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Modular CNC Machines – When are they a more cost-effective solution?

Modular CNC Machines – When are they a more cost-effective solution?

Reducing costs and maximizing efficiencies have always been key ingredients in the recipe for cooking up greater profits. CNC technology continues to play an important role in productivity, as it has for the last few decades. Although they don’t often make headlines, modular CNC machines offer a great opportunity in certain situations. If you know when to use them, you’ve got an ace up your sleeve.

The idea behind CellCon modular CNC machines

From our perspective at CellCon, modular CNC machines work well for engineers who want a more flexible approach to high production machining. They are more cost-effective in special machine and transfer line solutions, particularly when parts have a standard work envelope but non-standard dimensions. When the objective is to reduce manpower, modular CNC machines are especially useful.

A rotary transfer cell, for example, can be set up to be manned by one individual. CNC shelf units or wing units are used as fixed building blocks. When dealing with large parts, an indexable fixture can be made to hold the part firmly in place.

When flexibility becomes inflexible

We’ve watched CNC machine tools mature over the decades. Most popular brands have developed a family of machines that cover the most common operations and work envelopes. Equipped with standard tables, large tool magazines and elaborate guards, they are well prepared to handle the multitude of parts and programs the typical shop throws at it.

What about non-standard situations? In many special machine applications, our customers are better served by something different. They don’t want to pay for components they don’t need. They want basic, lower cost, three or four axis CNC machines with the latest controls. They want to easily incorporate them into their custom design, and not have to cannibalize a brand new conventional CNC unit.

Basic Guidelines

Normal work envelope with unusual part dimensions. How do you know if your project is a candidate for a modular approach? We like to use this example: If you need to perform horizontal work on a 12 inch cube of steel, a conventional machining center will do the job just fine. What if you have a similar work envelope at the end of a family of parts that measure 42, 50 and 68 inches long? Now you need something different than one of those commodity machines we all know and love. Those guards, for example, will only get in the way.

One of our customers has a long term contract to machine a high production run of parts that measure between 36 and 240 inches in length. The work envelope between the pieces is very similar; all around a 7 inch cube.

Imagine the scale of a traditional CNC machine that would be required to hold a part with those longer dimensions. Frankly, a machine of that size and volume of iron would come with a price tag that would never have been approved.

Instead, they specified a CellCon unit as part of a special application project. Even with the custom fixtures required to transfer and hold the work, approval for the project came easily. In this case, the modular CNC machine was the clear choice to improve efficiency and increase profits.

Multi axis approach with unusual part dimensions. Let’s continue with this idea of machining parts with long dimensions and proportionally smaller work envelopes. Some parts have multiple surfaces that need to be machined. In many cases, the best approach is to machine all the surfaces at once, with multiple modular machines, while holding the part with a single custom fixture.

Several advantages quickly become obvious:

  • Smaller footprint: instead of using several large machines, real estate is saved when configuring modular machines in close proximity.
  • Time and manpower reduction: instead of moving the part from one machine to the next, modular machines offer the opportunity to move the part once, reducing effort and manpower.
  • Increase in quality: Because the part is being held once, by a single fixture, a higher degree of accuracy and consistency can be maintained.
  • Reduction in scrap: Because accuracy is increased, profit-robbing scrap is reduced.

When modular CNC machines offer a more cost-effective solution

There’s more to be said about the advantages and proper application of CellCon Modular CNC machines. In most cases, conventional CNC machine tools are the right fit for your application. The basic distinguishing characteristic relates to part dimensions and their proportion to the work envelope.

Could your project make proper use of a modular CNC machine tool? These guidelines offer a great way to start thinking about which direction. If you have questions, do one simple thing: Pick up the phone and call us at 800-467-2464.


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