By Jim McMahon, Zebra Communications
When CNC automation replaced numerical control systems they effectively reduced the
time required to changeover the machine to produce different components, and they
provided CNC operators with the flexibility and time to perform additional tasks. Few
would disagree that the introduction of CNC machines radically changed the
manufacturing industry – curves became as easy to cut as straight lines, complex 3D
structures became relatively easy to produce, and the number of machining steps that
required human actions dramatically reduced.
Now, machine tool automation is making another evolutionary jump into multi-tasking.
Machine tool multi-tasking originated 25 years ago, but as of late has become quite the
mantra with machine tool developers, and for good reason – such systems can show
substantial improvements in yield, in some circumstances up to a 400 percent increases in
productivity. Machine tool manufacturers are feeding this movement by continuing to
expand their offerings of machine tools with multi-tasking functionality.
Although machine tool multi-tasking typically refers to processes that normally would
require multiple machines – such as turning, milling, drilling, taping, boring and finishing
a part – it can also delineate variable, high-speed spindles that can perform multi-tasked
functions within a CNC. The latter is less well known because of its recent introduction
into the CNC multi-tasking environment, but is rapidly gaining acceptance as a versatile
combined high-speed/low-speed spindle alternative to the dedicated high-speed and lowspeed