Future productivity improvements are going on-line

Future productivity improvements are going on-line

Within the past few years, the Internet has become an integral part of manufacturing and it appears that the trend will continue.

Within the past few years, the Internet has become an integral part of manufacturing and it appears that the trend will continue.

Machinist sets Hurco control, providing fast communications between the machine tool and networked computers in the CAD/CAM area.

Viewing this screen the operator selects the remote host to communicate with Ultinet.

While viewing a directory from the selected remote host, an icon can be seen in the lower left corner of the screen next to the hard drive and floppy drive icons. This indicates an active network link.

ShopBrowser is a web-based system for viewing product and process data on the shop floor.

Layout depicts remote Internet and Intranet access using Cimplicity HMI to read and write fron the CNCs on the shop floor.


Two years ago, at the JIMTOF Trade Fair in Tokyo, some of the world's leading engineers predicted the Internet would be the next technological innovation to dramatically affect the machine-tool industry. It appears that they were right.

Bull's Eye Marketing Inc., Fond du Lac, Wis., recently conducted a survey of 343 top factory automation executives responsible for the future automation strategies in their companies. The survey revealed that over 90% of those with an opinion feel that the Internet is here to stay and will have a major impact on factory automation and machine control. However, there is considerable variance among the executives as to how it will be used.

Some of the more popular strategies suggested by the executives included using the Internet as a source for gathering technical information and as an information artery between company locations. Other opinions centered on using the Internet to service and support equipment in the field and to channel monitor machines from remote locations. Many of the executives feel the Internet will be a major element in factory automation. But, cross-correlations showed significant variations based on company classification, products with which they are involved, industry, job function, size, and years of experience.

Actual use of the Internet in manufacturing is not lagging far behind these executive predictions. Today, it is becoming common practice to use it for facilitating the communication of ideas, design processes, and manufacturing information. It is also used to access information from different sites, from distributed design centers to manufacturing facilities.

For example, a web-based shop-floor display and data-collection system has been introduced by CIMx Company, Cincinnati. CIMx ShopBrowser is a webbased system for viewing product and process data on the shop floor, as well as providing data collection for quality measurements.

This system allows the user on the shop floor to browse for data such as, tooling information, specifications, graphics, and 3D models. Data can be retrieved without the need of a planner to format paper or screens. ShopBrowser actually does away with electronic paper and replaces it with the ability to browse for information almost in a data warehousing mode under revision control.

According to CIMx's vice president of sales and marketing, Rick Franzosa, the company is replacing antiquated paper-based systems at customer sites and migrating the existing data to preserve the customer planning investment. "This new technology can save costs, improve productivity, and help optimize and standardize the manufacturing planning for complex products such as automobile and jet engine components," he adds.

"This technology and unique product design will allow each installation to be rapidly customized, enhanced, and remotely maintained over the Internet," concludes Franzosa.

The system is built on the Oracle Web Application Server within the Oracle Network Computing Architecture. This technology framework is hardware-platform independent, software-operating-system independent, and capable of being driven from standard Internet browsers using JAVA Applets for communication.

Linking the human and the machine
Making life easier for the systems integrator and end user, GE Fanuc, Charlottesville, Va., has introduced Version 3.2 of Cimplicity HMI (Human-Machine Inter-face). This software is designed to address the advanced applications for implementing cell control and facility wide solutions.

With Version 3.2, up to eight CNCs can be supported from a single PC, and information can be displayed in any desired graphical or numerical format. This permits central monitoring of plant-floor activities from as close by as the corporate office or as far away as a European division.

"Looking backwards, we saw the introduction of HMI technology as revolutionary to the PLC world. Now, with the introduction of high-speed, twoway communications links into the CNC, we predict that HMI will revolutionize the CNC world," says Mark Anderson, product manager, Cimplicity marketing

Cimplicity HMI provides a complete user interface for GE Fanuc Series 150B, 160B, 180B, and 210B controllers. Also included is the integration of run-time Open CNC drivers and libraries, and the basic operation package. Cimplicity HMI for CNC option is also supported on Windows 95 and Windows NT for the Intel platform.

