6 Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machining Trends for 2021
By Larry Alton
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The new year is here, and with it, predictions for what 2021 will bring. COVID-19 is, hopefully, on its way out. However, its impact will be felt for a long time. Several of the trends below are a direct result of the pandemic.
For example, Forrester’s 2021 predictions guide anticipates that COVID-19-driven adaptations will bring emerging tech to the forefront in smart factories. As examples, it discusses how AR and VR were used to reskill machinists on how to build ventilators this past year. More and more systems shifted to the cloud this year. This acceleration of digital transformation will continue for 2021.
Manufacturing as a service (MaaS) has moved into the CNC industry over the past few years, but it will continue to grow in 2021. MaaS accomplishes manufacturing by using networked resources. The cost of maintaining and operating the CNC equipment is spread across subscribers who need the service.
The benefit of MaaS is that companies can be agile, more productive, and save expenses. COVID-19’s impact will spur companies to look for more supply chain networks via MaaS. Companies will want to avoid the supply chain disruption they experienced during the pandemic. Having a more extensive supply chain network will future-proof them for whatever comes next.
5-axis and 6-axis Machine Use Will Continue to Expand
5-axis machines have become more and more cost-effective for factories to use. Its ability to seamlessly rotate around the X and Y axes is very popular. However, the 6-axis machine emerged in 2019, and added an additional rotation around the Z-axis, improving efficiency and speed. This increase leads to faster cut times and more products made in a shorter time frame. A 6-axis CNC milling machine can decrease cutting time by up to 75%. Zimmerman Milling created an incredible video that demonstrates the difference between a 5-axis and 6-axis CNC mill.
Increased Uptime and Longer Life with IoTDONE
Hitachi’s recent article argues that IoT use has accelerated due to greater need this year with social distancing and mask-wearing. The ability to monitor remotely, and to use sensors to evaluate where in the lifecycle a machine is, became even more critical during the pandemic.
As more sensors have been applied to machines throughout the machine shop floor, their application has extended. It’s now possible to apply sensors to drill presses, milling and turning machines, lathes, and more. These sensors, in turn, regularly monitor the various parts of the machine, providing a heavy data stream of information. This information can facilitate predictive maintenance.
CNC machines, like any machine, require regular upkeep, as the gears and belts turn. Historically, equipment has been kept on a regular maintenance schedule; however, when an unanticipated break occurs, a factory can shut down for hours, as a specialist often has to be brought in from far away. The IoT sensors can ameliorate some of this downtime.
For example, the sensors can evaluate vibrations and temperature discrepancies that would indicate the equipment is nearing the end of its use. Downtime can be planned, and factories can increase their CNC machine efficiency by fixing equipment right before it causes more problems. Long term, this will extend the life of the equipment and lower downtime. Predictive maintenance allows real-time analysis of the factory floor.
This is only one example of how CNC machines and IoT sensors can assist in factories. More will come as 5G makes its way into factories.
Digital twins will become more and more common in 2021. As 2020 came to an end, Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division released enhanced NCSimul Software. NC Simul software virtually builds a digital twin so that the real-life machine can avoid errors and decrease setup times.
This new enhancement allows machinists to identify and avoid the 5-axis singularity point and thereby optimizes the NC programming. This has never been possible before. Why does it matter if the CNC machine can avoid the 5-axis singularity point? If the tool vibrates, it can behave irregularly as it nears the singularity point, creating chatter marks on the component being manufactured. Creating a smooth surface is especially critical with components such as turbine blades for the aerospace industry.
The ability to predict the 5-axis singularity point will allow programs to be improved by modifying cutting strategy parameters. The result of this? Manufacturers can more accurately complete jobs the first time. This saves time, money, manpower, and supplies.
More Robots and Cobots on the Machine Shop Floor
Robots and cobots (collaborative robots) have been used in CNC machining in the past; especially as the labor force declines, robots have mitigated some of the strain felt. Collaborative robots are effective and versatile and specifically designed to work with humans.
As machine learning accelerates and continues to be incorporated into the programming, cobots will be able to accomplish more. Hopefully, this will decrease accidents in the factory. Humans, however, will still need to assist with running and maintaining the cobots. This leads us to the next prediction for 2021.
Greater Need for Skilled Workers
There’s already a shortage of skilled workers on CNC machining floors.
Deloitte’s 2021 Manufacturing Industry Report states, “as robots, cobots, and other forms of automation grow in the production environment, the need for a workforce to manage and interact with these technologies also increases. These “middle-skill” roles require technical expertise and regular upskilling.” 28% of the executives surveyed by Deloitte said that upskilling and building new skills are the largest and hardest challenge they face. Additionally, a recent McKinsey survey of manufacturers found that 90% of those surveyed planned on investing in talent.
Smart manufacturing has entered a brand new phase. In 2021, manufacturers will expand their tech in ways that empower employees to achieve greater productivity and to improve their decision-making. Subsequently, this year will focus on connected workers.
And there you have it—6 trends for CNC machining in 2021.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. A graduate of Iowa State University, I’m now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant.