CNC Routers Versus Jobs for People

Despite employees' fears, a new CNC will not replace people it will make their lives better. June 11, 2010

We just ordered our first CNC (nesting router) and I am hearing talk in the shop. I am sure I only hear part of what is being discussed. We are a small shop - 9 guys, mostly skilled cabinetmakers. Some of them think it will replace them or take their work away and we will hire cheaper unskilled labour. I have talked to them about the reasons, like the ability to grow, freeing up skilled men from cutting standard cabinet parts, etc. Any suggestions from those who have been through this?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
The CNC freed men up to do better work at other tasks. We did not replace men with machine. It will take a little bit of time - look for projects that raise their eyebrows as to why they might want to embrace it and not reject it. I had a few who did not take to it and now they are making mantles and custom parts.

From contributor S:
I would go right to all craftsmen and let them know just the opposite. You are protecting their jobs by bringing in the router. Every shop I know that failed did not keep up with technology and eventually could not compete. I manage a 40 man shop. We have had 4 routers in 10 years, each better than the previous. When we first brought one in, the guys said the same thing. Some even refused and would strike arcs with a string. Ha. Now if we fail to cut 4" x 30" stud or simple rip, they complain that they had to use a saw. You are saving jobs by being able to compete. Rather than replacing people, that guy will be doing something more productive.

From contributor R:
The problem is they will become overly dependent on the router. Our guys love the thing and don't want to cut parts out by themselves anymore; they want the router to do it and that in itself becomes a scheduling problem. Can't imagine going back to the days before. Like others said, it has saved jobs instead of losing them.

From contributor C:
Our skilled people wondered the same thing: would they lose their jobs to the CNC? They did not, and now we have 2 CNCs and half a dozen PLC controlled machines. Next step: robots! Seriously, raise your hand if you enjoy lifting 1-1/4 thick 5 x 8 MDF all day or picking up the cut parts off a 5 x 12 ft table. I thought so...

From contributor B:
Print out this post and give copies to your guys.

From contributor L:
We heard the same thing when we got our 1st router. Didn't take long and they wanted everything cut on the router. It made their jobs easier. As for the idea that you can put a low level employee on a router in a small shop, forget it. It takes thinking, not just pushing the green button. We now have a larger router that is mainly used for nested cutting. In the last week it has made melamine cabinets, church pews, signs, templates for the profile grinder, and parts for another manufacturer. It has given us the ability to make more complex store fixtures, our main business, but to also do diverse work to keep the shop going when things are slow.

PS: nesting for a small shop is a great way to go. Much will depend on your software and the skill of your CAD guys.

From the original questioner:
I will be the CAD guy. We use CV to draw now and plan to run the CNC from it.

I think you are right - letting the guys read your success stories will ease their minds.

From contributor G:
The first water powered sawmill in England was almost immediately burnt down by the local wood sawyers. There was about fifty years before the next was built. There was an entire political movement, the Ludites, who campaigned against mechanization as a danger to the order of society. John Henry (the Steel Driving Man) fought the power drill in tunnel driving. The word "sabotage" comes from a period of time when French workers dropped their wooden shoes (sabots) into the gears of worker displacing machinery.

You may wish to assure them that the machine is not there to replace them. It is often a touchy issue if the crew feels that their rice bowl is threatened. (Ref: Steve McQueen movie "The Sand Pebbles") On the other hand, if you do intend to eliminate positions, do it all at once and assure whoever is kept that their job is safe. It might also be useful to thoroughly brief everyone about how the beast will be programmed and who will be running it, so the non-computer oriented craftsmen can understand where they fit into your plans and where the machine fits in.

Emphasize how the CNC will do the dumb repetitive tasks and free them to engage in the skill craft aspects of the production. Workers do not have to damage the machine to make the transition unpleasant. All they need to do is gripe, whine and drag their feet. A little hand holding and assurance would go a long way to an enthusiastic change in the workplace. (If you think it would help and that they would buy it, tell them you hate the expense, but you will buy them a CNC machine just to answer their complaints about doing dull, repetitive, no brain tasks.)