When we buy a piece of equipment, we want it to last for a long time. We don’t want it to break; we want it to keep running. We want that piece of equipment making money as much as possible. But to maintain equipment reliability, we must actually maintain our equipment. CNC Routers are sophisticated and relatively expensive pieces of equipment that have maintenance needs. If not maintained properly you are likely to see decreased productivity and shortened operational life of the CNC tool. This is why a preventative maintenance program (PPM) is so important. Realize the operative word is “program.”
A maintenance program should be followed, and shortcuts should not be tolerated. If you think about the goal of the maintenance program, it is to reduce cost and protect your equipment and operators. There might be times when scheduled maintenance is briefly changed, but every maintenance requirement should be required by management. The design of modern CNC routers has actually simplified maintenance by producing automated logs. These logs are often updated on a daily basis which helps to fine-tune your maintenance activities.
A good preventative maintenance program for your CNC router will help increase the tool’s uptime and longevity. Fortunately, a good maintenance program isn’t difficult, nor is it time-consuming compared to the potential downtime should the machine not operate properly. Here are some simple steps:
1. Lubricate. One of the most important things you can do for a vehicle is to keep it’s fluids clean, so it is with a CNC router. A CNC router exists in a harsh environment. It is operating at speeds in excessive of 24,000 RPMs that generates heat and dust which can quickly wear on bearings and breakdown lubrication. Proper lubrication is critical to maintaining the router. It is also important to strictly follow the recommended types of lubrication for your router. If you are unsure, check the manual, or contact the CNC manufacturer.
2. Clean It. Before using the router, visually check over the tool and remove any debris on its surface. Debris sucked into the tool can cause parts to wear unevenly, and possibly take a piece of equipment out of production for days. Loose debris can also foul the lubrication system. When adding lubrication, clean any filter and securely replace any caps that were removed from the tool. At the end of a shift, visually inspect the machine for chips, dirt or other debris that might cause damage. Look for worn parts.
3. Follow the Manufacturer’s Maintenance Schedule. Following the recommended maintenance schedule is easy to do, but it requires that you do it. Sometimes operators don’t understand the importance of proper maintenance. They might skip a visual inspection before or after using the tool. If this happens, it is possible the operator needs to be retrained. The machine is only part of your CNC investment; the operator can make or break the equipment.
4. Take care of the Peripherals. The CNC machine isn’t very useful without the proper accessories – debris removal systems, cooling systems, and material holding systems need to be included in your maintenance program. A clogged debris system or cooling system that fails can bring your operation to a halt. Material holding systems that are out of alignment can ruin a job before it starts.
5. Keep Critical Spare Parts On Hand. You don’t need to have every CNC part on hand, but it is a good idea to keep replacement parts for things that experience normal wear-and-tear. For example, belts, wipers, and critical cutters can help reduce lost production time. A quick review of your replaced parts over the last year can help you start a good parts list.
6. Listen to your equipment. A maintenance schedule helps to keep a tool operating properly, but there are times when a tool, despite the best maintenance program can still experience issues. Operators become familiar with their tools. They can hear changes in the way a tool sounds. Unusual or new sounds are a good warning cue to inspect the machine.
7. Know the feel of your machine. As stated above, operators become familiar with their tools. Unusual vibrations are sometimes a function of working with certain materials. Other times, vibrations are indicative of pending machine failure, whether it be a bearing or cutter not properly being seated. An operator who is familiar with the equipment can enhance a good maintenance program.
Often times manufacturers offer annual inspections of the equipment as an add-on service. Regardless of whether you decide to take advantage of that type of service, a proper maintenance program is critical to keeping your CNC investment productive. The safety of the operator depends, in large part, upon proper maintenance. Remember, the goal of the maintenance program is to reduce cost and protect your equipment and operators, all the while producing revenue.