Hybrid Machine Tools: The Best of Two Worlds

CNC machine and operator.

When we hear the word “hybrid,” many of us think of the latest innovations in automobiles. Battery and fuel combustion technologies combined to make something new and more efficient than both—a hybrid. A similar innovation is occurring in the manufacturing industry with machine tools used to create parts and components.

This innovation isn’t about power generation, however. Hybrid machines take the best of traditional mechanical machine tools and combine those traits with the precision of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. Certain types of machining operations also integrate additive manufacturing (3D printing) capabilities into the mix as well.

The Mechanical vs. CNC Debate

Machining covers a wide array of different machines and processes, but can ultimately be described as a process for turning raw materials into a specified design. Those materials primarily consist of a range of metals, but wood, plastic, and other materials are sometimes tooled as well. Standard types of machine tools include various drills, lathes, assorted cutting instruments, and multi-tasking combinations.

Long-time machinists are typically loyal to their traditional methods and equipment; understandably, they are often hesitant to implement more advanced machinery into their operations. The mechanical machines they are used to offer numerous advantages over their CNC counterparts, including:

  • Enhanced durability

  • Capability to smoothly handle longer production runs

  • Ability to cut at angles that sometimes confuse the programming of some older CNC machines

  • Reduced maintenance requirements – plus, when required, maintenance is far cheaper

  • Ease of creating one-off parts, as the set up process is much shorter and easier than with CNC machines

  • Increased affordability; additionally, those that exist in many shops were bought and paid for long ago

Alternatively, CNC machines offer some enticing benefits compared to the mechanical options, such as:

  • Reduced requirements for a skilled labor pool, which is especially helpful as the manufacturing industry faces a skills gap among its workforce

  • Paying for themselves despite higher upfront cost by conducting production runs without the need for constant oversight or skilled labor

  • User-friendly controls to allow for simplified training

  • Faster, more precise manipulation of raw materials through computer-controlled machining

Bring on the Hybrid Machines

Hybrid machine tools remove the aforementioned argument from the equation.

These hybrid options boast the versatility of mechanical machine tools while still maintaining the precision cuts and measurements that CNC tooling brings to the table. Hybrid machine tools also overcome many of the problems faced by their mechanical and CNC predecessors.

Hybrid machines are often more rugged, designed to handle the rigorous production runs that mechanical tools are known for without the prohibitive maintenance costs associated with standard CNC machine tools. They handle higher feed rates and wider forms that CNC machines often can’t accommodate. Many hybrids also feature smaller footprints, effectively doubling production capacity of an operation without taking up additional space. In many cases, multiple operations can be performed on a single machine without lengthy adjustments.

Yet, even with these abilities, these same machine tools also feature the latest in user-friendly computer interfaces and flexible programming options. Newer hybrid tools implement familiar features such as the QWERTY keyboard and single function buttons to allow for fast, simplified employee training, regardless of whether new hires come from a mechanical or CNC background.

The Future of Hybrid Technology

Industry 4.0 is here, and this won’t be the last hybrid technology we see. Much like the hybrid vehicles that have grabbed the attention of automobile consumers, hybrid machines provide users with the combined efficiency of two separate technologies.

Hybrid machine tools are the future of the machine tooling sector, and those who make the jump now will likely find themselves more than satisfied with the return on investment.


Image Credit: SasinTipchai/Shutterstock.com

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