The machinist trade has come a long way since the early days of steel. As the industry continues to embrace the latest advancements, today’s machinists possess a wide range of technological skills.
Machine tool technology traditionally referred to such tools like the lathes, hones, screw machines, drill presses, hobby machines, milling tools, and broaching machines. Fast forward to 2020, and computer-controlled tools, like CNC machines, are now the standard.
Computer-aided machine technology is helping builders and fabricators produce products in record time. Let’s take a closer look at the machine technologies that are revolutionizing the industry.
1. Laser Cutters
Lasers aren’t just for SciFi movies. Laser technology has completely transformed the building and fabrication industry.
Lasers can cut through most materials, including wood, metals, plastics, and heavy fabrics. Different types of lasers are used, as well; these include Co2 lasers, YAG lasers, and neodymium lasers. Co2 lasers are gased-based, whereas ND and YAG lasers are crystal-based.
Laser cutters may be the most reconcilable form of laser tech, but it’s is just one example of this groundbreaking advancement.
2. Laser Welding System
Another machine tool getting a lot of attention is pulsed laser welding. This type of welding is more precise and versatile than traditional welding tools.
There are several reasons why fabricators prefer laser of traditional welding. For starters, machinists (and their clients) prefer the finish of laser welding over traditional methods. It’s also stronger than traditional welding because lasers can penetrate up to 15 mm of steel.
Laser welding tools can handle a wider variety of metals that are normally difficult (or impossible) for traditional welding tools. This type of technology is ideal for intricate metalwork.
3. CNC Machines
The CNC machine is arguably the biggest technological breakthrough for builders and metal fabricators. CNC is short for “computer numerical control.” CNC machinists input a computer-aided design and the CNC machine produces the design without any manual operation.
CAD is just one aspect of CNC technology. Machinists also program the tools themselves.
Many machinists earn associates degrees or professional certificates in CNC machining; however, the skill can be learned on-site, as well. Machinists with drafting skills have an advantage because CAD drafting is critical for CNC projects.
CNC machines drastically reduces project completion time. Machinists can complete 3D cutting projects quickly because they aren’t limited by manual processes. Not only are the designs pre-programmed, but the speed of the tools themselves.
4. CNC Milling Machine
There are five primary types of CNC machines; milling, laser-cutting, automatic lathe machines, plasma-cutting, and the electric discharge machine.
A traditional milling tool uses a rotary to cut and remove materials. Instead, milling CNC machines automate the entire milling process. These automated milling tools come in 6 or 3 axis CNC machines.
Automated milling machines are the most common type of CNC tool.
5. Plasma Cutting Machine
You learned about the laser-cutting CNC machine, but have you heard of the plasma CNC machine? Instead of laser technology, plasma machines use a plasma torch to cut intricate parts.
Plasma CNC machines are ideal for cutting through most metals, like aluminum, steel, brass, titanium, and copper. While other electric cutters can generate 10,000 degree temperatures, these machines can generate 50,000 degree Fahrenheit temperatures!
6. Automated Lathes
Lathes have always been one of the most versatile building tools. Fabricators use lathes for drilling, sanding, facing, turning, deformation, and knurling. They can also cut materials like CNC laser cutters.
Fast forward to 2020, and lathes are now automated. Like CNC machines, specialists create a CAD design first and program the electric lathe tools. This machine is an ideal “all-in-one” automated tool for machine shops.
7. 3 in 1 Machines
Like automated lathes, there are more advanced multi-purpose tools popping up. One type of machine tool technology gaining steam is the Grinding, turning, and milling all-in-one machine.
More manufacturers are starting to offer this versatile tool. These machines also come with centrifugal filters remove super fine particles that damage surfaces. This tool is ideal for fine, polished fabrication work.
8. Fabrication Software
Some of the biggest machine tool advancements aren’t machines. Fabrication software has completely transformed the trade. More software companies are creating software “suites” for builders, complete with analysis features, processing, verification, modification capabilities and more.
