Stecker Machine Blog

AI CNC Machining: How Are Robotics & Automation Shaping the Future of CNC Machine Shops

03/01/2023 | Matt Oswald

SMC Robots

AI CNC machining — that is, using artificial intelligence within the CNC machining process — feels like a natural union, doesn’t it?

After all, CNC machines by definition are computer numerically controlled, allowing for rapid production of incredibly precise parts, with their impact being felt throughout numerous industries: automotive, medical, oil and gas, etc.

Historically, new technologies are welcomed and implemented to improve CNC machining production processes. Let’s explore the future of how incorporating AI, including robotics and other forms of automation, can help boost the performance of CNC machine shops.

As machines learn, performance improves

As we’ve covered, human CNC machine operators are key to the process, especially quality control. What AI provides is a focus on analytics and real-time data, learning along the way and providing insights so CNC machine operators can optimize the machine’s performance. As performance data is automatically aggregated, analyzed, and turned into actionable information, engineers, maintenance teams, and operators gain insights on a machine’s function as well as get suggestions from a machine or a robot, all to boost performance.

Cranking up efficiency & productivity

AI in CNC machining helps deliver on two fundamental goals: efficiency and productivity. As data is generated during production, AI analyzes it so the engineers and skilled operators can adjust the machine, or remove impediments that slow it down, to improve productivity. These operator-lead changes affect the machine’s performance, improving overall efficiency.

Money-saving maintenance

Keeping in mind that AI provides data to operators on a robot’s or a CNC machine’s performance, data also helps predict when machines need regular maintenance. Machines that receive just-in-time servicing remain available, saving money on unexpected downtime. All of the fine-tuning, calibrating, and adjusting are predicted. Predicting maintenance by getting in front of a potential issue is key to increasing machine up-time and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). Smart use of AI means smart decision-making on your part.

Automation, robotics & AI

Economic trends and a shrinking labor market have prompted many companies to use automation to streamline operations. In many cases, this means an increased use of robotics and AI technologies. Robots do the heavy lifting, reduce instances of human error, and increase productivity. These automated operations can be optimized with the help of AI.

Smart CNC machine shops are adopting AI into their processes, taking advantage of each machine’s compatibility and maximizing AI’s functionality. AI helps to streamline analysis by automatically processing operations data to provide information needed to make key decisions and take action. 

Is AI right for all CNC machine shops?

Not really. While it’s true there is potential for industrial robotics/automation/AI to reduce critical errors, increase repeatability, and drop expenses, it takes a lot of work to determine if long-term use of the latest technology is best for each CNC machining operation. Plus, it requires significant investment dollars.

Small CNC machine shops may fulfill a niche and not feel the need to grow their skill sets. Or, their limited processes lack the ability to capitalize on automation’s advantages. Lastly, if equipment and software systems aren’t automation-ready, the complexity of fully automated systems will simply become a burden.

Medium to large organizations, however, should be positioned to use in the future. When you combine today’s labor shortage (and skills gap) with the revolution in technology, it’s clear that AI is elevating the importance of experts who program, operate, and truly understand automated CNC machines.

The increased efficiencies gained allow industry engineers to perform more value-added tasks, expand quality control efforts, and create smarter operations

At Stecker, we welcome new technology. Getting smarter, using tools like ERP and integrating machines, and moving toward a future using AI with CNC machining and robotics ensures the highest possible performance, and our in-house automation capabilities optimize process efficiencies.

So, how do you know when it’s time to work with a high-end CNC machine shop? Our guide covers nine scenarios that help you understand when partnering with a CNC expert is the best move (and when it isn’t). Click below to get your copy!New call-to-action

Matt Oswald

About the Author

Matt leads SMC's Human Resources and Marketing Team. He has worked for Stecker Machine for over 7 years on projects spanning CNC manufacturing, robotics, inbound marketing, and leadership. He enjoys applying his electrical engineering background to any business challenge.

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