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Easy Setups with Automated On-Machine Probing

By Mazak, Addy Machine

Machine shop operators strive to produce accurate parts, but many rely on outdated manual methods to set up their machines. The feel, finesse and measuring tools of these manual setup methods often yield less-than-perfect results—especially on machines with micron-level precision—and can consume large amounts of time per job, resulting in a lot of non-cut time.


The problem is that intimidating control interfaces and lengthy instructions discourage some machinists from using built-in probes. Fortunately, a quick, precise automated graphical user interface-driven measurement system makes setups fast and easy while providing greater accuracy than manual methods.

Manual part setup involves a lengthy sequence of edge pickups, calculations and data entry, all based on measurements that can vary every time an operator takes them. Whether operators use an edge finder, indicator or other manual tools, there is a risk of error. Any measurement, calculation or data-entry error on a CNC work offset page can yield inaccurate results and scrapped parts. Every attempt to refine the process extends the amount of time required. In fact, manual setup methods can consume nearly an hour of each workday.

Built-in machine probes promise to replace the manual jog-and-tram to yield quick, accurate setups—but that accuracy comes with a steep, potentially stressful learning curve. To master these procedures, operators must pore over inch-thick books of G-code instructions just to learn how to configure a probe’s movement from one axis to the next in a process that runs on one axis at a time through a lengthy sequence of codes.

Even operators who figure out the proper probing instructions must key in multi-digit code sequences without an entry error, or risk programming the probe—or the spindle—into a costly crash with the machine table. That complexity and concerns about machine or workpiece damage drive many operators back to manual setup to eliminate stress and avoid wasting time—especially on a high-mix, low-volume workflow filled with short-run jobs.

Out-of-spec part dimensions can create safety risks, not to mention QC failures and customer rejections. Like manual setup, however, manual post-production inspection can create variances and inaccuracies. Micrometer measurements can vary depending on the skill of the operator, room temperature and other factors. Manual inspection probing also involves the same types of G-code sequences as its setup counterpart.

So how can operators replace time-consuming manual setups and gauging with the precision of digital metrology—without a lengthy learning curve or damaging mishap? Machine tool OEM Mazak’s answer is MAZATROL SMOOTH Set & Inspect, an on-machine work measurement and inspection solution in the SMOOTH TECHNOLOGY software suite available on MAZATROL SmoothG and SmoothX CNCs.

Through a conversational CNC interface, operators choose between measurement and calibration, select a part feature or toolsetting option, and enter a few parameters. The CNC automatically generates an inspection program and presents results for confirmation or correction.

For smaller shops and high-mix, low-volume production, today’s on-machine work and inspection software shortens setup inspection from a manual routine that averages 10 to 15 minutes to a 20-second automated process. In high-volume, low-mix production, operators can create in-process gauging routines they can copy and paste into a part program to add mid-process or during finished-part inspection. The software also lets shops generate data files that provide production variables, especially for critical aerospace and medical parts.

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