CNC services and support

The ‘right’ technical services and support capabilities for CNCs will maximize uptime, boost profits, and reduce maintenance costs.

By Russell Pobutkiewicz February 26, 2013

While mechanical failures are inevitable, keeping metal cutting machinery in production and working properly is essential for end users to achieve maximum uptime and efficiency in their production operations. When a mill, lathe, or any other piece of CNC machinery in production goes down, it causes a major expense and problems for end users. Lost revenues and labor costs, combined with the fact they may not be meeting their key performance indicators (KPI) goals, quickly elevate tension levels on the shop floor.

Repairing machinery and equipment that has failed and then getting it back into production becomes of paramount importance. This is typically when an end user becomes concerned or acutely aware of the quality of service, maintenance, and repair capabilities it receives from its CNC builder or lack thereof. The basics should include: CNC training courses, product maintenance and support contracts, product enhancements, technical phone support, online support, parts, repairs, and field support. Equally important, the end user should find out what the machine CNC builder’s lifecycle support policy is for supporting its CNC controls— for 2 years, 5 years, and 20 years from now.

When an end-user encounters a problem with its CNC equipment, there are some basic benchmarks to consider in terms of “measuring” the quality of service and technical support capabilities it is receiving from the control’s manufacturer.

1. Quality of telephone, online support

How quickly does the manufacturer answer phone calls? Most CNC manufacturers’ technical support and service call centers should answer calls in just a few minutes or less. If cue times are longer than 2 minutes on a consistent basis, there might be a problem with the level or quality of phone support compared to most standard call center benchmarks.

What kind of response and attention does the service engineer provide when discussing the service or repair problem? Does the service person seem knowledgeable and understand all the particulars of the failed product and the maintenance situation? Most importantly, does he or she help resolve the problem quickly? Control vendors should staff call centers with factory-trained service engineers equipped to deal with the most difficult service issues; otherwise, the quality of technical phone support may suffer and frustrate callers. To facilitate the process of resolving equipment problems via telephone support, custom-built CNC diagnostics stands and simulators can help the tech support engineers reproduce similar problems to effectively determine the changes needed to rectify the situation.

2. Parts, repairs, field service turnaround time

Once the problem is determined, how quickly does the control vendor turn around parts and repair orders? Again, there are some metrics, turnaround goals, and averages CNC manufacturers should offer for parts, repairs, and field service. In most situations, CNC vendors should be able to turn around parts orders in one day, barring unforeseen circumstances.

For repairs that require field service calls, the response time goal should be 24 hours for a service technician to arrive at a facility. Expect to pay for premium support services, such as emergency handling of in-house repairs or door-to-door service.

In the final analysis, machinery and equipment should return to production within three days on average. This is not taking into account any unusual problems or issues that may change these response times. CNC manufacturers should be able to quote or state service and response time goals. In addition, they should also be tracking and monitoring effectiveness in reaching these goals consistently.

3. Out of the box thinking, support

One of the most important and overlooked aspects of technical services and support that is somewhat difficult to measure and quantify is whether a CNC manufacturer is taking a “proactive approach” to solving problems. This falls under the category of preventive maintenance. By taking some simple, proactive measures, the end user can completely avoid some common repair issues and expenses.

Many times, the same equipment failures occur repeatedly at an end user, without much thought given to determining the root or source of the problem. Rather than immediately sending a replacement part when the same problem reoccurs, investigate what actually caused the problem. Often the culprit is lack of simple maintenance and care.

For example, an end user might be having servo issues and replacing amplifiers only to find out it instead needed to replace some bad bearings to solve the problem at hand. Or maybe the end user isn’t cleaning its heat exchangers or cooling systems in the electric cabinets. With excessive heat buildup, it’s only a matter of time before electronic equipment begins to fail. We see this happen very often with customers.

Another common problem is when a customer shuts down a plant for a period of time for a holiday break or retooling effort. Two weeks later when booting up the system, the customer discovers that all the control’s memory is lost or the data is scrambled, simply because no one checked the voltage on the batteries before shutting down. Although it is necessary to back up control data and parameters, the machine tool builder may provide backups of the control’s original parameters. If the data is lost, contact the CNC vendor to see if it maintains a library on its server available for access. Either way, the point is to ensure control parameters are copied and data backed up at all times.

Finally, does the CNC vendor recommend or offer a parts package for spares? Many CNC systems have some common parts and components that would be very handy to have in reserve when a situation arises, saving time in responding to and fixing a problem. As experts in control, the CNC vendor should provide information about these opportunities to simplify future maintenance.

These are some next-level initiatives that a CNC vendor can offer to help end users avert unnecessary issues and quickly resolve problems, such as repairs, parts orders, or field service support.

The “right” kind of technical service programs and support capabilities, combined with proactive thinking, allows end-users to achieve maximum CNC system uptime, maximizing profits and reducing overall operational costs.

– Russell Pobutkiewicz is project manager, technical support and services, Mitsubishi Electric Automation Inc. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering,


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