For many industries, including that of CNC machining, the year 2020 has been full of ups and downs. However, with the numerous developments that occurred in the industry this past year, it is safe to say that there were a lot more ups than downs in the world of CNC machining. In this article, we go through the top 5 trends and developments that shaped CNC machining in 2020.
1. Better machining tools
Machining tools are one of the most important components in the entire CNC machining process. Much of the speed, cost, and quality of a machining project depends on the tools used. Superior tools can cut faster and with better quality, significantly reducing both machining time and cost. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the development of better machining tools was an important trend of 2020, with polycrystalline diamond and solid carbide tools taking the top spots. These tools have proven to be highly durable, more efficient and effective in cutting, versatile, and fast. They also vibrate less, are more resistant to wear, have advanced tool life, require less maintenance, and generate less noise during operation. Particularly beneficial to CNC machining are these tools’ ability to produce tight tolerances and create parts with very high precision.
2. More axes, faster machining
Effort is always being made, in the development of CNC machining as a manufacturing technology, to increase the functionality and speed of machines, while reducing cost. The machining industry took a big step in this direction in 2020 with the application of 6-axis machining. It was already a fact that more axes translate to more functionality and less cycle time, and so while 6-axis machining has long been in existence in different forms, it wasn’t common. That changed in 2020.
5-axis machining works by moving in the X, Y, and Z axes, while also rotating in the A and B axes. While this technology is already awesome, 6-axis machining takes it even further by adding C-axis rotation. This can increase cycle speed by as much as 75%. Now, 6-axis may not be of extra benefit when milling a simple part. However, bring on a highly complex part and watch 6-axis machining perform in all its glory.
3. Improved software
With all the developments in CNC machining hardware, there had to be corresponding software developments as well. CAD and CAM software are the software aspects of CNC machining. These have always been integral and indispensable in CNC manufacturing. Advancements in CAM have allowed the entire machining process to be simulated in a virtual setup. With CAM, the precise machine operations needed to produce a CAD model are well drawn out, adding a high level of customisation and performance observation. The optimal setup (speed and feed), sequence, and tool path for producing a particular part are simulated in exact details. These features eliminate errors, as the optimal settings are always provided. They also remove collision risk, as advanced collision detection systems have been integrated into CAM software. In general, all these significantly improve functionality, reduce waste, and increase manufacturing speed.
4. High demand for manufacturing on demand
Manufacturing on demand, also known as manufacturing as a service (MaaS), has been in existence for a while. However, its immense benefits, as well as the inherent limitations of the traditional customer to machine shop model, became very apparent in 2020.
Quite many machining shops had to close because of the pandemic, and so many people and businesses who had manufacturing needs but only relied on nearby machine shops were left stranded. With MaaS companies such as Xometry Europe on the other hand, machining capacity was always available. With a network of over 2,000 manufacturers spread across various countries, manufacturing activities weren’t stalled. Manufacturers in the network also enjoyed the benefits of on demand manufacturing as, thanks to the continuous stream of orders through Xometry, they were less likely to go under due to lack of work.
Xometry Europe’s MaaS model also allowed much-needed emergency medical manufacturing to be carried out without delay throughout the year.
5. Intuitive machines that train the operator
The shortage of highly skilled CNC machinists had always been a problem in the CNC manufacturing industry. However, the pandemic significantly exacerbated the problem, as many machining companies laid off operators to cushion the losses brought on by the pandemic.
To solve the problem of shortage of skilled operators, CNC machine manufacturers such as Haas Automation, have placed a lot of focus on creating intuitive machines capable of teaching the operator. Manufacturers have taken steps such as increasing the display screen of controllers, including real time visual aids and instructions during machining, integrating feedback and troubleshooting systems, all in a bid to create a machine that, instead of requiring a skilled operator, can teach a relatively unskilled operator how to use the machine in very little time.
Every year since its invention, CNC machining has been subjected to various trends and developments that have advanced the technology and the entire industry as a whole. 2020, despite all that happened, was no exception. 2021 is already looking bright for the industry as many of the technologies that were still under development in 2020 will be fully applied.