There is a WebGateway option offered with Cimplicity HMI that accesses data anywhere in the world over the Internet. Web-Gateway allows the creation of standard HTML format web documents containing textual Cimplicity data values. Graphical representations of the process are also included as bitmaps or dynamic ActiveX controls.

Bridging islands of productivity
Another company experiencing added value of the Internet is Hurco Companies Inc., Indianapolis. It has released a fully integrated networking product, Ultinet into the Ultimax family of controls. Ultinet saves manufacturers time and money by providing simple, reliable, and fast communication between machine tools on the production floor and networked computers in the CAD/CAM and office areas.

Because networks are restricted mainly to the office area, CNC machine tools in many shops are stand-alone islands of productivity removed from other manufacturing information systems and processes. Networks that do make it to the shop floor are invariably terminated at PCs acting as crude file servers connected to the target CNC with a RS-232 link. Ultinet eliminates the need to drip feed large data files from a PC to the memory of a CNC and will bridge islands of productivity to networked manufacturing information systems and processes.

Designed and developed using standard elements such as Ether-net, TCP/IP, and FTP, Ultinet is flexible because it can be hooked up to different operating systems. This means it works seemlessly in diverse network environments where UNIX workstations and PCs with DOS and Windows coexist.

The Ultinet increases productivity and efficiency by incorporating both an FTP server and FTP client. The FTP server allows CAD/CAM engineers and operators to transmit files directly to the Ultimax CNCs' hard drives while the machines are cutting. Jobs can be queued on the hard drives without the downtime associated with setting up serial ports for DNC. Ultimax machines equipped with Ultinet can also share files, and machinists can easily move files from one machine tool to another.

The best is yet to come
With the door to the Ethernet open, web servers may be the model for how machines will be viewed in the future. Using "Push Technology," getting updated software or relevant product information on the CNC will be as common as receiving current product literature on a desktop PC today. Web server/browser technology will provide a generic means of monitoring machine and CNC performance. Data that is public in the CNC's data dictionary will be transmitted across the Internet to clients that will format the information in a manner that is useful to the viewer. Spread sheets and quality-control software that use up-to-the-minute data can then provide relevant production statistics in near real-time.

According to Hurco, Ultinet uses the same IP-addressing that is familiar to those on the Inter-net, so it only takes a minor rear-rangement of equipment and software for CAM systems in Detroit to send files to shops as close as Indianapolis or as far away as Indonesia.

With this type of technology available in the future, the CAM engineer will be able to ask the machine in Indianapolis or Indonesia if it is ready for more work. Then the machine is left to answer yes or no. The answer helps the engineer decide whether or not to send the file to the target machine or interrogate another machine elsewhere on the globe.

The engineer also will have the ability to query the target machine if it reports it is down due to a failure. The machine will be able to answer with an alarm message that indicates, for example, that the drawbar mechanism is not working correctly and that the tool changes are impaired. The engineer will then send an e-mail message to the service company in the target machine's area informing it of the problem.

If the service company requires additional information, it can ask the machine to identify the problem. The machine will report it has been consistently at 70 psi — well below the published specification. The engineer at the service company can then call the site supervisor at the target machine's location to report air pressure to the machine is below specification. The supervisor finds a leak in the air line and the problem is resolved proactively.

Another twist will be the effects of cellular communication networks. Most networking being done now requires hard-wire links. This is analogous to residential telephones and land lines. Cellular telephones and paging systems are changing how residential communication takes place. A phone is now connected to the person, not necessarily the residence. Communication with machine tools will be similar. When this happens, machines can be moved to other manufacturing facilities or sold to other shops, and service departments will be able to follow them. Service updates can be broadcast so that machines are always kept current.

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