Digitalisation: it’s a sprint and a marathon

Posted on 18 May 2023 by The Manufacturer
Partner Content

In today’s fast-paced market, which combines a number of drivers with ongoing and emerging technology trends, there is a need among machine shops of all sizes as well as the big production departments to get more out of their CNC machines. 

Think of it as both a sprint and a marathon. The sprint represents your need to catch up with the competition, quickly, while the marathon is the steady pace needed for the long haul, as technology and available business resources evolve constantly.

There are multiple requirements for this race.

First, the rapid development of the smart machine requires an ongoing awareness of every aspect of that machine tool’s operation – from spindle condition to tool wear to tool availability in proximity to the cutting area to the various speeds, feeds, temperatures and pressures onboard, with a keen understanding of how and when they change.

With the advent of totally virtual machines and virtual machining simulation, we see today’s digitalisation landscape as one in which training, new or adapted machine designs, commissioning and time-to-first-part are all being compressed, while retaining or improving accuracy.

Another trend we see in smart machines is the marriage of metrology to the machine tool, performed via the CNC, so the actual parts being produced are instantly compared to a resident CAD file and the machine “learns” to adjust itself in-process. Changes in machine kinematics are immediately recognised and implemented to the current cutting conditions to maintain part accuracy. This development will benefit both the machine builders and end-customers in the CNC community.

Next, the evolving digital twin concept continues to re-work the landscape of machine design and engineering, allowing a variety of concepts to be tested in a virtual environment, before the first piece of sheetmetal is bent.  This process includes all the machine movements and speeds, even robotic articulation and machining actions, to determine all possible collisions or other faults during the design phase. A dream come true, today and into the future, for the machine builders.  You create better solutions for your customers, much faster and at a lower cost.

With Run MyVirtual Machine for machine users, the new CNC platform is provided with software to create the universal concept of the digital twin, powerful hardware and integrated IT security, making SINUMERIK ONE a forward-looking CNC, which is driving digital transformation in the machine tool industry.

Likewise, the smart shopfloor is now a reality for the small tool-and-die shop and moldmaker, as well as the large production departments at multi-national enterprises.  As robots and related automation interface with today’s smart machines on the shopfloor, a goal of lights-out production with full 24/7 transparency in the palm of your hand on a smart phone or tablet might be just a short sprint away.

Legacy systems can be updated, often communicating with various brands of controllers, as needed, to enable this transition.  Your best course of action is to chase down a trusted machine builder or system integration partner to help show you the best path for your operation. In today’s business environment, such partners can be valuable assets to your operation.

With our Siemens Xcelerator platform, for example, all the elements of design, material acquisition, machine production, end-user and even consumer feedback can be integrated into the design scenario. This is the marathon aspect but it is so, only because this is an ever-evolving eco-system that incorporates hardware, software, third-party and user-developed apps that continue to add muscle to the manufacturing, monitoring and data management picture at your company. In the long run, building and maintaining your eco-system will reap many benefits. It requires an open-minded attitude and willingness to keep running in the right direction.

Confronting the other marathon issue of worker skillsets, Siemens remains committed to working with those on the job today as well as students, trade schools and universities to enhance their readiness for the tasks required — today and into the future.  Our Run MyVirtual Machine program module can assist every person who might work on a particular machine tool — from the initial designers to the part programmers, the machine operators and also shop maintenance personnel. This intuitive program also enables students to apply their skills quickly to their current as well as future work tasks. From both our physical and virtual Technical Application Centers, we engage today’s and tomorrow’s workforces to prep them for the long race of advanced manufacturing.

The simple fact remains that manufacturers of all sizes need digitalisation to stay competitive. Even if your KPIs remain consistent, you will need to avail your company of the latest technologies and digital paths. Today’s OEE and production data-gathering protocols simply will not get you to the finish line.

Additional techniques available for that short and long run include the proven concept of Adaptive Control, which allows the machine tool to respond instantly to the changes in material stock and cutting conditions, while our Manage MyResources program significantly improves the availability and productivity of your CNC machines through next-generation tool and program management. These tools are offered as standards and require only short training times to implement in your operations.

Digitalisation doesn’t happen overnight, it’s both a sprint and a marathon, as the changing landscape in automation, IT/OT and other factory realities is constantly evolving. The key is to begin digitalising your production AND continuing the process in anticipation of those changes.

A critical factor in the machining world today is AI, which has sprinted to the front of the pack as the next big thing.  Very soon, AI will be onboard the machine tools, fabricating and additive equipment you acquire to make decisions in real-time about predictive maintenance, chip handling, scrap, production run-time efficiencies, even delivery and work scheduling, based upon the ongoing track record of your shop’s performance and your customers’ requirements. The goal of maximised and consistent part accuracy and higher production levels with lower cycle-times and the minimum down-time possible is not that far off.

So, in the end, think of this digitalisation run as both a sprint and a marathon. Be sure you have the right shoes.

Learn more here about digital solutions for manufacturing with machine tools.

About the author

Brian McMinn is the Head of the Machine Tool Business at Siemens Industry, Inc. He is an electrical engineer with 25 years’ experience in the motion control and drives business and has a passion for the emerging technologies in machine automation and control.