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Software, CNC Interface Gains Push Programming Productivity

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media
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The Hurco Max5 CNC features dual monitors, allowing onscreen programming and viewing of 3D model part simulations at the same time. (Provided by Hurco Cos. Inc.)

Fast, smart controls make short work of tall tasks.

Connected manufacturing and digitization technologies are spurring many of the major innovations in CNC machine controls that help machine shops cut metal and create parts as quickly and efficiently as possible. In most cases, software leads the way in helping both CNC programmers and operators on the shop floor to easily manufacture parts with the highest possible precision.

Today’s CNC equipment virtually bristles with the latest hardware advances, including faster processors, more on-board RAM for computing-intensive tasks, plus newer solid-state drive options that enable near-immediate boot-up times as well as worry-free operation in rugged shop environments.

The latest software advances, however, with features that include connected manufacturing apps, advanced 3D simulations, and touch-based user interfaces, continue to give CNC builders the best avenues to differentiate themselves from the pack.

“The control software is really the only place for machine tool builders to introduce game-changing innovation,” said Michael Cope, product technical specialist, Hurco Cos. Inc., Indianapolis. “Since new and innovative mechanical solutions are few and far between, especially without the introduction of some new metallurgy technology or similar, offering cutting-edge software and graphical user interface changes that make CNC controls more powerful, more versatile, and easier to use has to be the area where each builder sets itself apart from the competition.”

Can We Talk?

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FANUC America demonstrated its smart, connected technology for manufacturers at IMTS 2018. (Provided by FANUC America Corp.)

As the manufacturing industry undergoes its digitization transformation, CNC control developers and machine tool builders continue adding new features and functionality with the latest sensors, processors and software. At IMTS, control developers FANUC and Siemens, in particular, showcased new equipment and strategies for connecting their controls and automation for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and enabling Industry 4.0.

At Rochester Hills, Mich.-based FANUC America Corp.’s IMTS booth, the company demonstrated its latest IIoT technologies, including the FANUC Intelligent Edge Link and Drive (FIELD) data collection and monitoring system and its Zero Down Time on ROBOT-LINKi (ZDT), which uses predictive analytics to help prevent downtime from unexpected failures.

FANUC also displayed new CNC features, including improved, high-resolution 3D model machining simulation for five-axis and compound machining functions; its latest Series 0i-Model F Plus, the next-generation of its Series 0i controls; and its Quick and Simple Startup of Robotization (QSSR) feature for linking FANUC’s CNCs with the company’s robots. In addition, FANUC has added vision capabilities built directly into its CNCs.

“We’re seeing a lot of push toward using built-in vision systems on CNCs,” said Paul Webster, engineering manager for FANUC America’s Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based CNC unit. “This is just being released; the hardware technology is the same as on the robot side, but it’s implemented differently.” The system, which uses different software than the vision systems used in FANUC robots, “allows for a flexible implementation of vision through the CNC,” Webster said.

The latest trend of connecting CNC machine tools together can offer manufacturers higher productivity and more reliable quality, noted Tiansu Jing, Sinumerik CNC product manager for the Elk Grove Village, Illinois-based Siemens Machine Tools Business Unit. “Siemens is offering variable technical innovations for all manufacturing areas, including the major ones like aerospace and automotive,” he said. “The innovations are not only focusing on improving the machine builders’ engineering speed by introducing a new, powerful TIA portal and Safety Integrated Plus, but also the ‘art’ of the date digitalization products, which offer the end-customers ways to connect, monitor, analyze and optimize their machines.

“Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0, which is also called ‘digitalization,’ is the game-changer in manufacturing,” Jing continued. “By connecting the machines together, there are lots of new possibilities coming in, as well as new business models. To offer better service to their customers, the manufacturers need to increase their productivity and quality to offer better products in shorter lead times. Similarly, to strengthen their competitive position in the market, the companies need to shorten the time it takes to design new products.”

Machinists are always looking for making cutting operations easier and faster, Jing added. “For different kinds of machines, they need different features to realize this target, e.g. ‘Top Surface’ for mold and die cutting for better surface quality in shorter time, and ‘Tool Manager’ to easily manage all the tools to reduce machine downtime due to tool breakage, etc.,” he said.
The software elements of CNC controls have enabled easy addition of specialized routines and macros that boost productivity at both large manufacturers and smaller job shop operations.

