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Can my machine process be automated?

"Automation is an interesting concept, but I'm not sure if my production process lends itself to it. The products we make involve too many unpredictable factors."

Many machining companies who are considering automation sympathise with these doubts. However, on closer inspection, they discover that their machining process is perfectly suited to automation after all. On the one hand, automation turns out to be more flexible than they thought. And on the other, the optimisations required for the stabilising of their process are surprisingly easy to implement on a gradual basis.

This blog post will delve into this subject. We will explore the importance of a stable production process for effective automation. And more importantly, we will outline the most crucial factors for guaranteeing the stability of your production process. You will soon see that process stability – and therefore automation – can be controlled.

 

Is a stable process necessary for automation?

In order to achieve the maximum productivity of your machines through automation, it's preferable to make your production process as stable and predictable as possible.

This may seem tricky at first glance as many aspects of the production process are arbitrary in nature. What is the lifespan of a tool? How easy is it ensure consistency when processing the materials? What are the temperature conditions? Automation requires a certain amount of control over these factors and that doesn't come about overnight. In practice, automation will therefore be implemented in phases, starting with the production branches that are most easy to stabilise.

 

What are the conditions for a stable process?

A stable manufacturing process requires the management of chips, tools, materials and environmental conditions.

1. Chip management

Good chip management equates to a reliable production process. Improving chip formation leads to an improved surface finish and a reduced risk of tool breakage. Chip management helps to improve the quality of the processed product.
The extent to which chip management can cause problems is strongly dependent on the type of process. As a rule, good chip management is easier to achieve when milling than when turning. In this regard, die-sinking EDM and wire-sinking EDM are stable processes.

2. Tool management

The lifespan of tools is an unstable factor. This varies, particularly for machines that are controlled manually. For automation, it's best to use the lower estimate of the tool's lifespan to guarantee a stable process. The ideal configuration will be just under the average lifespan of the tool. Although this does involve a slight increase in tool costs, the increase in efficiency will more than compensate for this.

3. Materials

Do you primarily manufacture the same materials or related parts? Then it's advisable to stabilise the process per group. Managing chips and equipment is different for each type of material because some materials are more easily processed than others. For example, plastic and aluminium are usually easy to process, whereas steel, stainless steel and exotic materials can prove more difficult. The more precisely you record the processes for each material, the more you can shorten production times and increase your output.

4. Environmental conditions

Cooling and lubricating a machine ensures production continuity. If these factors are kept at the right level, production can run unmanned for an extended period of time.

 

The biggest bottleneck in process stabilisation...

In order to get the most out of automation, the factors listed above must be managed. Many machining companies aren't yet doing this. However the good news is it's not because they can't, but simply because they "haven't got around to it yet". Humans are the biggest cause of instability.

For successful process optimisation, it's essential to prevent the machine process from being disrupted by arbitrary human factors. The specialist of the future will therefore be responsible for managing the process and maintaining stability.

A 100% stable process does not exist. You can start automating in phases, even if your process is unstable. Once you have started automating, you will discover the ways in which your production processes can be further stabilised, resulting in greater benefits from automation. Stability is therefore both the prerequisite for and the result of automation.

 

Low-threshold automation

Make it simple. Start by automating recurring and manageable tasks in your production and you will quickly see an increase in your turnover.

A compact and flexibly deployable solution such as Xcelerate is extremely suited to this. On average, Xcelerate pays for itself even if you only use it 4 hours a day. Then you can expand the level of automation to gradually increase the stability of your machine process.

Considering taking the first step? We're happy to provide guidance. 

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