Some good advice to help increase the productivity of these versatile machines.


Illustration by Chris Nititham.

Advances in CNC machining centers have made them more user-friendly than ever, with businesses from one-man shops to large custom cabinet companies taking advantage of their capabilities. While they can be easy to use, it takes some training and a few tips for a woodworker to fully master them. Below are some words from industry suppliers to help custom woodworkers on their way.

Bill Blackmon, Busellato product manager, Delmac Machinery Group: For the custom woodworker producing a variety of panels and solid wood components, minimizing changeover time between parts is more important than squeezing a few seconds from the program cycle. The most often-used pods and clamps should be on the machine ready for use or close at hand, along with any tools necessary to mount on the machine. Use your machine’s software to save pod, clamp and rail positions for complex setups. If your machine lacks this feature, take a picture of the setup and record any critical information.

Minimize the time spent retrieving programs. Barcoding is the most efficient method to locate and load the correct program. If your machine does not support barcoding, then develop a directory system that the operator understands and can navigate easily. All too often, the machine PC becomes a dumping ground for programs run once and never again.

Tooling, a topic in and of itself, has a huge impact on overall machine performance. Running the optimum chip load usually means an increase in feed rate and tool life, increasing production rates and minimizing downtime for changing worn tools. A comprehensive review of your tooling program with a qualified rep will most certainly yield positive results.

John Harris, director of sales and marketing, Multicam: Make sure that you are using the right tooling and that you are also using the right feeds and speeds. It is not uncommon for woodworkers to be going too slow with their tools. They do not achieve the proper chip loads, they do not get the heat off and they burn out their tools. Sometimes you can get better cuts simply by speeding up your cuts and using the proper tooling.

If you are doing one-of-a-kind things, you can just write a quick program and post it up. It may have some inefficiencies in the program, but it really doesn’t make a lot of difference if you are just doing a short run. But if you are going to do a long run, you ought to go in and make sure that every move is optimal in the program, that there is not any kind of extraneous moves. That can all add up to a lot of time for the program.

Another thing that comes to mind is the material handling to and from the machine. A lot of times, a little thought on how to get stuff to the machine and away from the machine, moving things around or having material come in a different way [can improve productivity]. One time, I rolled the fork truck in when I was doing some production work, and instead of leaving the pallet on the floor, I left it about three feet off the floor right next to me. It made a lot of difference when running production. You can get 10, 15 percent more production just by doing simple things like that.

Jeff Conger, CNC product manager, Stiles Machinery Inc.: Daily general housekeeping processes along with an efficient dust extraction system are the two key practices that any shop can implement to prolong the life of its CNC machining center. Ultimately, the most critical factor is to purchase the machine from a company that will support the machine for many years to come.

Michael Cassell, North American CNC product manager, Holz-Her US: One can achieve increased performance on the CNC machining center from a variety of points.

One of the key benefits of CNC technology is in its ability to perform a wide range of machining functions. Generally, at a minimum, the machine will include routing and vertical and horizontal drilling capability. Additional functions would be the X-Y indexable saw head, second vertical router spindles, increased drilling capacity both vertically and horizontally, and 4th axis (C axis). A wide range of aggregates can also increase the range of applications capable.

Productivity improvements can be made in the reduction of set-up time. Some solutions are laser positioning of vacuum pods, automatic console and pod positioning systems, as well as the use of barcode scanning to quickly and accurately locate and initialize part programs.

The list of available software grows daily and is not just limited to template-type software for cabinet and closet components. Decorative 2-D and 3-D engraving, signage with a range of fonts and entryway doors as well as MDF doors [are available]. These niche software packages can speed up design and programming time as well as dramatically increase the range of applications. The implementation of these software packages also reduces the time needed to begin producing these components in new markets.

Do not limit yourself — if you can imagine it, you can generally produce it. Use engraving software to enhance the components you are producing. It is amazing what some simple scroll work will do to increase the value and appearance of a panel. Look beyond your original intentions for the machine and do not limit yourself.

Rob Howell, business unit manager, Hi Tech Panel Processing Div., SCM GROUP USA INC.: A CNC machining center is similar to a printer and prints what it is programmed to print. In order to get the most from your machine, I feel training on software, tooling and particular applications is the best time spent.

Contact your machine representative and determine if they offer advanced training or have an Applications Department to provide you with out-of-the-box ideas. Don’t recreate what someone else has already done. Training should be offered on-site or in a classroom environment. Both have advantages, depending on your needs. Investing in the proper training will get you more from your CNC machining center.

Larry Tolbert, technical support, Solid Wood Systems: Be sure to get the best software and a post-processor designed specifically for your machine. Without this, you may spend too much time correcting programs once they are at the machine.

Some vendors offer software designed just for the configuration of your machine. These programs offer a video simulation of the program being executed. This allows you to confirm operations while still in the office. The correct programming package will eliminate unnecessary pauses and movements in the program, thus improving overall performance. Be sure your vendor can support you with this and future updates.

Also, if options are available that allow the CNC to perform set-up operations, strongly consider these. An example of this type of option allows the machine to position clamping devices per the part program. This saves set-up time and eliminates errors.

Dave Steranko, president, Anderson America: Custom woodworkers can really improve their assembly labor with CNC equipment. Parts manufactured with CNC technology fit every time, and these parts require less rework and less material handling. CNC parts are interchangeable, and CNC parts from small custom shops are of equal quality [as those] from large shops.

To find the newest CNC machining centers on the market, visit, Panel Sizing, Boring and Edging chapter, for a full listing.

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