Benefits of upgrading equipment

By Brian Klein

Often times people use the mentality “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” or “Why should I get something new when what I have works fine.”

Well, that approach in mindset can really have you overlook something that could make your life easier, and in most cases save you money in the long run.

In the world of manufacturing this is often the case for CNC equipment. Sure, initial investment costs can deter someone from buying new when they have a machine that has been running without issues. I’m here to say that upgrading can actually save you time and money.

By comparison, a brand new machine versus a 15 year old machine runs faster even with an identical program simply because of advancements in technology. The new motors and software buffer faster and input/ output more information at a faster pace. Creating a faster running machine. Along with leaps and bounds with coolant and tooling engineering, this can create a perfect storm of savings.

Pros of upgrading equipment

 If you’re not interested in a faster running machine, then consider another aspect. An older machine will incur more cost and downtime for routine maintenance and unfortunately unplanned maintenance due to wear. These items can add up and get expensive (i.e.: amplifiers, boards, cables, motors). Belts, ball screws and bearings will all fail at one point in a machine. This could be thousands of dollars if these items start failing. Even the best preventative maintenance can’t really prevent wear of any of these items I listed above. When a machine gets between 7- 10 years (and beyond) this wear catches up with you quickly. Maybe your machine has had good fortune and at the age of 15 is still running great, maybe It’s had off and on maintenance periodically over the years, in the end it will start costing money to maintain at some point during its lifespan. If the machine exceeds this timeframe, when it does start to fail, you’ll face other challenges. The older the machine is the issue you will start to encounter is parts being discontinued by manufacturers and if applicable they may offer a lead time to build each component… but you may even find that you’re out of luck.

Sure, most CNC control providers offer extended warranty’s which can be really helpful for cost and down time, much like a warranty on your car. But you’re still not being recouped the value of lost production time. Consideration of replacing your machine should always be in the back of your mind, especially the older they get.

Another advantage of upgrading your equipment is the technology being offered. Machines are being engineered to do things they have never been able to do before. These include:

  1. Programmable angled live heads for cross working
  2. High-frequency software in the machines can help control a heavy chip causing chip wrap and tool breakage. This can also assist in surface finish, and tool life.
  3. Most swiss machines now offer chucker mode. Which allows the machine to transfer into a chucker style lathe. Many benefits in using this function include shorter material remnants, rigid machining, and in most cases faster cycle time.

  4. High-pressure coolant interfaced on the machine’s isn’t the newest technology but integrated in the latest machines with the most advanced pumps can provide a major difference with whatever you’re trying to machine.

  5. Optimization isn’t the newest feature, but over the years it has evolved. When optimizing, the machine transfers your program using machine positions and travels the shortest path at a higher rate of speed to increase your cycle time.

There are also optional features for new machines which are offered as well to help the operator succeed. Some of these include:

  1. Brush system chip conveyors that all but eliminate chips in your coolant tank and strainers. As someone who ran machines can tell you that routine maintenance day wasn’t fun. It was messy and aggravating. This all but eliminates that.
  2. Bar loading technology is also advancing in leaps and bounds. From single load bar pushers, to automatic loaders. Not only are they getting easier controls and user-friendly operation they are designed to integrate with the machine’s on a more complex level. Controlling vibration, faster bar change time, software upgrades to run extruded materials.

I started out as a machine operator during work-study in high school. And as the years progressed, and my knowledge and skill improved, I was fortunate to be able to have worked on a wide variety of machines, new and old (from chucker lathes, swiss lathes, grinder’s, and mill’s.)

The same frustrations always happened on the older equipment. From having a setup take longer because machine components were worn out, forcing program changes to account for backlash and bad bearings. It was also the case setting tools as the machines were so beat up and out of alignment.

On new machines, not only was I able to explore the new features and experience more user-friendly setup capabilities. I wouldn’t have to take the extra time compensating for alignment issues, ball screws, bearings, etc. Work was fun again when a new machine came in. As a setup operator, I was excited and challenged with the new equipment. I no longer had the anxiety and issues of setting up a job on an older troubled machine. That evolved into more time being spent on new processes. I was able to use the new equipment to do new operations to reduce cycle times. I developed pride in making the new equipment not only meet expectations but exceed.

I am spoiled now in my career to be on the applications/ service side of the spectrum. Having worked on both sides of the manufacturing coin, I get to work on the latest high-tech machines made today. In my career, I can confidently say without pause that any time I install a new machine at a customer their workforce is excited. I’m reminded of that being me and the joy to know you have an upgraded, faster machine replacing your older worn-out machine. You’re not only investing in your business with new equipment, but I can attest that the workforce also sees this as an exciting new challenge, creating new motivation. I know this because that was me.

On the service side, I see the really old worn-out machines. And if you see walking into your shop, it means your machine is broken. I typically don’t get the same reception that I do when I walk in to install the latest and greatest.

I implore anyone with an older machine to always explore the new latest machines. You’re not just getting a new machine, you are also getting a more productive workforce.