Machine Shop Essentials to Stay Competitive

23 January 2024
Artificial Intelligence and Collaborative Robots

Report by Danny Weller

To remain competitive in today’s manufacturing landscape and optimize production processes, relying solely on a standard three-axis CNC mill or two-axis CNC lathe, along with basic measuring tools, is no longer sufficient.

Over the past 50 years, the essential technology required for a modern machine shop has undergone significant transformations. Gone are the days of manual milling machines, lathes, and drill presses being the primary tools. Embracing CNC-powered equipment became the norm in the 1980s and 1990s. However, to stay ahead in today’s competitive environment, it’s essential to go beyond the basics. Merely having a standard three-axis CNC mill or two-axis CNC lathe and a handful of measuring tools won’t cut it. A comprehensive set of cutting-edge tools is now a machine shop essential to thrive and grow.

Here are six indispensable tools that should be integral to your machine shop:

5 axis machining
5 axis machining

Multitasking Lathes and Five-Axis Machining Centers


When investing in a new machining center, the five-axis machining center has become the go-to standard. While some companies may find these machines intimidating, they are surprisingly easier to set up than horizontal machining centers. Although there’s a common perception that five-axis machines are challenging to program, this holds true mainly for full five-axis programming. In reality, many companies leverage them for five-axis positioning, which is a more straightforward process.

Similarly, multitasking lathes may seem daunting, but advancements in CAM systems have made programming them significantly easier than before. Integrating these cutting-edge technologies, such as five-axis machining centers and multitasking lathes, empowers machine shops to complete tasks faster and with greater precision compared to traditional CNC equipment. The versatility of these machines allows for a wide range of tasks, resulting in more comprehensive and error-free parts — a crucial advantage in staying competitive within the industry.

Artificial Intelligence and Collaborative Robots
Image: Getty Images

Robots and Automation Technology


In today’s competitive landscape, the integration of automation technology is crucial. The scarcity of skilled labor makes it imperative to boost the productivity of existing employees by alleviating them from repetitive tasks, such as loading and unloading machines. Robots and automation, such as instant quote software, play a pivotal role in enhancing a shop’s consistency, resulting in notable improvements in both productivity and product quality.

Artificial Intelligence and Collaborative Robots
Image: Wikimedia

Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs)


In the contemporary manufacturing landscape, it has become imperative for shops to incorporate Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs). These advanced machines excel in handling intricate measurements, revolutionizing the way companies conduct measurements compared to the methods used in previous years. The CMM plays a pivotal role in ensuring the precision, consistency, and timeliness of part measurements. Moreover, it facilitates the automatic documentation of measurements, allowing companies to readily present necessary data as proof of measurement when required.

Artificial Intelligence and Collaborative Robots
Image: Getty Images

3D Printing 


Combining 3D printing and CNC machining is pivotal for machine shops as it enables a synergistic approach that optimizes efficiency, product quality, and cost-effectiveness. The integration of these technologies addresses key manufacturing challenges. Firstly, the combination accelerates production processes by leveraging the speed of 3D printing for prototyping and creative design improvements, followed by precision CNC machining for the final product. This approach significantly reduces lead times. Secondly, it facilitates cost reduction by allowing the use of alternative and more affordable materials in 3D printing, which can then be precisely cut to accurate dimensions using CNC machining. 

Moreover, meeting tolerance and functional accuracy requirements is achieved by utilizing the strengths of CNC machines in delivering high accuracy after refining prototypes with 3D printing. Lastly, for high-volume production, the combined approach balances the accuracy of CNC machining with the rapid production capabilities of 3D printing, resulting in highly accurate parts with a substantial reduction in lead times. In essence, the fusion of 3D printing and CNC machining represents an innovative solution poised to reshape manufacturing, offering advantages in speed, cost efficiency, precision, and high-volume production.

Artificial Intelligence and Collaborative Robots
Image: Zmorph

3D Scanning


This versatile tool serves as a valuable complement to 3D printing, extending its utility beyond a singular application. In the view of industry experts, the role of 3D scanning is anticipated to challenge Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs) in the quality control departments of machine shops. This is attributed to the comprehensive nature of 3D scanning, offering a more holistic approach to measuring parts compared to CMMs. Unlike CMMs, which may not measure all features of a part, 3D scanning excels in providing a complete measurement, effectively identifying differences.

A critical advantage of 3D scanning lies in its ability to highlight even seemingly ‘unimportant’ areas that may deviate from tolerance if not carefully monitored. Additionally, 3D scanning proves indispensable in the realm of reverse engineering, facilitating the recreation of parts with precision. With its increasing importance, a 3D scanner is becoming an essential tool for machine shops, and the absence of one could potentially constrain the capabilities of the shop.

Artificial Intelligence and Collaborative Robots
Image: Getty Images

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems


The significance of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems in maintaining competitiveness for machine shops has seen a notable increase. Notably, many shops still rely on spreadsheets for scheduling, a time-consuming process that requires manual updates for numerous entries. In contrast, ERP systems offer a more efficient approach to managing workflows. They excel in the simultaneous management of scheduling, materials, and services, providing enhanced visibility for both management and employees to monitor job progress and efficiency.

Anticipating future developments, it is envisaged that ERP systems will further integrate with machine monitoring on an active basis. This integration aims to address manufacturing issues and maintenance concerns promptly. In the contemporary landscape, ERP systems have transitioned from being optional to becoming essential tools for effectively managing machine shops.

Gone are the days when a competitive machine shop could thrive with just a handful of manual machines. The six machine shop essentials outlined above have become indispensable for staying competitive in today’s industry. Without these tools, your shop may struggle to match the competitiveness of those who have embraced them. Incorporating these tools is essential for running a machine shop that aligns with the current industry standards, and their relevance will persist as the industry continues to evolve.


AMFG is a leading provider of MES software for manufacturing. Our software solutions empower manufacturers, allowing them to manage their workflows and achieve streamlined, automated processes.

With over 500 successful implementations in 35 countries and across a range of industries, we specialize in enabling companies to successfully integrate our software for AM and CNC production, into their wider manufacturing processes and scale their operations.





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