With the spread of the coronavirus across the United States, many employers were caught off-guard by the huge impact the virus has had on their ability to remain in business. This has been especially true of manufacturing facilities, since these employers often have hundreds of employees on the job at any time. In the case of CNC machinists, life in their machine shops has undergone many changes in the past few months. As for how they have adjusted to COVID-19, here are a few of the most innovative ways.
Increased Use of CAD/CAM Software
As production has shifted in many CNC machine shops from producing industrial parts to instead producing various types of medical supplies needed by hospitals and other healthcare facilities, most companies are now relying far more on CAD/CAM software to keep production levels high and to allow machinists to more quickly program machines to complete various tasks. In particular, many shops are making parts specifically designed for ventilators and oxygen concentrators, which are used with patients suffering from COVID-19 and related illnesses such as pneumonia.
Additional Workplace Protections
Since it is so critical to let workers return to work in machine shops as fast as possible, many shops are converting work stations to be safer for workers. This includes taking such steps as installing plastic shields around workstations or equipment, staggering work shifts of employees to avoid having large numbers of people in and around equipment, and using additional sanitizing procedures on machines and other related equipment.
While some manufacturers have experienced downturns economically due to COVID-19, the same cannot be said for most machine shops. In fact, they have been in a unique position to quickly adjust their manufacturing capabilities to suit production needs for medical equipment and PPE. At even smaller shops that have been able to secure contracts for work, production is going 24/7 and employees are often working in excess of 60 hours per week to meet current demand. According to industry experts, examples such as this are expected to continue into June or July.
Using Past Prototypes
At many CNC machine shops, past prototypes for other products are suddenly finding new life as parts that can be used for medical equipment. By examining various prototypes to see how they can be used for medical equipment, many shops have been able to keep production going and avoid layoffs by slightly altering certain prototypes to create much-needed parts for ventilators and PPE. Since CNC machines are numerically-controlled and much easier to program than machines used in the past, CNC machinists are able to make quick adjustments to get production started.
Relying More on 3-D Printing
In many manufacturing situations, CNC machinists are not only using various types of CNC equipment to manufacture various products, but also are using 3-D printers more often than usual. By doing so, they have been able to bypass much of the manual engineering aspects that go into producing parts for medical equipment, allowing them to produce parts the same day orders are received. By giving customers quotes in a matter of minutes and quickly manufacturing and shipping the necessary parts that day, many shops that normally would have been closed during the pandemic have instead found innovative ways to stay open and meet customer demands.
More Reliance on Remote Technology
While CNC machinists must of course have a physical presence within a shop in order to program equipment and make adjustments during the manufacturing process, they have also been relying more and more on remote technology such as Zoom to help them receive orders from customers. For example, many companies have now set up their websites to allow customers to submit 3-D CAD files. Once this is done, a CNC machinist can utilize various software to assess a party's ability to be manufactured, make suggestions regarding specific modifications, and send these back to the customer along with a quote.
While nobody knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, it is clear that CNC machinists are using innovative methods to continue production in shops across the nation. By doing so, they are demonstrating just how important CNC machining is to the nation's economy.