On a blustery early October day, hundreds of customers and employees gathered at DMG Mori’s Davis, Calif., machine tool plant for the company’s “Manufacturing Days.”
The two-day event offered a variety of guests the ability to tour the state-of-the-art factory and learn about the DMG Mori’s products and production processes through a series of seminars, such as “Digital Factory - Quality Through Assembly,” “Myth: Automation is Only for High Volume,” and “Digital Factory - Machine and Tool Monitoring.”
The sessions, provided DMG Mori employees, discussed the integration of software and automation throughout the factory as well as at the end users’ plants.
Digital Factory—Quality Through Assembly
DMG Mori’s General Manager Zach Piner guided visitors through a half of the factory that is still manual, where highly skilled workers build large machine tools consisting of more than 3,000 parts by hand. While the assembly may still be manual, the company is doing its best to incorporate computer assistance wherever possible.
The easiest integration is the inventory control system that keeps track of all 3,000 plus pieces, from receiving to warehouse to kitting to assembly. Each piece has a QR code that is scanned at each stage.
One stop on the tour was a hand scraping station, where an employee spoke of his lengthy training in Japan—where DMG Mori is headquartered—and explained that this process still can’t be automated because of the ultra-precise nature of this operation.
At each assembly station throughout the factory floor are kiosks with large monitors where staff can input their process into computers that can also be viewed by management at the “factory cockpit,” a station with four TV screens tracking each machine’s progress. The kiosks and cockpit are connected through DMG Mori’s Messenger software.
The kiosks allow employees and management alike to keep track of process times and issues, allowing each party to identify bottlenecks and work toward continuous improvement. Piner said the computer kiosks also allow for digitized manuals, as each employee is responsible for sizable chunks of manuals up to 1,000 pages long. The computer allows for quick reference and search of those manuals.
There are also two measurement stations, including one for pieces up to 16ˈ (4.88 m), that are accurate to 0.5 µm. Those measurements are also moved into the digital system and allow for immediate correction from the management staff.
As Piner guided visitors through the manual production process, he noted each machine runs for at least 100 hours, including at least a circle-diamond-square test cut. As most of those test hours are done during off hours, the Messenger software is key to help keep the staff abreast of issues arising during the testing process.
Piner also noted the consistent temperature of the factory—23°C (73°F)—which is protected by double doors to the exterior, where trucks enter and exit the factory floor.
Digital Factory—Machine and Tool Monitoring
Building on the digitization of the manual assembly process, Derek Miller, DMG Mori product business development specialist, guided visitors through the completely automated side of the factory.
Several employees, including Miller, noted that while the automated side of the DMG Mori factory could run with just one worker supervising the facility, OSHA requires another employee for emergencies and another in case one of the other two call in sick.
The white hard hats of the workers could be seen occasionally bobbing up and down throughout the tour, but most of the tour was dominated by the large machines on the factory floor, each of which have multiple forms of automation.
An example of where automation brings an advantage to the production process is a washing stop, where nearly 200,000 tapped holes must be cleaned annually to ensure no chips remain for future processes.
“No one wants to do that; they’ll look for shortcuts,” Miller said, adding human workers will undoubtedly find ways to do less work in such a menial job, skipping holes here and there. “Robots won’t do that.”
Likewise, loading and unloading processes are automated with a robot-assisted LPP system. Miller said it takes a job that would take a human an hour to an hour-and-a-half to complete and completes it in 15 minutes.
As the tour continued and stopped at one of the computer kiosks on the automated factory floor, Factory Ambassador Joe Medeiros talked about his transition to an automated factory. Medeiros came to DMG Mori from a manual plastic CNC factory. His stop on the tour was to discuss the intuitive drag-and-drop system control used on the factory linear pallet pools.
“It was intimidating at first,” Davis said. “But it’s color, letter and icon-based and easy and straightforward to use. It took probably two months to learn and be comfortable to use without direct supervision.”
Miller then expanded on the computer system and how it takes all the information from jobs and solves all scheduling problems and provides solutions within minutes. The only thing it can’t do is “fit 25 hours of work into 24 hours a day,” Miller said. The software provides real-time capture and visualization of machine and process data, as well as detailed analysis of production interruptions.
The Messenger software allows monitoring of the process away from the factory floor as well.
Likewise, the system can monitor any piece of the process that outputs data, including lasers and paint booths. As with the manual section of the factory, the digitization of the process keeps track of all the tools within the facility.
Myth: Automation is Only for High Volume
In a session detailing DMG Mori’s newer ALX machines, led by Rory Dudas, an associate engineer at the company, examined on-machine automation.
The ALX machine has linear guides on the Y and Z axes the same size as the NHX6300, and slideways on the X-axis. Dudas talked about the benefits of the small, adaptable machine for small-scale production. Highlighted by the multiple tech cycles, including alternating speed handling, as well as the machining capabilities of gear hobbing, gear skiving, multi-threading and eccentric machining, Dudas pointed out the lathe operates with a direct-drive built-in-motor turret, which results in fewer parts and less heat and noise, but more cutting power. The direct drive leads to fewer operating issues and less downtime. Still, the machines come with a three-year warranty for the turnMASTER spindles and a two-year overall machine warranty.
Dudas said combining the machine with automation sets up a “nice and compact” operation with “ease of programming.” Unlike with robots that have to be reprogrammed with any new task, the ALX machine has a series of parameters and requires no modification of sub-programming, allowing for a simple system for changes during manufacturing.
The machine leads to quick setups and part changeovers. The ALX machines can also be combined with the company’s gantry loader for increased productivity.
Dudas noted the ALX series of machines was developed to be versatile and reliable for a number of applications, regardless of business category.
Managing Workpieces: Loading, Moving and Scheduling
Helping pull together a variety of other stops on the tour, DMG Mori Software Product Specialist Stuart Luper detailed multiple parts of the company’s portfolio, how the machines are horizontally integrated, and how the software systems are integrated within.
His presentation focused on the company’s pallet extensions for the NHX machine tool series, as well as further discussion of how DMG Mori’s in-house designed software systems work together with the rest of the production system. Of note in the discussion of the pallet management systems were auto couplers and hydraulic systems that Luper said help with repeatability in production as well as improved ergonomics.
The Linear Pallet System, or LPS, allows users to completely configure workflow with an advanced version that allows for capacity planning with separate job inputs to schedule accordingly.
With MAPPS 5, Luper said the software allows for easy setup of redundant tooling, which allows for the production flow to keep moving seamlessly.
He also discussed Messenger, which provides live status updates and e-mail and text alerts to those in the system. The software provides a lifetime of productivity analysis—everything over the lifetime of the equipment is tracked, allowing operators to eliminate common alarms.
As a case study of the Messenger software, Luper used Japan’s Akitani Iron Works. With the integration of the software, Luper said Akitani saw efficiency from a 60 percent operation rate to 80 percent without adding labor.
“You reduce downtime and increase production, without the addition of labor,” he said.