Friday, July 27, 2018



 Computer numerical control (CNC) is a form of automation of machine tools by computers executing programed machine control commands. Until relatively recently production machinery used in manufacturing was controlled by hand wheels, levers, or mechanically by cams. The previous and still functioning technology was monitored where necessary by analog type sensors and displays which prompted human operator manual adjustment. In modern CNC systems the manufacture of mechanical parts and other items is highly automated. The part or other object to be manufactured has its mechanical dimensions defined using computer aided drafting (CAD) software. The CAD designed software then is translated into manufacturing process directives by computer aided manufacturing software. The manufacturing process directives are transformed by post processor software into the needed specific commands required for the machine to produce the desired object and then down loaded into the specific unit of manufacturing (CNC) machine.

 Unlike the trends in 3D printing so far, any particular component part of a whole may require the employment of any number of different tools such as drills , saws, presses, etc.. These tools are often combined into a combination of tools called a "cell" capable of control by CNC programing. In some installations a number of different machines are used via an external controller and human or robotic line operators move the component from machine to machine. In either case the steps in the manufacturing process are highly automated and produces an object that closely matches the original CAD design.

 Now, if you have been following 3 D printing technology you know that the CNC systems evolved separately within the realm of "reductive manufacturing". "Reductive manufacturing " refers to the manufacturing processes common since the "Industrial Revolution" where in quantities of various raw materials are converted into useful objects. In the process, materials such as wood, steel, etc. are reduced from boards, sheets, or bars and shaped into component parts, usually leaving quite a bit of "wasted material" on the shop floor". 3D printing processes of manufacture are by contrast not "reductive" in nature but produce items by layering powdered materials into forms of completed objects with no waste from left over areas of plates, bars, or boards. The 3D process has been becoming more viable for more objects of manufacture for a number of years now. Quite a number of items in commerce will still require reductive processes for quite some time into the foreseeable future. Both CNC and 3 D printing processes lend themselves to computer control or coordination. It was inevitable that the two technologies would start to blend at some point and we are starting to see that now. The combination of 3 D printing and CNC reductive manufacturing tools offers manufacturing great potential savings in labor , cost of materials , and production time. This blended technology just starting to emerge now is no doubt the next wave of major innovation in manufacturing industries.

 The technology will be a while both evolving into its apex state, and in commercial adoption. First, the blended technology is in its infancy, and where it is adopted older analog, reductive capital equipment will have to be scrapped or sold off at fire sale prices to third world interests, who won't want it for long. At Helios Ruehls we are observing these developments and trying to identify the safe bets for future investment. We search such things for the purposes of finding high tech investment opportunities for our endowment fund, and for corporate customers to whom we can sell research services. It is never our intention to outright own any of these companies simply to develop stable sources of investment income to support our fixed overhead, and potential customers for our services. We will share with our readers any thing useful that we find of investment interest in this field which is new to our monitoring efforts. 

 Meanwhile for our younger readers we can tell you that CNC technologies project a growing field of employment that you can prepare for now. Some of the job titles include but are not limited to:

CNC Programmer/ Machine Shop Technician

Machine Tool Maintenance Technician

  CNC Field Service Technician

Electro Mechanical Technician

 The jobs we looked at had compensation ranges from $17 per hour starting pay for new trainees to $ 65 an hour for journey men technicians. Educational requirements for these technician jobs universally included a high school diploma and a variety of post secondary technical training. Recommended courses to take in Voc-Tech school or a two year technical colleges include: 

Basic Electricity
Electronics (experience as an "Electronic Technician" petty officer in the Navy, Coast Guard, or Non Commissioned Officer in the Air Force appears highly valued )

Automation Processes

Pneumatics and Hydraulics

Automated Manufacturing

Programmable Logic Controllers

Process Control Devices

Computer Programming 

 These courses need not be part of a degree program nor the most exhaustive or comprehensive in nature. These are the subjects that a successful candidate for a CNC technician corporate training program should have formal training or  exposure to and / or some work experience in. Again as we have noted military / naval electronic technician petty officers and non commissioned officers at the end of a four year active service period generally have some exposure to training in all of these subjects and serious work exposure to them as well. Because of the demand for these types of skills the military services have a difficult time holding on to such enlisted members and some have provided fast track career paths to the top NCO / CPO pay grades or to Warrant officer status to be competitive with private industry. A high School diploma is an absolute necessity to enter such enlisted programs and some post high school exposure to the above listed subjects is a clear indicator of success in the military electronics field to military program screeners. Successful completion of a four year tour of active duty in the military / naval electronics field is an indicator of both the necessary background knowledge and a good work ethic to the civilian human resources departments. CNC technology started back in the 1940s and 50s and is still evolving rapidly. As it melds with 3 D printing technologies it appears to continue to offer new ,challenging, and lucrative opportunities to properly prepared technicians with less expensive preparation than a university degree in electronic engineering . 

 The university educated seeking careers in the management of CNC technologies or CNC driven manufacturing companies should have exposure to electrical and mechanical engineering courses, and business management courses. Those seeking design careers will probably need post graduate education that includes exposure to both mechanical design and computer programming. Looks like a great emerging career field for the young. As far as investment opportunities we have no specific suggestions at this time. As we become aware of such we will either update this post or generate a new one focused on investment. 

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