Gain more machining time and make more profit? Yes, as long as you know where to do it.

Time is of the essence in today’s highly competitive manufacturing world. What can you do to save time before, during and after machining? Here are several methods and approaches that can help.

Why care about time when machining parts? As the cliché goes, time is money. With today’s multiaxis and 5-axis CNC machines in manufacturing, there is plenty of opportunity to optimize time for machine shops of all sizes. But before diving into the practical details, let’s take a step back and look at what needs to be done before machine commands are programmed and prior to making chips fly off a piece of titanium or stainless steel.

“It’s important to know how much time and whose time,” writes CNC Cookshop in its blog series on CNC productivity. “Ultimately, you probably want to understand the time impact for people and machines—both are scarce resources that have to be scheduled. It costs more to have too many with people or machines idle or too few where you’re unable to process as much work as you otherwise could.”

Tip 1: Start at the Macro Level: Adopt Lean Manufacturing Practices

So much of lean manufacturing methodology is focused on eliminating waste. At its core, lean manufacturing is about optimization. It’s about improving a process or making a quality part in less time than you do it today. It is not by simply working faster, says lean manufacturing expert Jamie Flinchbaugh, because working faster can lead to errors. Manufacturing work can be improved by performing efforts in parallel, eliminating handoffs and rework—and expelling some process steps altogether.

“Technology is often a solution here, whether it is buying faster equipment in manufacturing or developing software tools for the office,” writes Flinchbaugh for Industry Week.

Technology abounds in today’s manufacturing—and continues to evolve in cutting tools, work and tool holding, coolant and across metrology, and sensors that provide real-time machine data—and in simulation and reporting software. Use it to your advantage.

“Getting people to see the waste, and then giving them the tools and techniques to think differently, to reduce and eliminate that waste—that’s the key,” says Mike Petkewich, a senior knowledge expert and team manager for lean manufacturing at The Boston Consulting Group, in the article “Transforming to Lean Manufacturing.”

Tip 2: Move to the Tactical and Practical on the Shop Floor

It may look easy when you read it, but there’s a bit of upfront work to get into the optimization mindset. Mike Lynch, president of CNC Concepts, who consults and trains machine shops on best practices, advises manufacturers to follow the fundamentals, which he boils down to:

  • Get organized
  • Simplify tasks
  • Train your personnel

According to Lynch, organization implies a clean work area with a designated place in a work cell for everything that is needed to do a job, such as having tools and components at the ready. Simplification means having all the needed documentation targeted at the lowest skill level of personnel. It also means minimizing the need for calculations, such as having consistent plus-and-minus tolerance specifications on process drawings—and having information at the ready to help with sizing in critical surfaces. It also includes programming trial machining for test cuts.

“Getting organized, in the long run, saves time and helps limit frustration and duplicated effort, and it makes the required time much more predictable,” says Lynch. “Simplifying tasks makes it possible for people of lower skill levels to perform while saving time and minimizing mistakes.”  

 How would you improve or optimize your shop floor? Give your personal take in the metalworking forum [registration required].

Tip 3: Push Your Machines and Tooling to Their Limits

Think of today’s CNC machines like race cars: They are designed to go fast—and handle a lot of throughput and rpms. That built-for-speed mindset is also true of metal removal rates and tooling designed to achieve new and improved performance levels—depending on the material, of course.

“CNC machines are some of the most profitable assets your business has, but when they’re idle, they’re overhead,” notes CNC Cookshop. “Shop after shop has found that the first order of business is to keep the chips flying. The more production the machine is capable of, the more we want to keep it busy making money for the shop.”

Tip 4: Don’t Forget About Cycle Time

Many companies calculate cycle time by dividing the amount of machining time by the number of parts made, which is an average. But is that precise enough information? Automating data collection at each machine to get more accurate cycle time information can help.

“One second of saved cycle time will total 16.6 minutes of saved production time in one thousand cycles … If but four seconds can be saved per cycle in a one thousand piece order, over one hour of production time can be saved,” notes Lynch in an article on rapid time. “And if this four seconds can be saved without spending money by simply formatting your programs efficiently, all the better.”

