How to Reduce CNC Setups to Improve Uptime
Manufacturing companies always focus on downtime to improve processes and increase efficiency in a facility. There are many different categories of downtime, including downtime from jams, breakdowns, operator errors, and more.
Machine setup is one area where downtime is manageable and predictable. It’s critical to efficient business processes and producing profitable parts with the least amount of time and resources. And in discrete industries like CNC machining, it can make all the difference.
Below, we’ll explore how you can use data to reduce setup times and increase uptime.
CNC Setup: A Step-by-Step Guide
Machine setup should be a meticulously planned and standardized procedure. The practices and order of tasks should be measured and documented so that all tasks are easily understood. This is essential for high-mix, low-volume producers for whom an entire job for a critical customer may consist of a single part.
While each company will have its own system, there are common steps that should be performed to ensure jobs are done correctly and are repeatable from job to job and operator to operator. Not all operators possess the same skillset, so standard work instructions are needed.
Essential steps for CNC setup include:
- Pre-Check: Different jobs impact the conditions of a machine differently. A check of oil and coolant, clearing residual cut waste, and other components of the previous job are required. Many tool carousels can house a complete array of tools, but others may be limited. Removing tools from the last job may be necessary to make room.
- Tool Loading: In most companies, excess tools are housed in a tool room. Operators must know which tools are required for the next job and retrieve the new ones as they return the old ones. This process may also include inspecting the tools to ensure they’re in a suitable condition (sharpened, ground, etc.).
- Calibration: All CNC machines have a home or start position. According to the CNC program, operators should know how to calibrate the start or home position to ensure the machine starts in the right place.
- Mounting Parts: The part, or blank, must be appropriately mounted on the vices of the machine. Ideally, work instructions will include the orientation of the blank for the job. Machine damage may occur if vices aren’t tight enough and the blank isn’t loaded in the proper orientation.
- Loading the CNC Program: Depending on the age of the OEM machinery, programs may be loaded in different ways. This may include USB, disc, or electronic methods in companies that deploy advanced machine data platforms that allow direct download to the machine.
- First Run: Once the program is loaded and XY offsets are determined, it’s a good idea to perform the first run in slow motion to test the tool path. Some equipment may do this automatically, while others will require operator instruction.
- Quality Checks: During the first run, quality checks will ensure that tool paths are correct and that each cut, drill, or mill is in the right position. These checks confirm whether the setup process was done correctly.
How Setups Affects Quality and Performance
For high-mix, low-volume manufacturers such as job shops and contract manufacturers, one of the biggest contributors to downtime is setup time. In these types of environments, most of the products produced require machine operators to perform a unique setup process to ensure that equipment is prepared for each specific job.
If any element of the setup process is done incorrectly, it can result in high scrap rates, low yield, poor product quality, and missed orders. Understandably, operators take the setup process very seriously.
But achieving the required level of precision and attention to detail also takes considerable time, even more so if the company has not established crystal clear communication between departments or struggles with workforce turnover. For companies with a large number of jobs, this time can add up in a big way.
Benefits of Setup Reduction
Modern CNC machining is a highly accurate and reliable way to produce precision parts. However, several variables must be considered to ensure the best results.
These variables include:
- Equipment made by different OEMs
- Different models of equipment
- Different ages of equipment from the same OEM
- Manual equipment
- Operators with different skillsets across departments or shifts
Taking these variables into account and implementing best practices for setup times provides several benefits:
- Greater ROI: CNC equipment is expensive. Reducing setup times means the company can produce more jobs on the same piece of equipment to realize a faster ROI.
- Increased Capacity: Lower setup time improves equipment utilization and unlocks capacity. This leads to better cash flow and significantly improved production costs.
- Improved Labor Utilization: With a precise setup process using machine data, workflows, and work instructions, operators can manage equipment efficiently.
- Higher Customer Satisfaction: Reducing CNC machine setup time increases a company’s flexibility to respond to customer demand. This can improve its reputation and drive repeat orders.
- Improved Quality: Reduced setup time comes from standardized processes, and this standardization includes instructions and procedures that ensure quality from the first part.
How to Reduce CNC Setup
Setup time begins between the end of the previous part or job and the beginning of the first good part of the next part or job.
To reduce CNC machine setup time:
- Measure and document the current state of the machine, machine settings, or job.
- Identify and time the elements that impact setup. This may include cleanup, tool selection, loading of material or blanks, etc. This is the most important part of reducing setup times. You must know how long setup actually takes to establish an accurate baseline to work from.
- Eliminate or significantly reduce all internal elements of downtime. This may include staging cleaning supplies, tools, and consumables in kits or carts to be used ahead of each task. It may also include digital work instructions that guide operators through the next step.
- When possible, organize the parts you produce into families of similar parts. This will reduce the reconfiguration needed when completing setups between different production runs.
- Calibrate the machine according to documented and standardized instructions.
- Measure the first run part for tolerance and any required adjustments.
- Document and standardize all aspects of the new procedure and make it readily available to stakeholders.