business and run it unattended at night. This has freed it to take on new work during manned, daytime hours. The benefit of this strategy is that it is enabling the shop to slowly build a more diversified work mix – something that comes in hand during uncertain economic times.

In Lights-Out Machining, Part Loading Is Not the Problem — Here is How This Shop Handles Unloading

Peter Zelinski |

Correct unloading of the parts affects part quality as well as the capacity of the unattended machining system. Here is more of the experience from our “168” shop.

As this article and accompanying video describe, in lights-out machining, part loading is not the problem. This can be done easily using a bar feeder. What happens to the part after the machining is done can affect the capacity of the unattended process or the quality of the pieces. Read how Precision Tool Technologies handles automated unloading and watch a quick video of the shop’s solution.

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Levels of Automation

The key to implementing automation is to recognize that machine shops don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach.

An Automation Roadmap

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.

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.