Changing methods to accommodate new features

This field of computer numerical control is constantly evolving. New features and functions are coming along on a regular basis. Though most new features and functions will in some way enhance the way a CNC machine is utilized, there can be some down-sides related to implementing them – especially if your company owns (older) machines that do not have the functions.

I was recently in a company that has used CNC machines for many years. Indeed, they used this kind of equipment even before computers were an integral component in the control – when these machines were called NC machines.

Control manufacturers have long made they’re controls backward compatible, meaning new controls can accept programs written for controls that they have made in the past. But this is a one-way street – programs written for new machines that take advantage of new features – cannot be run in older machines. This provides a degree of compatibility among machines.

For this reason, the company I visited elected to ignore many helpful features that make CNC machines easier to utilize. Decimal point programming, arc size for circular motion with an R word, and even tool length compensation with G43 are among the features they elected not to use in order to maintain compatibility among older and newer machines. What makes the situation even worse – from a machine utilization standpoint – is that, over time, many of the older machines have been replaced. The very reason why many new features were not used does not even exist any more.

Admittedly, compatibility among machines is a very important factor in any CNC environment. But as a manager, you must ensure that it is not taken to extremes. As new features become available, you must weigh the benefits of maintaining compatibility against the possibility that the machine could be better utilized if newer features are used. At some point – like when old machines are replaced – you must have your people bite-the-bullet and start taking advantage of newer features.

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