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Whether you’ve been a machinist for decades or are just getting into the field, now is an excellent time to become more familiar with machining industry trends. Knowing these details can help you become familiar with how your work and priorities may change relatively soon, affecting yourself and your colleagues. Here are some trends likely to shape 2023.
1. An Increased Emphasis on Cybersecurity
CNC machines have not typically been in the spotlight as people have looked for cybersecurity weaknesses and tried to address those vulnerabilities. However, that may change soon due to an October 2022 Trend Micro report. Researchers chose four CNC controller vendors and ran five simulated cyberattacks on their products.
The results showed that denial-of-service attacks and hijacking could affect all the machines. Hackers could change the tool geometry or influence a parametric program. Data theft was also a common issue since all equipment in the investigation had flaws that let hackers steal production information. Malicious hijackers could also rewrite program information on three of the four machines. In one case, researchers made the CNC machine drill 25 holes in a piece instead of the originally programmed two.
Moreover, research indicated cybercriminals could set off false alarms on two studied machines. Such actions could significantly disrupt workflow while people troubleshoot nonexistent problems. The tool geometry changes might have similar effects. Researchers’ experiments allowed them to alter the positioning so much that the machining tool operated in midair, unable to touch the workpiece.
Another takeaway was that ransomware attacks threatened three of the four machines studied. Hackers could lock down files and demand payment, halting production until they get it.
The researchers made several recommendations for keeping CNC machines more secure. They included using intrusion detection and prevention tools, installing the latest security patches on the CNC machines, and always setting them up to manufacturers’ specifications. These in-depth experiments will undoubtedly encourage manufacturing managers to pay more attention to CNC machine cybersecurity in 2023. That means that industry viewpoints may include more subsequent internet security investments.
2. High-Tech Training to Cope With the Labour Shortage
Middle-skill workers, which include CNC machinists, represent some of the needs manufacturers will work hardest to fill in 2023. People trying to fill these positions face numerous challenges, including enticing candidates. They must also prepare them to become assets to the workforce as many older workers near or reach retirement age. Introducing new shop machinists to CNC machines with conversational programming built in can speed up training by getting them familiar with the machine's drop-down menu controls before training them on g-code for a different machine.
A training centre in Austria uses VR headsets to facilitate parts of its apprentice program. That initiative is part of a research initiative investigating the use of VR to make specific training tasks safer. One planned activity was to create a VR simulation that exposed people to safe handling principles for CNC machines.
Machinists who feel hesitant to adopt new technologies should be aware that these interactive training methods have been around longer than they might realize. An Australian university began using AR for CNC machinist training in 2019. That case involved people engaging with the technology to complete 11 microunits of content during their workplace training.
Changing the way training happens can also open opportunities. A legally blind woman works in a machining shop wearing a VR headset because that high-tech addition gives her 20/20 vision. She’s a quality-control team member, using digital hand gages to verify parts are within specifications.
3. Artificial Intelligence Changing CNC Machining Processes
People are only beginning to see how much of an impact artificial intelligence (AI) can have on how people work. That reality will influence the machining industry in numerous fascinating ways. Many facilities use AI to automate parts of the work, making processes faster and more accurate.
Zach Spencer, director of engineered solutions at Methods Machine Tools, says he’s noticed a shift in the past few years. Almost every shop is looking at tasks to automate, and clients are more proactive in asking about automated solutions. Previously, people were more hesitant about automation, needing convincing to invest in it and worrying it’d take away jobs. Artificial intelligence is not the only technology enabling automation, but it’s a significant one.
Artificial intelligence can also track machine conditions, issuing alerts about possible issues before they cause production shutdowns. One CNC machining product on the market uses a neural network to learn the equipment’s normal operating parameters. The product’s training included exposure to more than 2 million data points showing good working conditions. It flags users if deviations occur and helps people identify their causes.
Elsewhere, German researchers explored how AI could support the machining processes for fibre-reinforced materials. Their studies combined AI with smart sensors to predict machine wear patterns and time frames. The sensors pick up on structure-borne sound signals that occur during the milling process.
The team used machine learning to find connections between particular ultrasonic sounds and process control problems. The people working on this project hope their efforts will create possibilities in predictive maintenance. For example, abnormal tool wear would cause a sound that the algorithms could flag for the machine operator.
The Future is Bright for the Machining Industry
All industries must grow and change over time to remain competitive and successful. These three machining industry trends are prime examples of the necessary progress occurring as a response to the sector’s conditions.
These are some factors people will show the most interest in this year and possibly for an even longer period. Professionals continually look for ways to improve how they work. Many will use these examples to make those enhancements, keeping up with what’s new and remaining well-equipped for whatever the future holds.