These software suites are built for complex multi-axis CNC machines. Verification features are in place to prevent security issues, CNC system crashes, setup problems, and other issues that come with digital fabrication tools.
Verification features also prevent machinists from imputing the wrong g-code into the CNC machine. This feature helps specialists avoid mistakes and meet deadlines quickly.
9. Advancements in Metrology Software
Accurate measurements are so important for building projects. Advanced machine technology, like CNC machines, have improved accuracy drastically. Advanced metrology software takes preciseness to another level.
The latest metrology software lets specialists control, display, monitor, and document their measurements. This type of software is an ideal companion to CAD software.
Like CAD, metrology software comes with an interface for creating 3D projects. This interface helps machinists understand the relationships and ratios between part alignments, machine tools, sensors, and other parts of the CAD design process.
There are different types of metrology software that also include autofocusing, ANSI and ISO functions, background data transfers, contour analysis, and more.
10. Machine Tool Technology Data Management
Data management is critical for industries across the board, and it’s no different for the fabrication industry. One of the biggest advancements in machine tool technology is data management software.
Complex CAD architecture projects require better “communication” between databases and serves. The latest data management software leverages Microsoft servers to streamline data transfers. This type of software is ideal for scalable CAD models and projects.
11. High-Precision Grinding Machines
Grinding tools have gotten a high-tech makeover. The latest automatic grinding machines detect errors and monitor grinding bearings. The machines actually use an algorithm to manage the balancing head of the machine.
12. Advanced Swiss Turning Technology
Swiss turning machines help specialists with high-precision building projects. These tools are ideal for extremely fine, small parts. The first Swiss turning machine was invented in the 19th-century.
Swiss turning has come a long way. They’re now automatic, which drastically improves completion time. Some of these new Swiss turning tools even come with a robot cell that automatically loads shafts.
These advanced turning machines can have up to 9 working axes, multiple work stations, and attachments.
13. Workholding Module Technology
Machinists and fabricators depend on reliable workholding fixtures to secure projects in place. Workholding devices range from simple clamps to advanced workholding modules, depending on the complexity of the project.
The latest workholding technology aims to accommodate a wide range of work pieces. Thus, fabricators can work on complex projects with various part sizes without switching out workholding devices. These workholding “towers” have multiple clamps that can be rearranged for each project.
These workholding towers or “modules” also interconnect to accommodate large projects with multiple complex parts. Machine shops can order 2-sided or 4-sided workholding module towers.
14. Hybrid Machine tools
Ask any machinist or fabricator about tool technology, and they’ll rattle off a list of items that would make your head dizzy. These trades have historically relied on hundreds of tools. That’s one reason why hybrid machine tool technology is so important for the industry.
Hybrid tools allow tradespeople to complete more projects in a fraction of the time. Since many of these professionals are business owners or independent contractors, hybrid tools are a game-changer.
All-in-one milling tools, CNC machines, turning, and grinding tools are just the beginning. Hybrid technology allows machinists to apply different types of wavelengths from the same machine. These advancements help fabricators minimize the amount of scrap parts left over from projects.
15. The Latest Tools for Rough and Finish Boring
Rough boring tools remove metals and widen existing holes for projects. These tools can be customized for various rough boring work, like single-edge or productive boring.
Finish boring tools are used to smooth out the surface of the project. The result should be a surface with high dimensional accuracy with a nice finish.
Machinists often struggle with boring tools that chip surfaces or omit unwanted vibrations that lead to imperfections. The latest rough boring tools aim to eliminate these concerns by adding coolant nozzles and vibration reduction. These upgrades are ideal for projects that need deep-cut holes.
Discover the Right Tech for Your Machine Shop
Machine tool technology advancements help machinists produce more work in less time. They also let professionals tackle more complex projects with high accuracy, which helps them meet the demand for complex work pieces.
Tool technology is a machine shop’s most critical investment. Are you still working with outdated machine tools? Use this guide to stock up on the latest tools for laser cutting, turning, grinding, CNC, milling, and more.
The right tools are just one part of a broader business plan. Check out the blog for even more tips and tricks for aspiring business owners.