CNC advances: Libraries, communications

Inside Machines: Just as the machine tool world continues to evolve at light speed, so do computer numerical control (CNC) software and hardware for the machines. Multifunction machine tools, including additive manufacturing and robotic integration, continue to advance with better communications, libraries, hybrids, and robotic integration.


Is this the operator screen of tomorrow? Data access, real-time production data, and even live chat with an application engineer via teleservice are CNC features and functions available today for many hybrid and advanced machine configurations. Courtesy:Hybrid machine tools have emerged in the last 10 years that can mill, turn, and tap, plus sinter, laser cut, weld, bend, rollform, and, now, 3-D print. Integration of robotic articulation, hexapod handling, integrated yet independent and flexible work cells, even sequential machining with slave computer numerical controls (CNCs) and gantry handling, all controlled on a master human-machine interface (HMI), impact the plant floor.

These changes apply to the large production department and the smaller, highly sophisticated job shops, all of which are using advanced machining, fabrication, assembly, and even packaging technologies.

Corresponding to these rapidly advancing methods in metalworking and other substrate production, the CNC continues to evolve in its axis firepower, memory, communication platform integration, and graphic user interface.

Ten years ago, CNC discussions included the development of the animated screen elements, remote monitoring, automatic alarm signaling to a remote location, transformation orientation of the tool tip, and other advancements to benefit operator, programmer, and maintenance personnel.

Better communications

Today, the short-term and realizable goal is to eliminate the need for paper on the shop floor. The CNC can integrate the process chain in two-way communications, including DFX viewer access; the scan on a prototype; links to computer-aided design (CAD) files, computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) program, statistical tooling, fixturing, setup, and actual production values; and additional integration. Product routing and materials handling process data are available onscreen, with the touch a button, softkey, or touchscreen icon.

Touchscreen technology on an LCD is equal to big screen TV resolution, making CNC the machine control of the future available today. Courtesy: Siemens

Tooling, fixturing, and workholding libraries; communications of shop-floor to master-control logic over a variety of bus configurations; and calculations of the full power consumption and running costs of the machine and auxiliary equipment are also available to plant personnel through a multi-layered access code hierarchy that provides need-to-know levels of authority. 

Cloud connections

Today's CNC also provides teleservice from the machine to the cloud, app-driven touchscreens, full MT Connect interface (for easier, standard communications), and even live Internet chat onscreen via Apple FaceTime, with machine or control suppliers, for troubleshooting. All current machining technologies are programmable in the control, such as traditional chipcutting, fabrication techniques, and substrates including tool steel, powdered metal, plastic, and ceramic materials used in 3D printing (additive manufacturing).

These functions and features are available today, in varying degrees, from the CNC community that works diligently daily to stay in tune with machine builder partners, advanced technology research labs, and the U.S. manufacturing community, where innovation and forward-thinking abound.

- Randy Pearson is international business development manager, Siemens Industry Inc., motion control-machine tool business. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

Key concepts

Advanced hybrid machine tools use CNCs with:

  • Libraries of advanced functions
  • Better communications
  • Connections to cloud-based apps and video conferencing.

Consider this

Are your machine tools accepting and providing information easily, as needed, to improve your workflow and business?

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More about the author: Randy Pearson, a long-time veteran of the machine tool industry, is the Siemens international business development manager for target machine tool original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). His special interest is CNC machine-tool training, through various Siemens seminars, workshops, and classes at vocational and technical schools and on-site at shops, as well as at Siemens training facilities around the country. Pearson also is active in his local community, helping to foster the development of more vocational training in the area high schools.

- See related articles below on CNC applications and uses.

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