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The Pros and Cons of Digital Machining

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

On the surface, machine shop ops look the same as they did 20 years ago, with machines cutting parts, packaging them up and shipping them out. While precision, part programs and productivity have improved markedly, the basic process is still the same.

What has changed is the digital envelope surrounding the machine tool. More shops are implementing Industry 4.0, connecting machines to networks, monitoring their performance, and analyzing the data coming off those machines to improve operations. Our Industry 4.0 implementation feature on page 42 explains how and why.

But lurking in the digital shadows are cybercriminals, and the new-found connectivity in manufacturing operations makes them an attractive target for cyberattacks. As our feature on page 50 explains, most operational technology (OT) networks, which can include machine tools, run on legacy equipment with protocols different from those in information technology (IT) environments. While companies are used to protecting IT networks, OT networks are not as well protected. Connecting an OT environment to the IT network in order to transfer, say, machine tool data, means opening up an OT system with security liabilities.

But as digital machining evolves, machine shops and other manufacturing operations will figure out how to both create a connected shop and protect the data coming out of that shop. Why? Because they have to. The future of machining depends on creating systems that can eventually improve themselves and run with minimal human intervention. So what does the digital machining future look like? Contributors to our Industry 4.0 feature offer their predictions:

Chris Pollack, Siemens Industry: “We will have centralized systems managing tooling and part programs. The days of segregating those segments are going by the wayside. Imagine a singular CNC control that runs your entire manufacturing line.”

Tony Del Sesto, MxD: “Fast forward 10-15 years from now and there won’t be a manufacturer that isn’t using some form of digital technology. It will transform the industry to the point where, if you don’t do it, you’re just not going to be competitive.”

Vivek Furtado, Siemens Industry: “Imagine a machine builder without written specs. They take the digital twin of the machine to a potential customer, get the virtual part, run it on the virtual machine, and make the needed changes. Then data that flowed into the virtual model flows into engineering the actual machine design.”

Jeff Rizzie, Sandvik Coromant: “I’m jealous of people who are just getting into manufacturing, because they’re going to see some of the coolest things ever. OEMs that are using Tier One, Two and Three suppliers will want the ability to see into their supply chain, all the way back to raw material, and understand if problems are developing. And they will be using full end-to-end, autonomous manufacturing systems.”

The future is coming faster than we think. Are you ready?

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