It is usually not too difficult to locate the machine tool trade show halls in the typically expansive industrial exhibition complex. Just walk in the direction of that insistent whirring and earnest banging coming from machines milling, drilling, shearing and stamping metal parts. Indeed, when I recall my first visit to an international metalworking show, the mammoth EMO in Italy in 2003, it’s the cacophony of noise contributing to the fatigue at the end of each day from walking what must have been miles through multiple halls that comes to mind.
Fast forward to this year and some metalworking events here in Asia, including TIMTOS in Taiwan and MTA in Singapore. While neat demonstrations of fast and precise cutting of often complex parts still attract the crowds, many machine tool suppliers seem just as keen to show off new found (and less noisy) capabilities outside of machining precision and versatility, specifically, the possibilities afforded by Industrial IoT technology.
While exhibitors adopted different terminology for their efforts – witness various booth signs such as Industry 4.0 Ready; Smart Operation; Smart Factory; Cloud Management System; Intelligent Manufacturing Integration System, etc. – the common theme was one we’ve come to associate with IIoT, i.e. enhancing the connectivity of previously isolated machines and collecting and using data to improve the machining process as well as wider factory performance. So let’s take a look at some examples from the show floors.
From Makino, the Japanese supplier of 5-axis machining centers and EDM machines, ProNetConnex promises to give users the ability to connect, collect and analyze data from machines that could be located anywhere in the world. The IIoT interface, which is native to Makino’s latest generation of controllers, is compatible with the MTConnect standard and uses a Cisco Industrial Ethernet (IE) 4000 Series switch to withstand the typically harsh machining environments and to protect the equipment and internal networks from security threats.
When paired with Makino’s MPmax real-time machine process monitoring and data management solution, users can track a variety of machine condition and performance indicators, including status and utilization, alarms, tools, spindle, and power consumption. Additional sensors can be installed within machines and added to ProNetConneX to expand data collection capabilities based on the manufacturer’s needs. Interestingly, and as heralded at the MTA 2017 show, Makino is set to open a new factory in Singapore next year, with the facility set to be a showcase of digital production technologies.
GF Machining Solutions, a division of Switzerland’s Georg Fischer Group, touts the rConnect central communications platform for its milling, EDM and laser machines as advancing the Industry 4.0 vision of the smart factory of the future and especially valuable to manufacturers seeking to optimize their competitiveness and increase machine uptime through the digitization of their facilities. The first phase of rConnect is Live Remote Assistance (LRA), which enables remote diagnostics and inspection by connecting machines to a local GF center in real time, with communication options encompassing audio, video, chat, whiteboard, file transfer, screen sharing and system access. Through the rapid intervention facilitated by LRA, users can expect fewer instances of unexpected machine downtime as and shorter downtime duration when an issue does occur.
From DMG Mori, for its new machines, is CELOS, an app-based control interface that features a smartphone-like multi-touch screen. The 16 apps help the machine operator prepare, optimize and process production jobs, and with interfaces to CAD/CAM applications and ERP systems, create the basis for a consistently digitalized, paperless manufacturing. One of those apps is Condition Analyzer, for visualising, analysing and predicting the status of machines based on data from built-in sensors. Data collection operates with variable sampling rates and back-up transfer to the cloud every 10 minutes. And analysis functions include pattern recognition for detecting atypical machine behavior.
Prominent Taiwanese manufacturer YCM (Yeong Chin Machinery), which took away the Supreme Excellence Award for its FP 500A-5AX-T Smart Multi-tasking Mill/Tum Machining Center at this year’s TIMTOS, extends its capabilities in the digital direction with the i-Direct IoT platform, which enables users to, among other things, track production status, manage factory utilization and monitor overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). With i-Direct able to link equipment of different machine types and using various CNC controllers, visibility on shop floor operations is greatly enhanced.
On a broader level in Taiwan, given the importance of the machine tool industry to the national economy – it’s the world’s fifth largest exporter – the government earlier this year opened the Smart Machinery Promotion Office in Taichung in central Taiwan, which is home to a cluster of suppliers, including YCM. One of its primary objectives is accelerating innovation in the industry such that the country’s undoubted machinery manufacturing capabilities can be suitably enhanced through the adoption of digital technologies and the sector can remain globally competitive in the new smart era.