CNC machining: 5 ways to increase it without sacrificing safety

By Emily Newton, Editor in Chief, Revolutionized
Wednesday, 07 July, 2021

CNC machining: 5 ways to increase it without sacrificing safety

The use of computer numerical control (CNC) equipment boosted output in machine shops because the associated processes function through computer programming rather than wholly through an operator’s manual steps. Even so, there are ongoing steps to increase efficiency. Here are five ways to do that without putting people’s safety at unnecessary risk.

1. Use the right tools for the job

Some machine shop operators make the costly mistake of purchasing the least expensive CNC tools available and then altering them to perform outside of their intended purposes. They believe that such alterations will keep efficiency levels high without requiring them to make proper upgrades. However, this approach can cause accidents and other unintended consequences, such as wasted materials. Safety managers should remind shop employees to never use CNC machines in ways that go beyond the manufacturers’ specifications, even if doing so initially seems like a way to achieve better productivity.

2. Bring connected sensors to the process

The ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ has proved crucial for helping professionals in various industries increase efficiency while keeping safety levels high. For example, smart sensors can spot abnormalities that humans may miss. Additionally, smart sensors also unlock possibilities in machine-to-machine communication. If a machine shop automates parts of the process, such as handling finished pieces, efficiency levels stay high while injury instances remain low despite the higher output potential.

3. Consider getting a Quality Standard Certification

Focusing on maintaining high quality in a CNC machine shop tends to have positive effects on safety, too. For example, if a machine shop gets ISO 9000 certified, more accountability and improved process standardisation are among the benefits. Certain industries also have specific ISO standards to follow. For example, AS9100 is for the aerospace industry. It encompasses the ISO 9000 stipulations, plus additional quality and safety requirements.

Components of the ISO 9000 standard encourage companies to measure improvements, enable open discussions about problems and evaluate the individual performance of employees. Together, priorities like these can make CNC machining safer and more efficient. Getting certified is not the only way to improve safety, of course. However, it can give company leaders more direction as they make organisations more resilient.

4. Focus on continuous improvement

Sticking to the same processes over time is not always the best way to maintain efficiency or safety. For example, a company may initially have a reactive maintenance strategy, meaning that people only tend to machines once issues become apparent. However, using a real-time, preventive approach can give equipment more uptime while emphasising safety. Prioritising continuous improvements is an excellent way for company leaders to see what’s working well or requires more attention.

At Levy’s Machine Works, managers invested in continuous improvement, bringing a 15–20% revenue boost and cutting operational losses by almost 11%. Ongoing audits look at almost 75 aspects of the workflow, keeping everyone more aware of the need to maintain safe practices and identify environmental dangers. For example, company leaders realised that randomly placed drill holes created slipping hazards when material escaped from the spill tray. Using a drill template for the barrels tackled that problem while reducing annual losses.

5. Know when to increase investment in a particular machine

Thorough maintenance strategies go a long way in keeping CNC machines safe and performing well. However, it’s not always sufficient to keep repairing one, especially if it’s old or has a history of safety issues. In such cases, safety managers must decide when to take more extensive action. For example, retrofitting a CNC machine with a newer control can make it easier to program and more user-friendly overall. Older CNC machines may also pose additional safety hazards.

Most newer models have door safety features that don’t allow people to reach inside until the machine stops running. However, older equipment often has locks that are easy to override, defeating the purpose of putting them on a machine at all. Another option is to repurpose a machine to make it fit a different need. People who choose this route should always get professional guidance. Trying to repurpose a machine with the sole goal of cutting costs raises the risk of accidents.

Welcome worker feedback

Making CNC machining more efficient while maintaining safety should be an ongoing effort rather than something leaders do quickly to address a suddenly apparent problem. When employees see that safe practices are foundational elements of a workplace’s operations, they’ll be more likely to follow all rules and not take any shortcuts that could put them at an elevated risk.

Besides considering these five tips, safety managers should engage in regular conversations with workers. Asking them about any dangers they’ve spotted or inefficiencies that continually frustrate them could illuminate other problem areas to target. When workers feel heard during discussions about achieving safety and a high output, they’ll feel more willing to contribute ideas about how to reduce accidents while improving productivity.

Image credit: © Stock Arts

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