Today, many work processes that were once performed manually are automated. In woodworking, the automation of manual work processes began with the invention of CNC technology, which replaced the hands of the woodworker with a computer-controlled cutter head. A software program that is manipulated by the operator controls a router that uses CNC technology, whereas the operator's hands would control a standard router.
CNCEquipment and Woodworkers
This freedom from the traditional machining process that CNC equipment offers has benefits and drawbacks. For employers, it means three things: one machine operator can monitor two or more CNC machines, the machine operator is less likely to be injured, and human errors are reduced significantly. For woodworkers in the workplace, these advantages are offset by the fact that automating work processes results in fewer jobs - an observation confirmed by long-term career outlooks in the woodworking industry.
For employers, staffing fewer workers is an advantage in itself, and not just in terms of payroll. Because fewer employees are on the work floor, fewer opportunities for injury exist, which translates into fewer workers comp cases. Add in the dramatic impact that a CNC router
can make on a company's production rate, and the allure of replacing standard machinery with CNC machinery is easy to understand.
The Capabilities of CNC Routers
CNC routers are praised for their precise cutting accuracy, which varies based on the number of axes they possess. A typical CNC router features between two and five axes, although models that feature nine axes or more are also available. A router that has nine axes would have them arranged in the following fashion:
Three primary linear axes (X, Y and Z)
Three primary rotary axes (A, B and C)
Three secondary linear axes (U, V and W)
A CNC router with this design could cut small, intricate engravings; and, if its cutting table were large enough, it could produce something large and plain, such as boat panels. In addition to being accurate, a CNC machine can also be extremely diverse, allowing woodworkers to produce various pieces with a single machine. The rate at which these woodworking machines produce those pieces is a marvel.
Increased production demand is a primary reason why woodworkers upgrade to CNC machinery. But making the investment can put butterflies in one's stomach, as an industrial grade CNC router could easily cost $50,000, with the most expensive models costing 20 times that much. Yet, while the price of a CNC router can be steep, the increase in production it facilitates usually justifies the purchase.
As much as CNC equipment enables woodworking factories to realize bigger profits, in terms of increased production rate, it affords woodshops and independent woodworkers the same opportunity. Although the use of CNC equipment could mean a decline in employment for certain woodworking positions, it might give individuals a better chance to pursue private business ownership. If so, then the automation of woodwork via computer-controlled machines might just be good for everyone.
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