Posted February 9, 2021

Machine Learning for Manufacturing Process Optimization

 Industry 4.0: machine learning for manufacturing process optimization.

Learning a new skill to solve a problem has always been a hallmark of growth. Until recently, new skills for manufacturing equipment have had to be programmed by human operators. However, automated systems for machine learning are quickly becoming an essential part of manufacturing high-quality products.

Parts with extremely fine tolerances require the precise capabilities of CNC milling machines. This equipment is only as accurate and efficient as its programming. Modern manufacturing systems allow machines to learn from past efforts and improve upon their future capabilities. This process is known as machine learning for manufacturing process optimization, and we’re going to take a brief look at what it means to you in the fabrication of your next precision part.

Machining Parts from Manual Operation to Computer Numeric Control

Throughout the industrial age, fabricating parts for manufacturing has grown from a manual operation to a precise machining process. Some critical milestones [Live link: “Machining 101”] along the way have characterized the development of this process in the modern machine shop:

  • Conventional machining: The introduction of lathes and milling equipment gave machinists the ability to fabricate parts repeatedly to the same dimensions manually. In turn, this equipment allowed industrial manufacturing to advance from hand-building each assembly to the first mass-production processes. With coordinate dimensioning and advancements in how the tools and workpiece were manipulated, machining was ready for the next step.

  • CNC machining: Before CNC machining was commonplace, machining was still a dangerous operation as machinists had to manually position their tools and workpieces. Conventional machining relied on human control, which was not dependably precise. New enhancements, however, provided precise movement through the use of servomechanisms. Computer numerically controlled equipment eventually drove those mechanisms, adding the highest level of control and precision.

  • Multi-axis machining and live tooling: The next major step in machining equipment’s evolution was to combine the different machines’ functions for efficiency. Although standalone mills and lathes are still regularly used, the multi-axis machines can do many operations that would usually require re-positioning of the workpiece. Using live tooling also enabled milling operations while the part was positioned on a lathe.

Today’s CNC machining efficiently fabricates more parts with greater precision than ever before, but there was still room for improvement. The next progression was to enhance CNC machining equipment to learn and improve its capabilities independently, based on its performance history.

Increasing Capabilities with Machine Learning for Manufacturing Process Optimization

While the CNC machining equipment capabilities have steadily improved over the years, the fabrication process itself needed enhancement. To do this, machine shops started incorporating machine learning software systems into their workflows. These systems will take CNC machining to the next level of manufacturing by providing solutions to the following problems:

Process optimization

CNC software will select tools and plot out their cutting paths for part fabrication. This programming uses default settings, which isn’t the most efficient method of manufacturing a part. However, the learning system will keep a record of each job completed and apply it to improve the machining process. This record includes tool selection, cutting paths, machine speeds, and the position of the tools and workpieces.

Quality control input

A mechanism is needed to collect and input the quality results from each job and make process optimization changes. The learning system will gather data on the process work to track performance trends specific to the materials. This data is then used as part of the process optimization to improve subsequent projects’ machining process.

Tool monitoring

CNC machining tools have a life-cycle depending on the materials they use, the speeds they run at, and the temperatures. Without proper monitoring, these tools can slip out of tolerance or abruptly fail. However, the learning software will monitor the feeds and speeds of the equipment and apply evolving algorithms to predict tool usability accurately.

These machine learning improvements make the manufacturing process more efficient and provide better results to the customer.

How Machine Learning Ultimately Benefits the Customer

One of the learning software’s primary purposes is to examine the success of previous manufacturing cutting paths or strategies and improve on them to make each job more efficient. The software will scan through thousands of these strategies in a matter of seconds to determine which would offer the best position for the part and the tools on the new job. This determination cuts down on time required for fabrication, which ultimately lowers the customer’s overall manufacturing cost.

Machine learning software incorporates into the online quote and evaluation system a machine shop uses for new customer part requests. By funneling the customer’s CAD models directly into the manufacturing system, the machine shop can cut as much as three weeks off the time it traditionally takes to quote and prepare a new job. This optimized approach results in the customer getting immediate feedback on the part they are submitting and reduces product development time.

At Plethora, we use the industry’s most advanced CNC machining equipment to fabricate the highest quality parts. Our equipment uses the most advanced machine learning software available. With its ability to consider over 1,000 tools in its evaluation, our software will consider all strategies and remove any constraints in its effort to fabricate the best part possible. Our online DFM and quoting systems are ready to receive your data so we can begin working with you on your next project. To get started, upload your design files to Quote My Part or call us at 415-726-2256.

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The Plethora Team

The Plethora team is your go-to CNC manufacturer for hardware done right the first time. We have the tools and experience needed to create high quality custom parts quickly and with precision, whether you need a prototype or production run.

Topics: materials, Design, Manufacturing, finishing, CNC machining, Quality, Prototyping