“Manufacturers are looking for higher productivity and better quality all the time,” Jing noted.

“Limited by the tool material and the machine mechanics, it’s hard to shorten the cutting speed dramatically, so the new potential to increase productivity is by better management of the complete production value chain, including distributing the tasks to different machines, optimized tool arrangement, simulation before real cutting to verify the design, and online analysis of machine components, including tools, etc.

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Connecting machines via digitization offers new manufacturing possibilities as well as new business models. (Provided by Siemens)

“Siemens is offering complete product lines to help big manufacturers and smaller ones to set up their virtual twin and analyze their production to optimize the production from product design to delivery,” Jing continued. Siemens software includes Manage MyMachine, Analyze MyPerformance, Analyze ToolPath and Run MyVNCK to verify design, optimize the part program, simulate cutting and keep machines running at optimal performance levels, he added.

By connecting machines with Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing, the industry can change the game and bridge the skills gap that exists in manufacturing today, according to Hurco’s Cope. “These new standards provide the ability to have machines and controls interact with one another and have machines become ‘helpers’ within a large manufacturing cell, where a particular job or program can be sent to the next available machine tool and not be contingent upon a particular machine becoming available. They can also send job or machine feedback to specified email or text recipients.

“Having the power and versatility of working with automation will become more and more invaluable to shops of all sizes in the coming years,” Cope continued. “Due to the fewer number of employees, smaller shops might possibly benefit from this technology even more than larger shops because it allows them to take advantage of more hours in the day—even without having extended second and third shifts.”

At its IMTS booth, Hurco featured automation with collaborative robots, multi-axis serial robots, and pallet systems demonstrating automation for high-mix/low-volume part production found in many job shops, said Cope, noting the automation exhibit was a collaborative effort between Hurco and Erowa, Universal Robots, FANUC, Online Resources, and Industrial Controls & Automation.

“Hurco has dedicated extensive engineering resources to invent our patented software-driven motion control system, called UltiMotion,” Cope said. “With UltiMotion, huge amounts of memory and NC block look-ahead (all standard features on our control), all industries benefit but it will be especially beneficial to our mold makers and aerospace shops. The combined speed, throughput and axis responsiveness will help ensure that the customer is producing the best parts possible, with shorter cycle times and outstanding surface finishes.”

Single Setups, Simulation Prized

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The new Heidenhain TNC 640 CNC, updated at IMTS 2018, features full touchscreen operation. (Provided by Heidenhain)

Working more efficiently with single setups on multiaxis machines is a trend in CNCs today, noted Gisbert Ledvon, TNC business development manager, Heidenhain Corp., Schaumburg, Illinois. “People want to do more on one machine if they can, so obviously five axis has come a long way, not only for full five axis but more and more for 3+2 [machining] because people need to stay competitive,” Ledvon said. “If they keep doing what they’re doing, they will not be competitive.”

While some machining work is coming back to the U.S., the easiest machining is not, he added.

“The complex stuff is coming back. There’s a trend of people wanting to do more in one machine tool, so it’s either five axis or they want to do a mill/turn application on a milling machine. They want to start into automation a little bit more, so they want an easy functionality on their control to manage maybe a simple pallet changer, and set priorities from that.”

Machining operations for skiving and complex gear cutting have made a comeback, aided by newer software in Heidenhain’s TNC control, he added. Complex machining operations require highly accurate 3D modeling in simulation software like what Heidenhain has recently added to the TNC’s toolbox, including its Dynamic Collision Monitoring.

“Even though you may have collision monitoring outside, like with a CAM or Vericut program, for example, that verifies your program so you have no collisions, people also want to do that on the machine [control], if they can,” Ledvon said. “If the machine can visually show them if they have a collision problem, they want to see the 3D model of the kinematics of the machine, and just double-check that if they’re doing the programming—they still want that verification on the machine.”

Simulation of parts on the CNC control is becoming more common, with new CNC-based simulations introduced at IMTS by FANUC and others. FANUC’s simulation offers full 3D part simulation, noted Webster, showing the solid body of the part while it is undergoing machining operations.

