Are CNC titans embracing Industry 4.0's mighty evolution?

  • Articles
  • Sep 01,23
Industry 4.0 can make CNC machining more efficient, accessible, reliable and cost-effective. As manufacturing demands rise, those benefits will become crucial to staying afloat in this industry, says Emily Newton.
Are CNC titans embracing Industry 4.0's mighty evolution?

CNC machining has thoroughly disrupted manufacturing, and Industry 4.0 could take things further. Innovations like the Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics promise to boost uptime and lower ongoing costs, much like CNC itself did when it first emerged.

At the same time, any step forward comes with some initial challenges. The question is how quickly CNC titans will overcome these obstacles to embrace Industry 4.0 and take their production to new heights.

Industry 4.0 adoption today
Industry 4.0 has already seen impressive growth among manufacturers despite its relative newness. As of a 2022 study, 72% of manufacturing companies were in the process of implementing Industry 4.0 initiatives, with many already completing some steps. Just five years earlier, most businesses said they didn’t understand this technology’s long-term implications, so that shift is significant.

CNC practices are also growing, with demand for these machines to surpass 2,800 units by 2030. Industry 4.0’s adoption uptick plays a key role in that increase. Newer CNC equipment comes with Industry 4.0 features like IoT connectivity and AI integration, helping them appeal to manufacturers now focused on digitization.

The CNC sector will become inseparable from Industry 4.0 as these trends continue. Each of these technologies fuels growth in the other, and industry giants are already shifting to capitalize on that potential.

Advantages of Industry 4.0 for CNC machining
This tremendous growth in Industry 4.0 technology is easy to understand in light of how it benefits CNC machining. CNC practices offer higher efficiency and accuracy than manual alternatives on their own, and Industry 4.0 functionality unlocks new advantages.

Flexible automation
One of the most significant benefits is how the IoT improves CNC accessibility. IoT connectivity lets operators monitor and control CNC machines remotely. As a result, the machining process involves less travel, providing more time to spend on productive work and see increased throughput.

That ease of access makes traditionally rigid automated processes more flexible. Operators can adjust or recalibrate machines in less time to accommodate workflow changes or unforeseen disruptions. Some IoT-enabled CNC machines can even react automatically to incoming data from other connected devices, enabling real-time adjustments.

Conventional wisdom holds that while automation is more efficient, humans are more flexible. However, maintaining that flexibility through employees alone can be challenging when manufacturers face an employment gap of 2.1 million jobs by 2030. Industry 4.0 offers a solution by making automated CNC more flexible.

Improved maintenance
Industry 4.0 also improves CNC machine maintenance. CNC equipment has relatively low upkeep needs, usually needing only light cleaning and changed cutting instruments. IoT data analytics takes these repair benefits further through predictive maintenance.

Predictive maintenance monitors machine data in real time to alert workers when the equipment will need repair in the future. As a result, manufacturers can prevent breakdowns and resolve issues while they’re still relatively small. This approach is need-based rather than schedule-based, saving time by eliminating unnecessary repairs.

Reducing the expenses and time consumption of CNC’s already minimal maintenance requirements makes CNC machines even more cost-effective, making them accessible to smaller manufacturers. Eliminating downtime from breakdowns and unneeded repairs maximizes productivity to further speed up these returns.

Ongoing improvements
Applying Industry 4.0 technology to CNC processes also has longer-term benefits. IoT-connected CNC machines generate data about their performance. Manufacturers can then compile this information across entire workflows and analyze it with AI to enable ongoing improvements.

With enough data, manufacturers can build digital twins of their CNC workflows. AI can then simulate various changes and situations in these virtual models to see where the line can improve and which changes yield the best results.

This data-driven insight removes the guesswork from finding the best strategy to optimize CNC processes. Consequently, manufacturers can ensure they get all they can from the technology, leading to higher ROIs to offset the equipment’s upfront costs.

What’s holding late adopters back?
Industry 4.0 technology is quickly becoming standard across CNC workflows, but some manufacturers remain hesitant. High costs are one of the most common obstacles, just as they are with CNC machining. A single 5-axis machine can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and IoT devices and AI models typically aren’t cheap.

Slow scaling is the key to overcoming these cost barriers. CNC and Industry 4.0 technology reduce expenses over time, so manufacturers must invest in them slowly to make the most of these returns. The best approach is to apply this equipment to the slowest or most error-prone processes first, then gradually expand it to other applications as improvements begin to show.

A lack of technical expertise is another common obstacle. While CNC machining lowers technical skill requirements, managing IoT systems, AI and data analytics can be challenging without experience. Thankfully, many Industry 4.0 vendors offer fully managed services to offload these technical requirements. Manufacturers must only shop around for a service that fits their needs.

CNC machining needs Industry 4.0 technology
Industry 4.0 can make CNC machining more efficient, accessible, reliable and cost-effective. As manufacturing demands rise, those benefits will become crucial to staying afloat in this industry.

IoT, AI and other data-centric technology will disrupt manufacturing the same way CNC machining has in the past. This shift is already taking place, and those who don’t capitalise on it may quickly fall behind.

About the author:
Emily Newton is a tech and industrial journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily. 

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