Machining techniques for creating parts has advanced and changed dramatically in the past 25 years. Today, computers and software are used along with technologically advanced CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) machines to create both high-quality custom and mass-produced parts. Those skilled in the fine art of old school machining are now forced to either update their skills to the new computerized techniques, or find a new line of work.
Let’s face it, human beings, even exceptional ones, cannot compete with the repeatability and accuracy of today’s computerized machines. Today’s 5 axis CNC milling and turning machines can crank out part after part with tolerances tighter than 1/1000 of an inch without ever having a lapse in judgment due to overexertion or long hours. Try working your regular employees 20 hours a day, and see what kind of scrap rate develops. The only human factor that is required is for maintenance and programming.
Additionally, robots and the concept of “cells” can be used for more complex parts. An automated assembly line consisting of different machines can be set up to increase the efficiency and independence of the individual machines. A series of holes can be drilled in one cell in a given part. The part is then moved by a robot or some other type of mechanical process to the next cell while a new part is loaded into the last cell. The part continues from cell to cell until a finished part comes out of the last cell. This setup often requires only the presence of one relatively low skilled worker to monitor the setup and handle any jams or mechanical malfunctions that occur in addition to doing some loading and unloading of material.
CNC machines are not cheap. The price varies greatly depending on the capabilities of the machine, but it is not unusual to pay over $200,000 for this equipment. However, compare this against the cost of paying a crew of skilled machinists to do the same job, and the high price tag not only seems more reasonable, but actually makes good business sense. It is possible to replace 3 skilled machinists with 1 low skilled “maintenance” worker, 1 high skilled CAM programmer, and a few CNC machines. Plus, part throughput will go up while scrap rate will go down.
CAM is just one more example of how old processes are being improved by technology. More and more, the mundane and repetitive tasks previously accomplished by human beings are being automated by machines and robots and people are being used more for their brains than for their muscles. Computers, software, and machines can be used to turn one person into a super machinist capable of doing the job of three normal machinists. It’s machining on steroids, and a trend that is going to continue to gain momentum as time progresses.