CNC automation and connectivity 

Why automate? It’s a simple question which has some obvious and also not so obvious answers. For most folks running a manufacturing concern, automation makes good sense because it increases production, drives down errors, improves quality control and cut down the cost of labor. However, automation isn’t a one-way street and it comes with costs. It also can and should extend beyond the factory floor, into the executive suite and all the way across the value chain if the full benefit is to be achieved.

Starting with the factory floor, a CNC machine is one of the best options for automation. CNC stands for ‘Computer Numerical Control’ and a CNC machine mills and cuts aluminium (or other materials, depending on the specific device) to exceptionally fine tolerances. Put simply, you program the machine once and then it churns out the parts you want with great precision, practically around the clock.

Having begun my career running CNC machines on the shop floor in the fenestration industry, I’ve seen first-hand the advantages of this technology. Initially, I oversaw an Elumatec SBZ150 which can not only produce parts in aluminium, but also PVC and steel, depending on the setup. Within a few weeks, I went on to CNC programming for the machine rather than just minding it, and in due course I was tasked with integrating CNC with fenestration software which handles quotes and estimates. 

Now, the benefits of CNC are clear. Production is simplified and mistakes practically eliminated, while the parts produced by the machine are of high quality and precision. Because the machine works around the clock, productivity receives a boost and that can translate into more attractively priced goods, or the ability to rapidly produce custom designs.

Why is precision important? I’ve personally had to scrap a large order of metal because they had holes drilled in the wrong places. No factory wants to see wasted production and costly materials consigned to the tip. When people are in charge, the reality is that we all make mistakes, particularly when tasked with repetitive work which is best handled by a computer-controlled machine.

CNC manufacturing setup

Getting into CNC manufacturing can be costly from a capital expenditure perspective. However, any investment must be weighed against the benefits it will bring. When choosing a CNC machine, there are alternatives including sourcing a good used machine, with viable options from around $60,000. Generally, you’ll choose between a 3-axis or a 5-axis. A 5-axis machine is more capable, with the machining tool moving in 5 versus 3 directions (see here for a detailed explanation). Keep in mind that your machine will also have a service and maintenance overhead.

Beyond that, you’ll obviously need somewhere to put your new machine on the shop floor, and then you’ll also want a CNC Operator (like I once was) who will look after it. Keep in mind too, that CNC machine tools are consumables, so these will need regular replacement. I recall that as an operator, I spent 10-hour days setting up the programs, and then spent many more mostly playing chess; once the machine was properly configured.  It does the work while the operator stands by for maintenance or other attention it might need.

It is at this point that you might ask, “So how do I integrate the shiny new machine with my operations?” The answer is that for improved automation, your fenestration software should integrate with and extend to the CNC machine.

Software automation drives machine automation

There’s even better news as far as automation is concerned and that comes with good fenestration software. Within the last 10 years I’ve seen a number of different CNC machines integrated with number of estimation packages and I know that with V6 software the advantages are clear: go from quote, to order, to parts cranking out the CNC machine, with just a one-time data entry.

This is enormously powerful because the chances of ‘rekeying’ errors between estimation, taking an order and then sending it to the shop floor are all but eliminated. There are far fewer trips to the tip; materials end up as finished product for happy customers, not as waste.

Now, I should note that with V6 software, you shouldn’t judge the process on how we start, but on how we finish. Our software is intelligent, and the installation does take a considerable effort, but that is because it handles complex processes with hundreds or even thousands of configuration options. These options give V6 software its power, which extends to customization of CNC execution to match the way your factory works.  This includes execution of advanced milling tasks like drainage, direct bead fixing, and automatic notch preparation for interlocking sliding windows/doors.

When you have a CNC machine on the shop floor, powered by software which essentially delivers straight through processing, you get the ultimate in automation. And that means precision components, optimized production and – ultimately – consistently happy customers who place orders again and again.

Keen to learn more? Do get in touch for a demo. CNC manufacturing is fascinating and highly effective, and it could revolutionize your business. Alternatively, download this case study below showing how one of our customers incorporated CNC into an efficient value chain:

Download the EFS Case Study here