Computer numerical control (CNC) machining can make certain manufacturing processes easier by automating complex commands and speeding up the rate at which equipment completes tasks. But operating a CNC machine is by no means a self-explanatory procedure, and technicians must undergo training to develop the skills necessary for proper CNC handling.
A lathe is a complex machine that presents its own set of challenges, but with the addition of computer numerical controls, the skilled lathe operator must also understand programming parameters, automation-specific safety standards, and a host of other vital pieces of information. It should be emphasized that the completion of a set amount of coursework and the obtainment of appropriate certification are requisite for handling a CNC lathe. Learning about the various types of skills and training that are available may help a prospective technician to plan for an education in CNC machining.
The Learning Curve
Although there are many technical schools out there, an accredited industrial training organization can provide the necessary training for a CNC lathe operator. Most programs will involve multiple classes or sessions, offering a gradual instruction process broken up into several steps. While the beginning stages might not include hands-on experience, later courses typically involve actual lathe operation. In addition, the importance of adhering to safety protocols is reinforced throughout the training process. The following is a typical CNC lathe training outline that may be helpful for illustrating what a student can expect to learn.
An important training step involves explaining the limitations of computer numerical controls to those who are unfamiliar with its workings. Despite being an automated system, a CNC lathe requires much more than design input to accomplish its task. The technician usually needs to consider tool selection, spindle speed, workpiece clamping and positioning, and cutting sequences before machining can begin. Furthermore, the CNC lathe only understands commands in a specific programming language, such as g-code. CAD specifications must be translated through CAM software in order to be intelligible to a CNC machine. Due to these complex requirements, it is best not to rush through the training program, but to segment the knowledge into learnable chunks. Thus, some early stage coursework might include:
- Checking to make sure the lathe is lubricated and learning to schedule routine maintenance in accordance with workplace standards.
- Learning to translate product specificationsand work instructions into a machine-readable format.
- Establishing criteria for tool selection with efficiency and safety in mind.
- Installing workpiece handling devices and inserting tools into their corresponding slots.
- Learning to load a machining program into the CNC lathe and aligning its data points according to project requirements.
- Producing sample parts to verify if they match specifications and operator instructions.
After a trainee learns the methods for preparing a CNC lathe for operation and setting its equipment for test runs, the coursework begins to focus on more sophisticated tasks. The initial stages will have taught a technician how to read, comprehend, and create computer numerical control programs. This range of programming instructions typically includes drilling, grooving, facing, threading, and turning. Late stage training will often cover CNC program editing, machine adjustments, and developing new command syntax. Some typical coursework might include:
- Identifying editing needs by comparing test results with design specifications and machine instructions.
- Learning to perform programming edits and updating them in accordance with workplace standards.
- Producing additional cycles of sample components to verify editing changes and refine the editing process.
- Regulating and adjusting coolant flow to react to machine and project needs.
- Taking steps to prevent damage to tools, materials, or machinery during the production cycle.
- Repairing or replacing tools that have been damaged during operations.
- C leaning the lathe and removing any waste material in a safe manner.
Although these guidelines are a broad indication of some of the subjects covered in CNC training, the fundamental principles of following careful instructions, learning safety protocols, and remaining realistic about the capabilities of a CNC lathe will likely be a part of any training curriculum.