As I’ve said before, I tend to check into the CNC machine related forums and communities on just about a daily basis. The forums are a great place to share with the CNC community, find that g code solution you were looking for, pick up helpful tips, and to find DIY CNC inspiration. They’re also great places to discuss CNC related topics: political/economy, the manufacturing climate, and even the future of CNC machining and manufacturing. My personal favorite forum: Practical Machinist. If you haven’t checked it out, take a gander. You won’t be disappointed.
One topic I often come across, in various shades and forms, is the state of CNC machining and the future for machinists. You can get a good example of this type of discussion here: What percentage of machinists/ moldmakers at your company under the age of 40? As you can see, quite quickly, the conversation morphs into a discussion of the trades longevity, wage stagnation, the education climate, the quality of the latest generation, etc. While I’m not one to dismiss the difficulties of manufacturing in the U.S., and specifically the challenges facing CNC machining, I tend to take the more optimistic outlook.
Manufacturing has constantly evolved, for better and for worse. It seems to me that it’s only natural that machines will evolve with technology and this, unfortunately, means that some of us will lose out to robotics and other more streamlined processes. There will always be a need for the skilled machinist, but one also needs to keep their eye on the future lest they find themselves summarily dismissed…if you get my drift.
Manufacturing and Machining Future?
That future, in my estimation, will be a greater reliance on 3d printing. I’m no expert, and I could be completely wrong, but I think the CNC machinist of the future may be more of a 3d machinist/programmer. While that may cause apprehension in those of us wedded to our love of CNC machining (and the basic reliance on our employment working on CNC machines), I believe the skills and talent it takes to be a top notch CNC machinist are easily applicable to the 3d printing field.
For example: many of us already program, design, make quality control measurements and checks, work with a variety of materials, troubleshoot and repair our machines, etc. While I’m only beginning to learn about 3d printing, it seems all of these same skills would apply. In the future, will we continue milling molds, or will we simply program and print the mold outright? My guess: we’ll be printing those bad boys.
I found a couple of interesting articles regarding 3d printing over at MakeZine you might enjoy. While the majority of MakeZines articles are centered on DIY CNC hobby, and the DIY’er in general, I think these articles are hints at what manufacturing is going to look like, or almost like, in the future.
Bringing them together...3d printing a cast for CNC mill replacement parts.
What about you? Do you think in the future 3d printing will become the equivalent of what CNC machining is today? Share your thoughts and comments below!