6 considerations before automating

Author Craig Zoberis
October 14, 2021 - 03:00pm

Automating a CNC machine shop is an investment worth considering despite the hesitations that many managers face. Automation can maximize the potential of a shop, with benefits such as increased productivity, predictable daily output, decreased labor costs and scrap reduction. However, it would be naïve to say hesitations regarding automation are unwarranted. CNC automation does not have a one-size-fits-all solution for the variety of machining processes. As such, listed here are considerations before making the decision to automate.

1. Management buy-in. Before spending time investigating the need for automation, it is important for upper management to agree that this is a viable option. Managers may be planning to spend capital on other areas of the business or might be in a holding pattern on spending because of other business concerns. Also, this is a complete paradigm shift for a machine shop, so management first must understand the value of automation.

2. Budget. The financial budget is a critical consideration when deciding to automate. CNC automation is an investment. Although financing and service options are available, it is crucial to note whether a robot carries out the functions required of a machine shop while maintaining its budget.

Equipment make: RoboJob-USA
Equipment model: Turn-Assist Essential i
End-of-arm tool: Schunk three-finger gripper
CNC machine make: Haas Automation Inc.
CNC machine model: ST-30
CNC machine model year: 2020
Shifts per day: two
Shifts per week: five
Productivity increase: 48%

3. Return on investment. Once affordability is determined, a machine shop owner must consider the return on investment for automation. What payback period can be expected after installation? Is the period acceptable in terms of the ongoing financial projections for the company? For manufacturers in high-mix, low-volume situations with an average of eight hours of production time per day for 250 days yearly, it’s typical to see a 50% increase in production hours and a return on a $100,000 investment in less than a year.

4. Size. The size of the solution relative to a machine shop also affects the efficiency of automation. The working environment for a robot must be sized sufficiently so positioning and movement of work in process is not obstructed.

5. Safety. The safety of machine shop employees is a priority. Manufacturers must ensure that robots are in designated workspaces and that appropriate health, safety and risk assessments are performed so industry professionals tending to other tasks are not in harm’s way. One method for assessing safety is to determine whether a professional integrator adheres to the ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 safety standard.

6. Ease of use. The ease of use of a robot is to be considered when making the decision to automate. At the machine shop, will the robot be reprogrammed easily by staff without a lot of effort? It is important to conduct a thorough investigation of how intuitive the software interface is for machinists. The best options are pre-engineered solutions designed for machine tending of specific machining processes.

Once a machine shop has the assurance that all considerations are supported, the shop is ready to begin its journey to CNC automation. With proven, turnkey machine tending solutions, manufacturers can become more profitable and productive through easy-to-learn, easy-to-use automation systems that accommodate shop needs. 

Click to view a video of this robotic automation: cteplus.delivr.com/2379k




Related Glossary Terms

  • computer numerical control ( CNC)

    computer numerical control ( CNC)

    Microprocessor-based controller dedicated to a machine tool that permits the creation or modification of parts. Programmed numerical control activates the machine’s servos and spindle drives and controls the various machining operations. See DNC, direct numerical control; NC, numerical control.


Craig Zoberis is founder and president of Fusion OEM/RoboJob-USA in Burr Ridge, Illinois. For more information about CNC automation and integration services, contact info@fusion-robojob.com or visit www.robojob-usa.com.