IMTS 2004: Machining gets smarter

Chicago, IL—Machine tool builders increasingly are embracing automation and controls to become more competitive, accordng to many conference speakers at IMTS 2004, Sept. 8-15, at McCormick Place.

By Control Engineering Staff September 9, 2004

Chicago, IL— Machine tool builders increasingly are embracing automation and controls to make them, and their customers, more competitive. It’s not without resistance, however, says one speaker at the IMTS 2004 conference, who reports hearing some machine tool builders claim better sales on equipment without the latest advances.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is coordinating conference sessions here (Sept. 8-10) at the IMTS 2004 show, Sept. 8-15, at McCormick Place. Opening day sessions entitled “Emerging Technologies and Trends in Machining” and “New and Emerging Technologies: Smart Machines” looked at how technologies can keep the machine tool industry competitive. One afternoon speaker, Mal Sudhakar, Mikron ’s VP, adds that, “This is first time an IMTS conference is having a discussion on smart machining.”

Even so, Charles Wang, chief scientist at Optodyne Inc. , after a talk on establishing modern standards for volumetric accuracy, laments that, “No one wants to be the first machine builder to use a new technology. It’s different in the electronics field. I’ve heard machine tool builders say,‘We build better machines and sales go down. We build less-capable machines and profits go up.’ We have to change that perspective.”

Morning session moderator, K. (Subbu) Subramanian, grinding technologies director at Saint-Gobain Abrasives, says machine tool builders often look at technologies in isolation, but they’re “most successful when integrating them as a system.” One technology applied can bring a 5-10% incremental increase, he says. However, when an integrated system of improvements can show a 25% improvement, “there’ll be no problem getting money for investments in new technologies. Engineering has to integrate various elements simultaneously and focus on the science behind them.” Education today needs to focus more on science-based understanding Subramanian suggests.

Companies using machine tools are more likely than in the past to accept more advanced controls, says Donald Haselton, VP sales and marketing, Fadal Machining Centers, who offers GE Fanuc, Siemens, and his own controls on his ThyssenKrupp equipment. “Machine shops that survived the last few years are the smart ones,” he says, with some optimism about future business. Haselton talked to Control Engineering at the end of IMTS 2004’s first day.

Other session highlights included:

  • Automated deburring using an adjustable constant compliance force. The device, from ATI Industrial Automation , lowers cost of entry into automated deburring by doing away with use of a feedback device, instead using pneumatic controls to maintain constant pressure, according to Aaron Odham, application engineer at ATI. Automated deburring increases throughput and saves wear on operators. U.S. Workmen’s Compensation statistics from a few years back showed that one third of claims were spent on hand-arm vibration syndrome, says Odham. Booth B6241.

  • Next-generation tool positioner is available from Samsomatic Ltd. It uses machine coolant as hydraulic fluid (avoiding the need to run a second fluid system). The device helps avoid the 2-3 micron position change that can occur between tool changes. A laser can check and adjust position, even when tool isn’t changed, says Wilfried Nordhoff, president and ceo of Samsomatic. Total weight is 8 lb, and cost is around $6,000, which is under the all-important $10,000 mark. Controlling software is available for Allen-Bradley, Bosch, GE Fanuc, Heidenhain, and Siemens machine tools. In a retrofit, a separate controller can be added to avoid changes to existing control, Nordhoff adds. Booth A8363.

  • Wang from Optodyne says users need to demand that machine builders update their measures of volumetric methods as the standard means of determining machining center accuracy. Very expensive machine tools and inexpensive ones meet the same specifications because accuracy standards most widely used are 40 years old, Wang suggests. This is disastrous for discerning users, he says, since tests of 10 machines show variance of 5.3 to 35.8 microns maximum deviation, according to extensive tests by Research Center of Manufacturing Technology, Czech Technical University in Prague, Czech Republic. “Ask for the squareness and straightness error—most machine tool builders won’t tell you,” Wang warns. Even the more recently defined volumetric accuracy as defined in ASME B5.54 and ISO 230-6 ignores the all-important squareness measure, Wang says. He’s working with the regulatory bodies to update the standards to more closely match the perfect (but almost never done) measure of 21 rigid body positioning errors: three displacement errors, six straightness errors, three squareness errors, three pitch angular errors, three yaw angular errors, and three roll angular errors.

  • Sudhakar of Mikron says smart machine efforts enable decisions based on acquired knowledge from sensors, monitor, and optimize machine performance, for more reliable autonomous operation. Smart Machine Modules now available cover the following. 1. Advanced system milling process monitors vibration and provides support to localize the source. For example, 0-3 G is normal and extends tool life; 3-7 G needs attention; and 7-10 G should probably be shut down immediately. 2. Intelligent thermal control and compensation makes the best choice among competing values of surface quality, accuracy and machine time, also accounting for variables like weight. 3. Operator support system meets application requirements. 4. Remote notification system from CNC calls a cell phone or otherwise notifies if something goes wrong. With 8,760 hours in a year, working one shift offers 2,000 hours, but spindle-cutting time per year at some shops is under 1,000 hours, which makes it tough for competitiveness, capacity utilization, and payback on machine tool investments.

  • Donald Esterling, president of VulcanCraft LLC , seeks to be a technology innovator and partner with OEMs to make parts cheaper, faster, and better. “Yesterday is numerical control (NC) verification. Tomorrow is NC optimization, which is smart machining, where the machine is self-aware, self-diagnostic, and self-correcting.” Inexpensive $500 sensors can measure and correlate tool forces with power providing opportunity for compensation specific to the application, instead of complex, $25,000 sensing options, Esterling says.

  • Hai Qiu, lead researcher at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee presented work also done with University of Michigan on creating intelligent agents for assessment and prediction of smart machine performance. Ideally, machines should use sensory input, which is stored knowledge to predict and simulate the future and make valued judgments. The mission, Qiu says, is to create Web-enabled predictive maintenance technology to make products that have zero breakdowns. Failure is tip of iceburg; underneath are the hidden evils of degredation. Solution is a “Watchdog Toolbox” of algorithms with tools for signal processing and feature extraction, performance prediction, performance assessment, and health diagnosis. Early warnings can save a lot; a $5 switch can create an outage costing $20,000 per minute, he says, noting that total cost is production lost plus maintenance costs.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Mark T. Hoske, editor-in-chief