There are 168 hours in a week, and, if a machine shop is not running its machine tools for every one of those hours—including lights-out machining—it is losing an opportunity to make money. But revenue is not the only issue. Unattended machining can also increase part quality and reduce lead time to customers. Setting up an unattended-machining operation is not easy, and it’s certainly not cheap, but many shops say it is essential to stay competitive.
One key question is how unattended machining can be effective when the market is demanding smaller lot sizes, tighter tolerances and more complex parts. This feature focuses on how to accomplish that when unattended machining with horizontal machining centers.
But why HMCs? After all, palletized vertical machining centers have been around for decades and have been automated as well. However, horizontals by their nature offer a number of advantages over their vertical cousins—greater tool capacities, better chip evacuation and easier four-sided machining—making them the machine of choice for unattended machining for most shops.
So what’s required for unattended machining? For one, you need a smarter machine. Jim Endsley, machining center product specialist for Okuma America Corp., Charlotte, N.C., explained that, to reduce labor costs, the human element must be removed from the equation as much as possible. “It’s a matter of replicating human intelligence,” he said. “If Joe has to walk to the back of the machine and kick it every now and then in order to make good parts, then you need a machine control that can replicate what Joe does.”
Okuma focuses on offering that capability across all of its products. The Intelligent Numerical Control, or THINC, is an open platform, PC-based machine controller developed by Okuma in collaboration with its “Partners in THINC.”