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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Apr 2021
    Posts
    3

    Machine Selection Guidance

    I run a control panel shop and we build a large number of similar panels and I am looking to automate the drilling of the panel backplate for the devices we mount. Currently we are laying out the panel by hand and drilling the holes with battery drill motors or our large table drill press.

    My goal for a panel design that we are going to build ~5+ of would be to layout the hole locations in CAD and use a CNC machine to drill all of the mounting holes for the controllers, DIN rail, wire duct, etc. This would increase consistency in our panels and reduce fatigue in my panel techs.

    I'm not sure what kind of machine would be a good starting point to accomplish this. The backplate ranges from 10"x10" up to 36"x60" and they are typically powder coated steel, 12 to 16 gauge.

    Should I be looking at CNC Routers, a large mill/drill, laser, ?? We have extensive CAD experience in house, and I'm sure we can learn the software side of things, but I'm just not sure where to start. Any suggestions/guidance?

    Tyson

  2. #2
    Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Posts
    165

    Re: Machine Selection Guidance

    As an interim move, how about printing a full sized template (paper?) to attach to the back plane and drill manually on a drill press)? The costs beyond that (learning/purchasing cam software, purchasing/learning how to operate the inc, etc.) will be substantial and may be difficult to amortize given your low production run count. Are there other production operations that might benefit from having a cnc?

    As to the devices you may want to consider; mills are more appropriate for metal, but won't have as big a work envelope as a router. A router on the other hand won't have a spindle speed low enough for many metal working ops. A blending of the two may be needed (and possible).

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Apr 2021
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    3

    Re: Machine Selection Guidance

    5+ would be the threshold for investing the drawing time to create the CAD drawing from our customers drawings (typically NTS and symbolic in nature). Most of our repetitive work is 50-500 units, which currently laid out and drilled by hand which is where the savings would be. We also are already using templates for the repetitive panels for drilling them on the drill press. I do appreciate your feedback however - for low volume work it wouldn't make financial sense to spend thousands of $$ and hours to drill 5 backplanes.

    I'm really looking to increase our throughput and consistency, trying to get more production out of the shop without having to find/train additional labor. It's taken years to get the team I have to where we are and finding someone who will actually show up on time (not high) and just put in a solid work day is the biggest challenge I face, next to not having enough space.

    I think the solution is a router with a drill motor, but the gantry has to be rigid enough to deal with the pressure required to drill steel. It almost seems that a rigid steel gantry and a moving table would be easier to fabricate, but would just take a lot of floor space.

    I have seen a 'machining center' designed for this, where it holds the panel being drilled vertically (similar to a plywood saw) but I was told it was over $100k and had more features than I am really looking for (milling, drilling, engraving, etc). I think I can justify a $10k machine as I have one product line that is 50 units/month pretty much as long as I care to build them. It would quickly pay for itself if I could cut the layout/drilling time down to a few minutes of machine time and dedicate the skilled labor to installing modules and wiring. Eventually this could grow in to full-on semi-auto manufacturing line, but that's a different conversation entirely.

    Tyson

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Apr 2021
    Posts
    3

    Re: Machine Selection Guidance

    Just stumbled on to a demo video by Vision Engraving & Routing Systems that pretty much demonstrates what I'm looking to do. I sent them an email, so maybe I don't have to re-invent the wheel here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICoB4fizpS4&t=4s

    The spindle speed looks high for steel, but swapping it out to a slower drill motor would solve that issue.

    Tyson

  5. #5
    Community Moderator Jim Dawson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    4802

    Re: Machine Selection Guidance

    Any substantial CNC router frame of sufficient size would be a good starting point. Router spindles are not appropriate for drilling steel panels, so would need to be replaced with slower spindles. Since crazy accuracy is not required, you could even use the quills out of cheap drill presses as the spindles.

    Maybe set up 4 spindles on the gantry, two to drill & tap 10-32 and two to drill & tap 8-32. If you were to use ''drill-taps'' then two spindles would cover both, and if you use floating tap holders it becomes really simple. Each spindle could be on an air slide rather than a ball screw drive, use the Z drive as the master height positioning. An inexpensive 1KW servo motor would be adequate to run the spindle.

    I would be looking for a used industrial class router with bad controls. You can buy these at near scrap price. All you want is the frame and the mechanical hardware. Since you are a panel shop, I assume that you also have full industrial controls and motion control design capabilities in-house. Should be a simple project.
    Jim Dawson
    Sandy, Oregon, USA

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