Purchasing a new CNC machine for your home workshop or small machine shop can give your small business a huge leg up on the competition. You’ve instantly added a high-end machine capable of incredibly precise operations, from one-off prototypes or custom parts to large-scale production runs.
If you’ve been primarily working with lower-end machinery, a new CNC machine is a huge step up. But what about maintenance? Have you added a huge headache to go along with your increased production?
CNC maintenance is a serious business – but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Whether at home or the shop, keeping your CNC mill or lathe in top shape simply requires following a good maintenance schedule and not neglecting basic maintenance protocol.
The CNC maintenance lifecycle
A good maintenance schedule relies on daily, monthly, and long-term tasks. Do each one at the right time, and you should be able to keep your machine running smoothly, barring any completely unexpected breakdowns.
Note that most new CNC machines come with a basic maintenance schedule that sets tasks based on the number of hours of operation on a machine, rather than a weekly or monthly routine. That system works well for facilities in which a CNC machine might run 24/7. But for smaller workshops, it’s often easier to stick with a daily and monthly maintenance program.
By far the most important part of any CNC maintenance program is daily maintenance. Do these tasks at the end of every day if you are running a small shop or home workshop, or at the end of every shift if you are in a larger production facility.
- Perform basic cleaning
Remove built-up chips and wipe down the machine exterior. If your CNC machine has a door or viewport, make sure that it is as clean as possible. You don’t need to deep-clean the machine every time, but you do want to keep dirt, grime, and sludge from building up.
- Check fluid levels
Just like the family vehicle, you want to make sure your CNC machine isn’t leaking hydraulic fluid or running out of lubricant. This is a quick, daily check; there’s no need to completely change the fluids every day, but you do want to be sure that all fluid levels are where they should be.
Keeping good records plays a vital role in proper CNC maintenance. A daily log of what maintenance was done and a brief note about any potential problems can play a huge role in avoiding looming issues – or in troubleshooting them after the fact.
Even a quick, daily conversation with the CNC operators or technicians who run the machinery goes a long way to ensure that everyone is aware of any problems as they develop.
Every few months, depending on how many hours your machine was run, grease any moving parts and clean any hard-to-reach filters or screens. You may also want to have your CNC machine inspected or overhauled by a trained technician from the manufacturer.
Every six months, perform a more in-depth inspection and cleaning of your CNC machine. Note that if you have a regular inspection by an outside technician, that’s more than sufficient. But if you are keeping things in-house, or this machine is for home use, here are some of the details you’ll want to inspect.
- Clean coolant tanks and fluid reservoirs
- Disassemble and clean chuck, jaws, and tool fixtures
- Order spare parts
If you have had issues in the past, or know that a particular part on your CNC machine has a tendency to fail, don’t wait; order and keep a spare part on hand. Nothing hurts worse than unnecessary downtime while a hard-to-find part ships in from halfway around the world, so be prepared by keeping replacements on hand if possible.
CNC maintenance requires some diligence but relies mostly on common sense and basic maintenance principles. Keep a clean workspace, inspect your equipment regularly, and perform in-depth inspections at set intervals, and your CNC machines will run smoothly for thousands of hours to come.