So here is our workhorse bench top lathe.
By every stretch a capable manual project machine, durable and in the right hands very accurate.
So why would we want to mess around with a good thing?
Beyond an incessant need to tinker with things, we want to increase it’s utilization.
The only way to achieve this is with automation controls, or CNC as it’s known.
This gets us the following;
- Flexibility of cut types and movement.
- Increased precision and repetition.
- Lower machinist tasking and interaction.
The machine operator or machinist is the great brain of any manual tool. As diligent and precise as they can be, they are still human. Two parts made by the same person on the same machine can end up having subtle variations. CNC greatly reduces these variations, but still requires the accurate monitoring of the machinist. So instead of replacing the brain, we want to give it time to do other things like monitor the mill at the same time.
Now we have a great tool but when the machinist doesn’t have hands on it, it’s a paper weight. Hovering over a spinning piece of metal, hands at the ready to push buttons and twist knobs. Insanely time consuming, and yet necessary to achieve a good finished product. This works great for a one off article, but will drive the machinist batty making ten more just like it. Still we want to retain the basic abilities of our great tool.
That brings us to the core requirements of this project;
- Retain the basic manual abilities of the lathe.
- Enable CNC level control of all functions.
- No downtime during conversion.
So what does all this mean? Where there’s a dial and switch, there will still be a dial and switch. The computer’s control will have to overlay on the human input devices. We can’t take the unit out of service at all during the conversion.
Whew! That sounds like a lot of work to achieve something you could buy off the shelf?
Fair point.. but learning by doing is way more fun.