Machine tools are critically important to machining and manufacturing operations for various industries, ranging from automotive to aerospace to medical equipment, to name a few. Because of the types of industries they support, the products they produce have to be highly precise and accurate to meet design specifications. In other words, there isn’t a lot of room for errors.
Designed to operate at high speeds and produce parts in a high-output environment, machine tools are expected to work hard. The results are efficient and precise products. Producing such parts does come at a cost, though. Machine tools experience a lot of wear and tear, if not the occasional breakdown.
That being said, there are a lot of common causes of machine breakdowns, many of which can be avoided. Below, we’ll dive into five common causes of machine tool breakdowns you should know or, in some cases, may have already experienced.
1. Programming Errors
If you’ve ever dealt with computer programming errors, you know how frustrating they can be. Now imagine programming errors with the computer controlling a sophisticated machine with high-speed precision spindles. Yes, it’s far from fun, and such problems can lead to product errors. They can also lead to damaged equipment.
Several reasons could be behind programming errors, including:
- Bad coding
- Improper setup
- Wrong inputs
As you can see, programming errors don’t necessarily mean the computers are to blame. If someone has inputted the wrong variables, it’s as much of an operator issue as a computer issue. If it is due to an operator issue, proper training could be a solution, which we’ll cover more below. However, if it’s a programming issue outside of user error, having someone well-versed in troubleshooting and restoring the system to its proper function can ensure the problem is corrected before any further issues arise, even if it means picking up the phone and consulting with the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
2. Poor Training
Poor training doesn’t always mean a new person who’s never operated a particular machine is told to use it without being adequately trained. Although there are plenty of cases of people being asked to operate the equipment they haven’t been familiarized enough with, those cases aren’t that common regarding expensive, technologically intensive equipment.
Often, a person may have experience with a machine but may not have operated it in a while or may not be up to speed on programming changes. In cases like this, refresher training may be enough to eliminate the possibility of poor training causing problems.
Then again, maybe they have a lot of experience with a machine like a high-speed spindle used for milling, but that experience was with a different brand or manufacturer. Although the work is similar, the machine may be different enough to necessitate training on the differences to ensure breakdowns are avoided.
3. Operator Errors
Operators don’t always make mistakes by inputting the wrong data into the computer or making mistakes due to poor training. Sometimes, they choose the wrong tool or settings for the job. If an operator uses the wrong cutting tool for a specific job, the final product may end up with edges outside specifications. Or the operator used a tool for an alloy that shouldn’t have been, resulting in abnormal wear and tear to the tool.
Another error an operator can easily make if not attentive is using the wrong tool settings for the job at hand. The result could be a poor finish to the final product and necessitate rework.
To avoid this, even well-trained and experienced operators must ensure the tools match the expected work.
4. Poor Maintenance
A well-maintained machine should only require a little corrective maintenance over its service life. However, that also means that each operating machine tool should follow a routine and attention-to-detail maintenance schedule. Typically, this involves, at a minimum:
- Keeping the machine clean
- Keeping the moving parts lubricated as required by the manufacturer
- Ensuring the cooling system is maintained and free of contamination
- Ensuring the air system is maintained and free of contamination
- Properly warming up and cooling down the machine before and after use
- Avoiding using worn tool parts instead of replacing them
Failure to do routine maintenance can result in dirt build-up, overheating, loss of precision in tool operation, and even complete machine tool failure. Poor maintenance eventually turns your precision machine into an error-prone and broken machine. You may be looking for someone who specializes in spindle repairs.
5. Power Issues
Sometimes issues can boil down to problems with the power supply. Even if the machine has power, that doesn’t mean there’s enough adequate or consistently stable power to ensure proper operation from start-up to powering down. Unstable power can wreak havoc on your machines and operations and put your operators in potentially unsafe working conditions.
If power seems to be an issue, do some basic troubleshooting such as:
- Checking breakers or fuses
- Inspecting electrical cables for damage
- Check voltage if capable
If power issues are suspected and basic troubleshooting doesn’t help, it’s always recommended to seek the troubleshooting assistance of a certified electrician. They can diagnose any voltage or power supply problems you may be experiencing and give you a decent idea of the repairs needed to return your operations to normal.
Knowing common causes of machine tool breakdowns like those above will help your operation stay on track while avoiding costly, avoidable repairs. It doesn’t take much to end up with a machine breakdown, resulting in downtime and increased costs.
That being said, not all breakdowns can be avoided. However, many can be by staying on top of your training, maintenance, and attention to detail to ensure continuous and smooth operations for years to come.