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Manufacturing Engineering: Principles for Optimization, Third Edition

Daniel T. Koenig
Daniel T. Koenig
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ASME Press
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The introduction of the computer to control a machine tool or process is the most revolutionary and profound occurrence in industry since the invention of the steam engine ushered in the industrial age. Computer Numerical Control (CNC) allows low-skilled operators to produce craftsmanlike products simply by telling the machine to do it. It can permanently capture the craftsman's skills in the operation of the machine or process and duplicate, triplicate, etc. those skills throughout the entire factory. It opens up new opportunities for mass distribution of complex parts that were previously the sole domain of the skilled machinist or toolmaker. No longer is it necessary to merge a creative mind with an artisan's skills to produce complex shapes; CNC only requires the creative mind to tell the computer what steps are needed to create the complex part. This is a different type of creativity, one that understands how to mathematically model physical shapes and contours, and then devise a sequence a machine tool will follow to create those shapes.

But CNC is not without its costs. Since its introduction in factories in the 1960s, CNC has led to profound changes in manufacturing, the most important being a shift in required manufacturing skills. The skilled operator population has steadily declined, while the skilled CNC programmer population has grown. Factory maintenance personnel have changed from master electricians to electronics technicians and in some cases electronics engineers. Machines and processes have increased enormously in complexity, while the skill levels necessary to use the machines have decreased. The supporting structure, namely manufacturing engineering, has grown considerably to plan and service the equipment. This chapter concerns the philosophical management problems that must be dealt with to succeed in the CNC revolution.

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