When you really understand the interplay between machine throughput and material—the right tooling matters. As noted in the article “Get Lean: Choose Better Tools, Compress Time, Deliver On Time,” there are more opportunities to gain efficiencies by saving time at the machine level than most operators may realize.

A plant and operations manager may be too focused on what it takes to make a job profitable at 20 seconds, for example, but can it handle more? Often, that option is never even explored. At some point, unintentionally, “that morphs into how fast the machinists should run the part,” says Adam Moran, vice president at Vorne Industries, in the article “How to Slash Cycle Times When Cutting Metal.”

“But when we actually go and look at how fast the part can run, we might find that we can do it in 12 seconds relatively easily,” says Moran.

And there is a distinct advantage in 5-axis CNC machines: It often means you can use the same tool for a range of cuts—so there is less tool changeover and more efficiency as a workpiece rotates tangentially to the cutting tool. It also allows for shorter tool lengths.

“Because you can access five sides of a part, 5-axis also allows you to shorten your tool lengths,” says Jacob Leighton, CNC shop supervisor of Leighton Machine & Tool. “This makes for a more rigid tool, which allows you to run faster and achieve better surface finishes.”

 Need advice from other experienced machinists and metalworking specialists? Jump in on the conversations over at the metalworking forum [registration required].

Talk to Us!

I found it interesting when you explained that CNC machines are designed to be very efficient and work very fast. If I were to guess, these machines probably have a lot of small components that need to be replaced on a regular basis. Replacing small parts is probably a lot cheaper than replacing an entire unit.


Dear sir,

            Please tell me how to cost saving & productivity increased in tool room VMC department 


Hi there Sunil,

With no specific material specification or application information, it would be difficult to pinpoint cost savings.  Some of the following basic suggestions may help you begin the process of realizing a cost savings and help us help you with any specific issues that we may work on together.

1).  If you’re still using the same tools of even five years ago, we can help with many opportunities to upgrade to more efficient tooling, yielding a longer tool life, better finish, faster run times, etc.

2).  Simplify or reduce activities that do not add value to your company, such as reducing your tooling sources.  Do you really need to buy from 30 cutting tool, safety, & janitorial providers? 

3).  Keep a decent inventory on hand so that you can minimize down time. Think about getting vending equipment to better track & stock items that you use continuously and avoid handling inventory for those that you don’t.

Perhaps bringing in an MSC representative to review & discuss your systems & processes would help to start you on the road to measurable cost savings and reduction of burden time. Please visit our main site to explore our solutions opportunities:

We hope some of that helps. Thank You for commenting on Better MRO!


It was interesting to learn about how more machines are made to work faster and keeping them busy so that they make more and calculate cycle time in. I can understand how a business could really benefit from keeping their machines taken care of so that they can work a lot better and make more products. Getting some help from a professional could be really useful to maintain and choose the right machines.


It's great that you explained that there is plenty of opportunities to optimize time in machine shops that use CNC machines. I would think that it would be important to make sure that your employees are properly trained on how to use CNC machines if you own a manufacturing business. I'm sure there are some businesses out there that offer courses that people can take so that they can learn how CNC machines work.


I liked what you said about how machines can have some better production and keeping some better chips and they can have more information to collect data and be more accurate. I can see how a business could be really useful for a business to ensure that they can work a lot harder and be more precise. It could be really useful for them to get some help from a professional and allow them to be more productive with better chips.


This is such an attractive article about the things which you should know regarding the 4 tips for machine efficiency.This is one of the best write up. You will get all the information about the topic in this article. I am sure many people will come to read this in future.

cnc machining china


Thanks for the valuable tips, these help to easily improve the efficiency of the whole manufacturing process. You can also try to avoid unnecessary CNC tool wear and inefficient coolant usage.


Sir, how to reduce cycle time in vmc machine.

And also how to increase efficiency?

Which drill is best instead of U drill to reduce the cycle time


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