Use of solid models is also growing within CNC developers’ offerings, noted Hurco’s Cope. “A trend that some controls are beginning to adopt, and that we will certainly see grow, is the ability to import solid models directly into the control—and to create programs from them. Although we have been able to import STL files to be used as stock geometry for several years, Hurco introduced a new feature, 3D Import with enhanced 3D DXF at IMTS 2018, that was very well received by show attendees,” Cope added. “Since many users receive solid model files from their customers, it is a significant benefit to be able to simply load that file into the control and create a part program without the need for a CAM system.”

What Matters Most to Machinists

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With the Mazatrol SmoothX CNC, users get a touchscreen-equipped Windows 8 Embedded CNC for easy CNC programming. (Provided by Mazak Corp.)

Ease of use ranks very high on most machinists’ wish lists, and CNC developers are making steady progress in this area, with FANUC revamping its user interface in recent years and many other developers including easier-to-use touchscreen interfaces.

“They want speed, don’t want to wait, and they want accuracy,” said Robin Cave, software engineer for Florence, Ky.-based Mazak Corp. “The graphics on our Windows machine are very good, and they help machinists verify code before cutting starts with pretty good simulation that
shows everything.”

Mazak’s Mazatrol Smooth line of CNCs, which include the SmoothX, SmoothG and SmoothC, were revamped by Mazak in Japan about three years ago using Mitsubishi hardware and incorporating the Windows 8 embedded operating system. These CNCs offer intuitive operation for users with touchscreens that allow tweaking of a part process, Cave noted, by using slider bars and other graphical inputs.

“It’s a screaming fast control,” said Cave of the Smooth CNCs, noting that Georgia Tech has tested the controls. “It processes faster than anything we’ve made before, and the solid-state drives really help with the speed. You don’t always need a lot of speed, but when you’re interpolating a ball nose end mill, you need to eat a lot of code quickly,” Cave said. “You run into those types of things more in mold and aerospace work.

“One other really big thing with our customers is our SMC—our Smooth Machine Configuration,” Cave continued. “What customers wanted was our machines to be more flexible. Sometimes they need to be really accurate, sometimes they don’t.” The SMC allows machinists to easily adjust sliders to make the machine more or less accurate as machining conditions require, he noted, helping to ease on-machine programming tasks.

Single Platform for Everything

Machining versatility is a key trend for CNC users today, noted Todd Drane, marketing manager for Fagor Automation-USA, Elk Grove Village, Illinois. “Manufacturers want a single CNC platform that can tackle any application they have on the manufacturing floor,” said Drane, noting this allows for better interchange of shop personnel. “Once they learn one CNC platform, the integration to a new process for that individual is much easier if the operating platform remains the same with the new process.”

Among its latest developments, Fagor’s 8065 CNC platform has been designed with proprietary advanced features necessary for high-speed machining, while maintaining the best machining surface finish and maximum accuracy, Drane said. Fagor’s Adaptive Real-Time Feed and Speed (ARFS) feature allows the CNC to analyze machining conditions such as spindle load, servo power and tool tip temperature, and adapts both the axis feed rate and the spindle speed for maximum machining performance productivity, Drane added. “The result is a reduction of cycle time, coupled with a superior part finish. Extended spindle and servo motor life is also accomplished as well as improved tool utilization.”

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An impeller being machined is simulated on Fagor Automation’s 8065 CNC control. (Provided by Fagor Automation)

The Fagor 8065 CNC is also equipped with aerospace-specific High Speed Surface Accuracy (HSSA) machining functionality that offers reduced mechanical stress on the machine, which increases machine tool lifespan. Also, due to the lower machine vibration, the machine is capable of smoother movement and higher feed rates, Drane said. “In addition, the on-board Bode diagram tool allows the measurement of the machine’s frequency response, thus allowing the possibility to actually filter the machine vibrations produced by the various operating conditions and environment.”

Fagor also features its Fagor Machining Calculator (FMC) application, which is available on both the 8060 and 8065 CNC platforms. The feature consists of a database of materials to be machined and machining operations (milling and turning) and an interface to choose suitable cutting conditions (axes machining feed rate and spindle speed for each operation). Another advance in Fagor CNCs is the control line’s compact hardware design, Drane said. “In today’s manufacturing, as stated by a customer, space is money,” he noted. “Hence, Fagor has created not just compact CNCs, but also compact drives and even motors. The idea is to provide lean solutions that fit the need vs. a cookie-cutter approach.”

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