TECH TIPS: Why it’s time to automate cutting fluid management

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Automating cutting fluid management amplifies some of the impacts of regular maintenance. PHOTO courtesy Master Fluid Solutions.

By Justin Geach

Manufacturing automation is an incredibly diverse field of solutions, and doesn’t always involve assembly line robots and artificial intelligence. Let’s dispel the myth right away: automation is more than machines that streamline production. You’re probably already using automation in the form of basic office software that speeds up business processes. In the case of metalworking shops, automation can even simplify cutting fluid management.

Cutting fluid management (aka coolant maintenance) is the practice of optimizing concentration in the sump and regularly cleaning tramp oil, chips, and other contaminants from the fluid that can degrade its performance. Diligently following these protocols will dramatically extend coolant and reduce waste, increase throughput and tool life, and improve the shop environment by reducing odor and bacterial growth. Of course, coolant maintenance also takes time and effort to do properly — which makes those processes the perfect candidates for automation and investment.

So, what does it take to automate cutting fluid management? What kind of machinery and tools are involved? And is it really worth investing in? Read on to learn more.

The Benefits of Automating Cutting Fluid Management

Automating cutting fluid management amplifies the impact of regular maintenance. Some of the most noteworthy benefits include:

  • Less machine downtime. Manual sump cleanouts require full shutdowns, along with time and labor to actually conduct the cleaning. This can cause a significant amount of downtime that reduces overall productivity for your facility. Even manual tramp oil removal can impact productivity over time.

    Automated fluid maintenance equipment can clean cutting fluid on an ongoing basis, even during operation, so there’s less need for shutdowns. When a full shutdown and clean out are necessary, equipment such as sump suckers can handle cleaning processes more quickly and effectively for workers, so shutdowns are shorter.
  • Lower labor costs and better utilization. With proper cutting fluid maintenance equipment, operations can run at peak efficiency. Concentration control is critical to an effective machining process, and investing in mixers and level control can have significant benefits, not only on the machine side, but also on the labor side. 

    Automating cutting fluid maintenance minimizes the amount of human effort needed to keep coolant clean, at the right concentration, and tanks full, so operators are free to focus on more important and demanding work — like machining operations or troubleshooting.
  • Maximized productivity. Minimizing machine downtime automatically increases throughput, allowing operations to produce more on a daily basis, unimpeded by maintenance tasks. Workers are also free to spend more time on revenue-generating tasks. In addition to having more time for important work, they also maintain a high level of efficiency because they don’t have to context switch between different tasks, helping them get into and remain in “the zone” of production.

How to Automate Cutting Fluid Management

Automating cutting fluid management requires multiple layers of investment and implementation of equipment. Here’s the best framework to follow:

  1. Basic equipment. Coolant concentration management is the basis for all cutting fluid maintenance. First, invest in a refractometer to check concentration and an adjustable proportioner to effectively mix coolant. Implementing these two solutions can dramatically extend coolant life and cut fluid spend.
  1. Cleaning systems. The next level of cutting fluid maintenance is actual cleaning. Install a tramp oil removal system, such as a skimming belt or a coalescer or even centrifuge. These machines automatically collect tramp oil from the sump on a continuous basis, which helps keep cutting tools and workpieces clean, and prevents bacterial growth in the sump with minimal operator oversight.

    These types of coolant cleaning systems further extend coolant life and help control fluid spend.
  1. Advanced systems. Small metalworking shops can run more smoothly with basic investments in refractometers and tramp oil removal systems. When operations get larger, however, it makes sense to implement more advanced systems, such as fill systems or coolant recycling systems. Automated coolant fill systems further improve efficiency by eliminating the need for manual machine filling.

    Coolant recycling systems automatically remove virtually all contaminants from coolant to extend its life and dramatically reduce waste. Coolant recycling keeps the fluid in optimum condition for maximum tool life and surface finishes. These larger investments can quickly achieve ROI through reduced usage and set an operation up for even more cost-effective growth.

Cutting fluid management lays the foundation for an efficient and cost-effective metalworking operation. As technology advances and becomes more integral to the industry, I’ve seen many of our customers focus too much on production automation while neglecting the basics. Just as cutting fluid is fundamental for a cost-effective operation, automating cutting fluid management can be understood as the foundation of a modern machine shop. Follow this framework for implementing automation and you will set your operation up for success in the new era of high-tech manufacturing.

Justin Geach is the Global Director of Marketing at Master Fluid Solutions.

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