Is your shop on the verge of transitioning from using complete hand fabrication to operating a CNC machine? Many find the beginning of transitioning time chaotic and they believe that you need to hire experienced programmers. While it is easier to hire someone with experience to cut down on training time – it doesn’t always happen. In order to feel at ease incorporating a CNC machine, there are a few steps involved.
The transition from complete manual sawing/hand fabrication to incorporating a CNC machine into the process is a big change. As you are planning ahead in this transformation, we have prepared a couple lists of steps you can take to prepare and a few things you can expect after adding a CNC machine to your operation.
Steps to Prepare
1. Call the machine manufacturer to begin training on the programs your machines will be running.
2. Keep your hand fabrication tools, or manual saw (if possible) in use while your shop acclimates to operating with a CNC machine.
3. Utilize your training time to its fullest. If you are able, dedicate time to focus on training away from the production running at the shop.
4. Learn the finite details of your software and how it interfaces with your machine and practice, practice, practice. Use the extra scraps to practice before cutting the first job.
5. Cross train so when your CNC operator goes on vacation the shop doesn’t slow down.
6. Learn to work with your CNC machine using its efficiency to your advantage. The CNC does not do absolutely everything – employees can work on different projects while the CNC is in operation. Find your niche production with the number of employees you have each shift.
7. Spend the necessary time on maintenance. It doesn’t take long and it will pay dividends. Make time for your machine’s maintenance or it will make it on its own.
8. Keep your process organized. Make sure your employees are using shop tickets properly. Print out a shop ticket for everything.
9. Make sure you save and store each DXF file. As long as you keep the proper files, the remake process is a breeze – load it up and hit a button.
10. If you’re trying to really ramp up production, don’t let the machine stop running. When it stops it is all hands-on deck until it’s running again.
11. Network with peers. It is almost guaranteed that someone else has been in a similar fabrication situation and can save you from a lot of headaches. Industry groups like Park’s Customer Facebook Group (Park Industries Stone Fabricators) and Park Business Group are amazing tools with so much knowledge to gain.
12. Keep your machine’s support phone number in your contacts at the top of your list. They are a resource you want to utilize.
13. Maintenance will help your machine continue to run smoothly and never fail you.
Things you can Expect
1. Be prepared to sit back and enjoy little-to-no dust in your shop with the wet, automated fabrication of a CNC.
2. CNC machines run in a continuously straight line, so lines on your edges are normal. Lines can be diminished and made far less apparent by using the oscillation feature. The tool will move up & down to take lines away. Don’t underestimate the power of .003″! The difference between a perfect finish and a rippled shine depends on the machine set up. A perfect finish comes from great training and experience. Park Industries® offers free training on Park machinery.
3. Within the first 3 months, the shop should adjust to using the CNC machine. Pretty soon you will rely on the CNC and dread hand fabrication.
4. The CNC machine’s ability to work on project after project with constant movement has a large impact on your shop process.
5. Your hand fabrication skills will only become sharper and more enhanced because now you are comparing a machine edge with a hand edge. Many fabricators describe it as a fun challenge.
Enter student-mode to learn software programs like AutoCAD and Alphacam and apply it to the trade you love. A few tips as you enter student-mode…
– Understanding the process from the drawing, setting up tooling, setting up kits and the variety of methods are all equally important to learn.
– Give your trainer the attention they deserve – ask questions, dig deep, and come out with a solid understanding.
– There’s a learning curve. Commit the time to properly train on your new software.
– If you want to go into training with some knowledge, buy AutoCAD in advance of training and review it.
– The machine is an extension of your hands – the software becomes your apprentice, so teach it well.
– It will take time to iron out the wrinkles and learn the different aspects on the job, but the efficiency is so worth it.
– Ensure your templator and programmer (assuming they are separate people) communicate well, take pictures during the template and detailed notes. Nothing slows down production like having to go back and re-template because something was missed.
Your CNC machine will help your company grow and compete in ways that you couldn’t do before. Be prepared to sit down in your chair one day, lean back, and watch your CNC machine complete a sink cut-out. Hand fabrication will be a thing of the past. It is time to retire wooden templates, grinders, and hand fabrication alike. The path to digital transformation is less daunting than you think.
If your shop was on the verge of transitioning from using complete hand fabrication to operating a CNC machine, which one would you start with?