Rapid advancements and changes in technology are challenging how machine shops run. Maintaining the status quo and not adapting and embracing these new developments, will leave you behind. In this era of what has been coined as Industry 4.0, there is a fundamental shift towards digital industrial technology. The ability to gather and analyze mass amounts of data across machines is transforming machining processes and operations to become faster, more efficient, and flexible. Industry 4.0, like the revolutions before, will increase productivity, shift economics, and change how the workforce operates. Learn about five technologies that are challenging and changing the machining industry.

1. Internet of Things (IoT)/Big Data

IoT initially transformed the consumer market with voice-activated speakers, home automation, video doorbells, learning thermostats, and smart locks. Now IoT is finding its way onto the shop floor with connected machine shops and smart manufacturing. IoT allows you to monitor machines by collecting and analyzing specific machine data to uncover trends and identify any underlying issues with performance. Utilizing the data collected enables you to more quickly implement improvements and optimize processes. With IoT, you can use tablets and smartphones to interact in a variety of ways with CNC machines, including scheduling maintenance or receiving notifications from the machine when it detects a problem like a tool that needs sharpening or abnormal temperatures or vibrations.

2. Robotics

Automation with the use of robots is not a new concept to manufacturing, but introducing connected collaborative robots or cobots will make changes to how the shop floor operates. Cobots are designed to work in close proximity or interact with humans in a shared space. They are good at performing pre-programmed tasks and can be used to automate repetitive or unergonomic tasks like carrying heavy parts, machine feeding, placing finished parts in a collection bin, and replacing tools. By having the cobots complete the repetitive, routine tasks, it frees up the machinists to work on more demanding projects.

3. Additive and Hybrid Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) has been around since the 1980s; however, it has only recently begun to have an impact on the machining industry. AM builds 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether it be metal, plastic, or concrete. The flexibility AM offers with regards to rapid prototyping, low volume production, and the ability to repair parts by only adding material where needed are the driving factors for the significant growth.

The one drawback to AM is that the 3D fabricated part needs substantial post-processing and finishing to meet the specified tolerances. This is where hybrid manufacturing comes into play. Hybrid manufacturing combines additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing within the same machine. The benefit of hybrid machines is that you are able to make and finish the part in a single setup, which reduces errors part does not have to leave one machine to be reset on a second machine.

4. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms and applications are helping manufacturers capture valuable data to make decisions on improving production efficiency, quality control, and employee safety. These technologies can help to eliminate bottlenecks in the manufacturing process, provide seamless inventory management, and allow for improvement processes in real-time. In the longer term, AI and machine learning will decrease labor costs, reduce waste, optimize cycle times, and increase efficiencies on the shop floor and the office operations.

5. Embedded Meteorology

Traditional quality control processes can be lengthy and expensive. Machined parts are randomly selected, removed from production, run through testing, and if the part passes the test, the entire batch is validated. Having a quicker, smarter, and more reliable method of testing is an important factor in the transformation of manufacturing. Embedded meteorology is when the measurement is built into or alongside machines, measuring parts in the production process. This offers real-time measurements for the part from raw material to finishing stages and verification of 100% of the parts instead of a sample. It can also reduce the amount of rework or corrective machining needed on parts.

Machine shops are faced with the challenges to adopt these new technologies. By being an early adopter and embracing the changes, you will broaden and deepen your capabilities and set your organization up for success in this ever-changing global economy.

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