Advanced Precision Machining

2020 Resolution: Improving Efficiency and Productivity Through Better Workpiece Setup

[January 7, 2020] 2019 is in the books at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), and it was a great year dedicated to manufacturing the highest quality precision parts while providing the best customer service experience in the CNC machine shop business! Looking back upon some of our accomplishments, we experienced another year of continued expansion, increased sales, net profit, and investment in new machinists and cutting-edge technology to broaden our range of precision manufacturing services. We've relied upon long-established and satisfied clients, and have taken on several new customers, that have provided us with the belief that even in today's harsh business environment, companies can still achieve their goals and dreams. We feel we’ve cemented our stronghold as one of the leading Colorado machine shops, we'd like to thank everyone for their continued loyalty, and we look forward to gaining the trust and business of new customers in 2020.

With all that being said, there’s always room for improvement, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t approach the new year looking to tackle some of our biggest obstacles head-on. Milling and machining businesses, as with most manufacturing facilities operating in today’s competitive, yet growing, economy face certain unique challenges when it comes to turning a profit. Subject to an array of obstacles such as the ongoing skill gap/worker shortage, the loss of precision machining jobs to overseas competition, new government-imposed tariffs, rising material/equipment prices, and the struggle to maintain customer relationships, many shop machine shop owners, including myself, question whether they can continue to thrive. Despite the improving economic conditions, competition is up, and improving efficiency and productivity through cost-cutting methods is paramount to saying ahead. We resolve to make 2020 our best year yet, and we feel this starts with addressing a number of issues, processes, and improvements related to workpiece setups.   

Today, potential customers have more choice on where to bring their business, so savvy machine shop operations must take advantage of the technological revolution we are experiencing to give them a competitive advantage. The milling and machining centers that are currently on the market are key to success. These advanced marvels of engineering produce precision machine parts that, to the CNC machinist, are works of art. But there is one caveat; they are only as good as the human being entering the setup and inputs. Errors are indeed commonplace in CNC machining processes, and while they can’t be completely eliminated, certain fail-safes can be implemented to ensure that they don’t result in wasted time and money.

In the setup, programming, tooling, and actual high-speed machining process, any missed step along the way may result in the production of a defective part, waste or worse, the comprised safety of an employee or damage to equipment. In all cases, quality, productivity, and efficiency suffer. These processes can never be made error-proof, but by reducing defects through better technique, precision manufacturing facilities can lower operating costs by maximizing quality and reducing rework. With maybe the exception of accurate CNC verification and programming, the workpiece setup procedure is perhaps the important step in ensuring that specific part tolerances and accuracies are met. With the aid of some informative tips from our friends at Modern Machine Shop, we want to briefly take our readers through the three main methods of setting up a workpiece to account for any uncertainties in positioning with respect to the data used for the cutting or forming operation. 

If attention to detail is followed, these techniques are an efficient way to achieve proper accuracy, thus eliminating lost money and time.

1.) Utilizing Feeler Gages

  • Low cost and perhaps the most widely used technique, but time-consuming and crude. Feeler gauges are placed between the workpiece and cutting tool to measure the gap. Once measured, the CNC program can be adjusted to account for any positioning uncertainty.

2.) Utilizing Fixtures

  • Fixtures are utilized to secure and accurately position the workpiece in a known and repeatable location relative to the cutting tool. Such fixtures must be custom-designed, and therefore their use is often limited to high production runs. They are not really feasible for small-batch milling and machining.

3.) Utilizing Mechanical Touch Probes

  • Mechanical touch probes automatically find the position of the workpiece, relative to the cutting tool, but again, their use is somewhat limited. Typically purchased off the shelf, touch probes often lack compatibility with many CNC machining centers, and on the part to be machined, there is often a lack of suitable contact points or useful surfaces for the probes.

If 2020 is the year you want to make a lasting change in your machine shop productivity, now is the perfect time to drill down on those items and develop an action plan. Before they cause problems further down the line, error-proofing the setup process is a great way to improve quality, reduce waste and eliminate unnecessary costs, and can be the difference between making a part that brings in money for your shop and generating scrap that will erode your profit margin. By implementing even one of these ideas, you’ll likely see an improvement in your bottom line. If you can tackle two or three of them, you might revolutionize your shop.

Want to learn more about the milling and machining methods employed by APM or need help with an upcoming project? We're here to assist and are happy to discuss your machining needs. Call us at 303.776.1910 or send us an email.

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About the Author

Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he and a partner began what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.

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