Over the past few years, Accuride has installed a significant number or new CNC lines at our facilities. The installed machining cells are completely manual, partly automated, and fully automated. All of the machine tools are premiere top name brands. While these tend to have a higher initial cost the longevity of the equipment offsets that initial expenditure.

We took different approaches to each of the lines that were installed, depending on product and plant conditions. The manually loaded lines are set up so that the number of operators can be varied if demand changes. An example would be a line with 5 operations and two post machining inspections normally requiring 5 operators for maximum output. By adjusting the layout these lines are set up so all operations can be covered by any number of operators up to five. Even a single operator can follow the product through each step to completion. At the last operation the travel to the beginning of the process is just a few steps.

In the partly automated lines, an operator loads parts on to an autoloading system. The parts are critically located by simple guiding fixtures. The operator signals the system to begin, and the autoloader takes over. These systems have proven to be highly efficient when the parts arrive un-staged. The consideration when implementing this type of system is operator fatigue. These lines are set up with load assist that are easy to use that reduces the operator wear and tear. This keeps the system at optimal efficiency.

The third type of line is fully automated. These incorporate robots, gantries, and other integrated automation with groups of like machines running the same machining operations, and feeding directly associated processes like labeling and polishing. This allows for maximum production of high running part numbers with the least amount of non-essential human contact. The parts are depalletized onto the line as preform raw product, and leave the line finished complete ready for final inspection and packaging.

Each of these approaches to manufacturing a product is viable. Each has its strong points and shortcomings. The fully manual lines are very easily changed over from one part number to another. However, they can run slower per operation if care is not taken to streamline each step. Partly automated lines, which processes at optimal levels, can become slowed if the loading can’t keep up with the process, or if the competence of the loading doesn’t meet requirements. Highly automated lines can run with maximum efficiency, producing high quality parts, but can be difficult to effect rapid change over of part numbers if large amounts of fixturing have to be handled manually in making those change outs.

In the end we found the best layout and approach should be what best fits the output requirements. It is never good to incorporate elaborate technology in a process that does not require it. While simple is not always better, reducing points of failure make for a robust process overall.

"While simple is not always better, reducing points of failure make for a robust process overall"

A last point: always purchase the best equipment the budget can tolerate - not going overboard but not skimping on tooling or core machine tools. This can be a driver for failure. A wise sage once said to me, “The cost of something is a short pain, but poor quality goes on forever”.