5 CNC Machining Trends to Watch in 2022
By: Emily Newton, American Machinist
The developments to keep an eye on involve the ways that machine centers work together with the networks, systems, and people in today’s machine shops. With the new year still unfolding, observant manufacturers will want to keep an eye on the world of CNC machining, to be ready for and take advantage of the important developments emerging now. Here’s a closer look at five factors that are shaping the present and future of CNC machining operations.
1. Combining CNC Machining with 3D Printing There’s no denying that CNC machining and 3D printing are different – one is subtractive, the other is additive. CNC machines cut away unnecessary parts of a workpiece. 3D printing – or additive manufacturing – builds three-dimensional shapes, layer by layer. Machine shops don’t necessarily need to choose just one of these.
A number of manufacturing operations have adopted “hybrid manufacturing” capabilities, combining CNC milling and turning with a direct metal-laser sintering or other additive process. The number of operations looking at how CNC machines and 3D printers can be combined to get projects finished is rising. When people would ordinarily use injection molding for prototypes, they may discover its more efficient to rely on a 3D printer instead. When accuracy is a concern, CNC machines can achieve tolerances of up to 0.025 millimeters. However, the accuracy for a 3D printer is typically about 0.1 millimeters – another reason that 3D printers are commonly chosen for making prototypes. After that, a CNC machine can create the product. Some people may also combine the technologies when they need to produce large volumes of products. CNC machining is a faster production option than using a 3D printer – though in some cases it may be sensible to use a 3D printer to make the parts, then take them to a CNC machine for finish processing. It’s a potentially viable solution for an outcome that is both efficient and accurate.
2. Digital Twins for CNC Machining People in numerous industrial sector are using digital twins to gather more insight into the performance of their machines and processes. Digital twins are generally much more representative of the respective objects than simulations.
They’re digital versions of physical objects or locations. Moreover, while a simulation usually shows a single process, digital twins are scalable and can give details about several complex processes simultaneously. One CNC trend to watch this year involves using digital twins during the set-up process to avoid production surprises. There’s already at least one cloud-based product available to link CNC programming to the tools and holders used with each machine.
An operator can enter data about specific CNC machines into the system. Once they do that, the program provides feed, speed, and tooling recommendations accordingly. It’s not yet common to create digital twins for CNC machines. However, this example shows what’s possible and why doing it could become more popular soon.
3. More Preventive and Predictive Maintenance One CNC machining trend for 2022 involves a move away from reactive upkeep. Deferring the costs of preventive maintenance could sacrifice operational time and cause product waste. On the other hand, staying on top of upkeep helps prolong the machine's service life and enhance performance at peak efficiency. Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more widely used in numerous areas of manufacturing. In 2022, expect to see more attention paid to how AI could help make gains for predictive maintenance for CNC machinery. Whereas preventive maintenance focuses on scheduled appointments to reduce the chances of unexpected breakdowns, predictive maintenance aims to warn operators of issues before they happen.Researchers recently used AI to measure the quality performance of a CNC milling machine. Their approach used machine learning to detect acoustic signals and match those indicators with excellent or poor-quality performance. The algorithms could suggest when to replace a part, as well as evaluate the amount of wear on a machine. This is an early example from lab tests, but it illustrates why people in the know are starting to think differently about their CNC machine maintenance options.
4. Increased Investments in Automation Automation is another factor influencing CNC machining operations this year. It has been gaining importance in recent years, and that trend will continue in 2022. As more manufacturers investigate what automation could do for CNC machining, positive results will help the trend gain prominence. One company offers a camera-controlled robotic cell used to automatically load or unload CNC machines. Customers can then install additional stations to handle turning, measuring, and marking. In another case, a collaboration between Mitsubishi and AIST resulted in a CNC machine solution that combines automation and AI. It’s an error-correction system that uses AI to estimate discrepancies between a CNC machine’s current position and its command value.
Tests have shown this approach brought a 51% improvement in accuracy compared to non-AI options. This technology can even apply corrections during dynamic machining, saving time while keeping quality high.
5. Flexible Options for Learning CNC Machining The internet has boosted learning opportunities for people who want to expand their knowledge and skills. Even so, it’s often necessary to blend online learning with hands-on training – and that’s happening with a program from Siemens geared towards people interested in CNC machining. Siemens provides in-person training for individuals who can access their educational facilities. However, there are also live online sessions and material that people can access through the internet at their convenience.
The broader assortment of CNC training options is something to watch this year, and for the foreseeable future. A 2020 Manufacturing Institute study showed that the average training time spent by current employees at companies was 27.7 hours per year. However, for new employees, the average rose to 42.9 hours annually.
That’s not a survey solely of CNC machinists, but it highlights the need for ongoing training in manufacturing skills. Making it easier for people to get the required training – including through online and in-person training – will make working with CNC machines more feasible and more appealing, which will help to lessen the shortage of candidates for those open jobs and to retain the skilled workers at work now.
An Exciting CNC Trend Outlook – These trends show how shop owners, managers, and operators have much to anticipate regarding CNC machining during the year ahead. Although it is not a comprehensive overview, it highlights the things that will have noticeable impacts this year.