Viewpoints: Managing Modern Grinders
A few years ago, CNC cylindrical grinding machines used software mainly to generate workpiece programs. During the last few years, many man-years of development have sought to move grinding software far beyond the original task of workpiece programming. In grinding, user-friendly software is especially important, because grinding cycles look somewhat different, and are more challenging, than other machining processes. This situation has forced grinding machine manufacturers to step up to the plate and produce user-friendly, flexible software.
There are many other factors that have led to additional pressure to produce less complex, smarter software.
- Our skilled labor force has diminished, there are fewer trained personnel available, and lower-skilled personnel are operating today's machine tools,
- Customers have asked for near-zero changeover time,
- Grinding machines have become more complex by utilizing more spindles and more axes,
- In many global companies, manufacturing utilization is being managed globally,
- Finally, operator safety and minimization of the potential for machine and workpiece damage have become more important.
In today's grinding machines, software covers many more areas of concern to end-users.The software has, in general, become smarter and more capable of adapting to situations. Graphic user interfaces allow personnel with less training to understand the process. More powerful hardware and communication systems operating in the background allow complex calculations and monitoring of machine tools.
With today's globalization and remote planning of resource use across borders, it's important to have tools that will allow customers to manage the machine tools that they have at their disposal. Software needs to be adaptable to detect machine configurations. Customers are looking at a quick return on their investment, which can only be achieved by employing the capital equipment efficiently and without costly delays and downtime. In addition to the fact that machine tools can be programmed and setups can be previewed, work area and work envelope evaluations can be performed in advance, thus reducing changeover times. Networked grinding machines offer many advantages, including access to the machine tool supplier's support, and the use of monitoring systems for maintenance purposes.
The tools now available allow manufacturing engineering personnel to do the necessary time study and analyses, and generate cost calculations for work they are quoting to their customers. More precise cycle-time estimates allow more accurate workpiece cost quoting, which minimizes margin risks.
Once an order has been received from the customer, it's possible to prepare programs and set up guidelines and tooling sheets for the machine operators. By the time the operators receive that information, work envelope analysis has already taken place. This analysis will allow the operator to proceed to a quick changeover using the listed tooling and dimensions for setup.
Using hundreds of important parameters and graphical visualization, the grinding process can be optimized prior to or during the actual grinding process. Using virtual grinding-machine room areas allows one to look for errors before they can ever be detected on the actual machine. This capability generates further productivity improvements, and minimizes costly errors.
Machine and program data security are another important aspect of such machine management systems. In the past, just a spike in electrical power caused by a lightning storm could cause machine data to be corrupted and permanently lost. Many times, systems were not backed up. Today, such issues are minimized through networking of machine tools and the backup and storage of programming and setup data on the server operated by the manufacturing company. Communication frequently takes place through fixed Ethernet network connections, or even via wireless routers and hubs. Inter-company communication from plant to plant takes place via the Internet.
This situation represents a tremendous change from where machine tools and grinding machines were 10–15 years ago. Development in machine and process technology, as well as data management technology, continues today at a remarkably fast pace, and the consequences of this work can only be beneficial to manufacturing worldwide.
This article was first published in the November 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.