Best Practices for CNC Router Maintenance

With practically unlimited capabilities and options, CNC routers are essential for companies that want to increase and improve their production offerings. To protect the investment in this technology, it’s important to establish a thorough maintenance program to ensure the life of the equipment and minimize costly downtimes. Yet despite the risk, maintenance is often an after-thought and potentially disastrous oversight for many business owners.

Recognize and eliminate vulnerabilities

Today’s CNC routers are examples of technological sophistication, but like other high-quality equipment, their usefulness and long-life cannot be taken for granted. Comprehensive and effective router maintenance requires far more than the application of lubricants. Barrel assemblies, transmissions and the condition of pinions are a necessity for every maintenance plan as well as an ongoing check of air pressure to verify that the supply is clean and dry. Additionally, a thorough preventive maintenance program includes the router’s electrical components, including the electrical box, inverter and fans. Two other potential points of vulnerability are the vacuum table, where leaks are a possibility and gaskets, which can be at risk for damages that impair router operation.

This maintenance program may appear to be so basic that the user is tempted to go it alone as a cost-saving measure. That decision could be counterproductive should preventive steps fall short of the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance.

That brings us to the subject of service contracts: do they justify the investment? Most manufacturers and users say they do. The underlying reason is that the contract is considered an insurance policy on a valuable investment vital to the continued operation and growth of the business. Advocates argue that contracts offering discounts on consumables save money and pay for themselves in the long run, while covering labor costs, which can be quite high if major work is required. Yet, some companies decline to purchase service contracts, especially when they are on extremely tight budgets with little room for additional expenditures. Others trust the skills of their associates to ensure that maintenance is competently handled. While proficient operators may be able to handle the service basics for some time, what happens if the need goes beyond their area of expertise? It’s a question that owners, accountants and finance officers must weigh carefully because the bottom line of the business could be at risk.

Essential elements of service contracts

Determination of cost and subsequent value of service contracts takes in to consideration several factors, and the biggest is the service provider. Companies owe it to themselves to conduct due diligence on the provider’s history and track record for carrying out service and repairs promptly. In fact, every aspect of the provider’s support operation should go under the microscope. Proof of timely and responsive service is mandatory for every evaluation.

The best test is the support the company offers if a machine goes down. Maintenance and delivery of repairs determine the quality of the provider and the value of the contract. Here is a list of best maintenance and support practices every business should demand of service contract providers:

  • Vendor/supplier have workforce on standby for customer care. Vendors with business hours only need not apply.
  • Service technicians are qualified to answer questions over the phone. Nothing is worse for a company in need of immediate repairs than having to deal with someone on the other end who is nothing more than a message taker. Qualified personnel should be available at all times.
  • Confirm that service technicians are available to install, maintain, service and repair machines. No company should be put on a waiting list.
  • Ask if the vendor/supplier offers online and/or over the phone software training. Such courses save the business time and money while developing associate expertise.
  • Clarify that customer care personnel can address tooling questions and concerns. It’s not enough to know all about the router. Successful use of cutting tools also requires a thorough knowledge base, which the provider should offer.
Reducing risks is a sound business decision

At some point in the life of the router, parts replacements are inevitable. The costs likely to be incurred justify the need for strategic maintenance planning. Investing in a service plan at the beginning is the best way to avoid expensive expenditures down the road. Experience shows that the lack of a thorough maintenance program means the company has unnecessarily placed itself at risk for costly mechanical failures.

Provider reliability is as important as the maintenance program if companies hope to avoid unnecessary, unacceptable and costly downtimes. But there is still another important benefit from service plans to consider—growth. By maximizing router use and efficiency without worrying about downtimes and budget-busting parts replacements, companies can grow their production and customer offerings. It’s all about using the service plan to help propel businesses forward.

About the Author: Noel Archie is project manager for AXYZ International.