How to Clean a CNC Machine

Big output means big messes

It’s probably not one of your favorite jobs…I know it’s certainly not my favorite job! But a CNC machine is a lot like an automatic mess-making bonanza. Lubricants, emulsions, cuttings, dirt, dust, and every other conceivable form of grit on the planet end up embedded in the cracks and crevices of a CNC machine.

Due to the high-pressure liquids, material shavings, and the extremely accurate specifications of finished products, it’s critical to keep a CNC machine in top condition so that it can perform its functions flawlessly and continuously. 

Not every CNC machine is cleaned in the same way

While there may be a lot of commonality in what CNC machines do, there is no commonality that deals with their maintenance protocols. Lathes and machining center machines are different animals, and each requires different methods to clean. Degreasers, scrub brushes, high-pressure washers, and many other chemicals and components are designed and engineered to remove grease, shavings, and unwanted liquids without damaging the machine surfaces. Each CNC manufacturer provides instructions for cleaning and clearing machinery, tools, and surfaces that should be followed exactly. Failure to perform cleaning routines recommended by the manufacturer can void important warranties and cause unwanted and expensive breakdowns.

Do it completely and do it regularly

As I said, I wouldn’t look forward to cleaning a CNC machine. But the truth is that modern technology and tools make the job a lot easier, faster, and more thorough. Machine operators and maintenance engineers understand the importance of not just performing a cleaning, but also of completing the process and not taking shortcuts.

While some cleaning steps may not seem logical or necessary, the manufacturer specifies the procedure for a reason, and oftentimes, the purpose may not be clear but the protocol should not be violated. Establishing a checklist that can record the cleaning steps, the person conducting the cleaning, and the date or time the cleaning was performed is an important step to take as well.

Items to keep on hand

Along with the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning products and tools, there are a few other items that I think are especially helpful when performing a thorough clean-out. Those items include:

  • Industrial Cleaner and Degreaser
  • Goo Remover
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Shop Towels
  • Buffing Wheel
  • Metal Polish
  • WD-40
  • Scotch-Brite Scrubbing Pads
  • Wire Brush, Nylon Brush, Toothbrush
  • Touchup Paint
  • Level
  • Pressure Washer

Take your time

As with many things we human beings do in the course of the day, we tend to hurry up and try to get things done quickly. This is not the time to do that because one step that is overlooked or one cleaning process isn’t completed to the required degree, and serious consequences can result. Not just a hitch in production or a slow-down in machine functions, but a safety issue. Improper cleaning that leaves unsafe materials where others can be injured by them is never a good idea. Despite its lackluster appeal, taking time to perform each task completely will pay dividends in the long run. Don’t forget, a happy production floor manager or machine supervisor is going to make for a nicer day than an angry one will.

Sun up til sundown

All day long, CNC machines perform their tasks and they hardly ever complain or call in sick. That’s the key to keeping a production floor or machine shop running like a Swiss watch. Some cleaning routines can be performed during the day while the CNC machine is working to help keep debris down to a minimum while the machine operates. In other cases, cleaning doesn’t take place until the production line shuts down and the entire cleaning process has to be completed before the production line can start up once again. The point is that CNC machines need cleaning around the clock and a good maintenance technician knows to be ready to get to work at any time. That means having everything needed at their disposal, otherwise, time, money, and production can be lost.

The key to keeping everything running right

I know a lot of people might find it hard to feel good about doing maintenance on a CNC machine, especially cleaning it, but if you think about it, it’s part of an important process. Just like a jet plane technician has to keep the engine in tip-top condition or an Indy car mechanic has to keep checking the air in the tires or filling the gas tank, a CNC technician has important responsibilities too.

If a production floor ceases producing or a machine shop can’t complete a customer’s order, many things are affected negatively. The cost of CNC machines warrants special attention to their care and maintenance and I think the responsibility for cleaning and maintaining a high-tech, high-performance, expensive, and vital piece of production equipment should be respected and admired.

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