CNC Machining and the Future of Manufacturing

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.

The machinist and his apprentice

The machinist and his apprentice (Photo credit: Bosc d’Anjou)

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?

PWC Norfolk Machinist

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.

3D printing a functional boat

Bringing them together...3d printing a cast for CNC mill replacement parts.

Your Turn:

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!

New to CNC Machining? Haas CNC Mill and Lathe Training Manuals

As part of the CNC machine community I often see threads in forums and  groups from fresh CNC upstarts.  These are young guys and gals just starting out in school, or an on-the-job training situation and they typically ask something along the lines of : “Hey, advice for someone new to CNC…”, or ” Help!  I need to understand this g-code…”.  I mention this not as something derogatory, but as something great!  These are persons with the drive and due-diligence to seek out help and advice from a knowledgeable community.  It’s also a sign of a person who is passionate about their learning and driven to excel!  Below I’ve jotted down some quick advice and linked some training manuals I came across.

DIY CNC: It’s An Attitude That Starts On Day One!

Computer Numerical Controls (CNC)To me, DIY CNC is not only about hobby CNC machining, or installing your replacement parts on that used CNC machine…it’s an attitude.  It’s a git-r-done, all-in, results driven attitude.  So you’re new to CNC, you’re taking courses at the local college, and you love what you are learning.  Are you hanging up your hat at the end of class and calling it a day?  No! You’re taking the extra step of immersing yourself in CNC machining.

So what does that mean?  You’re joining communities and forums and you’re asking questions.  You’re learning about the industry and machine operation: reading articles, watching training video’s, and devouring news related to CNC machining.  You’re finding out how CNC machine shops run their businesses.  You’re learning G code and M code before you even begin those classes!  You’re reading up on how to repair and replace parts on a CNC machine.  And as you gain the knowledge and the expertise YOU GIVE BACK to the community that helped and inspired you!

Haas CNC Mill and Lathe Training Manuals

Today I came across a couple of Haas training manuals from Productivity Inc.  I wasn’t particularly looking for Haas manuals, but hey, I like Haas so it doesn’t hurt.  If you’re a student, or someone looking to learn more, or even expand on what you already know, these manuals just may well come in handy.

Haas CNC Mill Programming:  This training manual is specific to programming a Haas CNC Mill.  A great resource for any student out there learning G and M code, or looking to get a head start.

Haas CNC Lathe Operator:  This training manual is specific to running a Haas CNC Lathe.  Another great resource for a student or anyone looking for a refresher.

Do you have suggestions or advice for those men and women new to the CNC machining industry?  If so, let them know in the comments!

DIY CNC: Using SketchUp

I’ve been thinking about DIY CNC for quite some time, and it seems the more I dig into it, the more interested I become.  The DIY/Maker movement is  fascinating, and once you start down the DIY rabbit hole you discover there is a whole world of useful and exciting possibilities out there.  One of the great things about DIY is the community and the sharing of knowledge, tips, and CNC hobby tutorials.  I was digging around over my lunch break the other day and started thinking about software.  Free software (free as in beer!).

Image viaSketchUp.com

Image viaSketchUp.com

Enter SketchUp (previously known as Google SketchUp).  The FREE download of SketchUp allows you to create 3-d images with a highly intuitive interface.  Think AutoCad but stripped down and simplified.  I’ve known about SketchUp for a time but never toyed around with it, though I began wondering if the DIY CNC hobby machinist might be able to put this piece of software to good use.  A bit more investigation revealed that with a bit of fortitude you most certainly can.

DIY CNC: SketchUp to CNC

This tutorial, while looking a little dated, will give you the general break down on how you can utilize SketchUp for your own DIY CNC machine projects.  A basic summary: You export your SketchUp file, which uses the same file type as Google Earth, and you upload it into another free software package: Blender.  Blender is a powerful, and free (free as in beer) 3-d creation software package which will then allow you to export your file in DXF or STL format.  According to the author, “Once created, these files can be loaded into MeshCam or CAMBAM Plus (or another similar program) and used to generate 3D G-code for your CNC.”

The article is a bit older, and looking at Blender.org leaves me to the conclusion that you no longer have to separately download the Python file.  DIY made somewhat simpler.

Now since we have the software down, tomorrow I’ll be digging into building your own CNC machine.  While we can often find good prices on used CNC machines and parts, some may be limited by financial and space constraints.  We’ll look at that tomorrow, in the meantime, how about you?  What software do you use for your DIY CNC projects?