Don't be surprised if the next machine you buy operates from the comfort of your own home.
Tree-IS, an interactive audio, data, and video support system, facilitates remote communication between either a company and endusers, distributors and endusers, or between all three simultaneously.
|With Wisconsin Machine Tool's WisCom system, manufacturers at a remote teamstation can control machines such as the company's R665 Rotary Index cell.|
Mazak's Mazatrol Fusion 640 control fuses the power of CNC with the communication qualities of a PC and links to the outside world using any industry standard networking card together with Windows 95.
Called Virtual-Tech, Toyoda Machinery's remote system connects shop floor users, through audio and video, to the OEM's technicians at three different locations, including one in Japan.
Hurco's machine tools connect to remote locations using a second PC within the company's Ultimax 4 dual-screen programming station.
With DMG's Netservice, the company's technicians gain remote access, over the Internet, to an enduser's machine programs and diagnostics to identify and solve problems.
It's 7 a.m. Sunday morning, and you didn't get home the night before until after two. You have a job that absolutely has to ship on Monday, so you stayed late to set up and start the machine in hopes of running lights out. But now you're wondering if anything went wrong.
You walk over to your PC, push a few buttons, and up comes the machine's control screen. There's an alarm, and the machine is stopped. By scrolling through a couple of screens, you find and correct the problem. You push a key and restart the machine, then adjust the speeds and feeds, and you're back in business.
Wish you could do this? You can, because today's machine tools are sporting technology that connects OEMs to endusers, plant managers to machine operators, and operators to machines in the next room or miles away. Companies such as Wisconsin Machine Tool, Toyoda, Tree Machine, Mazak, Hurco, and DMG are providing some form of remote access to and from their machine tools for file transfer, training, diagnostics, in-process monitoring, actual operation, and more.
It's as if you were standing in front of the machine
WisCom, a system from Wisconsin Machine Tool, is basically a remote control for machine tools. It lets the user tap into a machine's control, talk to the operator, see the machine, and run it—all from a PC at a remote location. Wisconsin refers to these as teamstations, the first of which is in its service department for customer assistance. But, manufacturers can set up these stations anywhere within a plant or even at a production manager's home. Benefits of the system include troubleshooting, application assistance, production monitoring, interactive operator training, and simultaneous engineering in live and real time.
On the machine tool side of this remote data and audio/video package, Wisconsin simply loads its own developed software into the control PC for real-time communication. The machine builder worked with Robert Bosch to develop a truly open architecture that applies common communication technology to machine tools. It operates through a single board, which is placed in the Bosch Typ 3 OSA control. This open architecture marries NC, PLC, and PC capabilities in conjunction with the digital access and spindle drives. The system also adapts to any age or brand of control, so WisCom can be sold without an accompanying machine tool.
A 29-in. monitor runs many different screens at one time in a Windows environment. Users can bring up the machine's control screen in one corner, the video image of the machine in another, and the files from the machine in yet another. Remote users see the exact screen the operator is viewing. Also, the key pad at the remote station is the same as the operator's, so everyone involved is pushing the same buttons.
Video images of WisCom originate from basic video-conference technology. Super-8 digital camcorders focus, pan, and zoom to transmit live or record for playback at a later date. The computer will correct for camera movement to display a clear picture. "Doing this over the Internet," says Patrick Cherone, president and CEO of Wisconsin Machine Tool, "takes too long." So the company decided on ISDN lines for the WisCom system.
These dedicated, high-powered fiberoptic communication lines increase bandwidth and let the system's video correct itself fast. System video currently runs on a 450 MHz Pentium II, but soon-tobe-released processors, says James Imrie, a Wisconsin vice president, will further increase the overall video clarity of the WisCom system.
ISDN lines can traffic much more data faster than current, standard phone lines. The speed of ISDN lines makes WisCom a real-time system.
While these lines are a bit more costly in the U.S., comments Cherone, that's not the case in other parts of the world. Most of Japan and Europe are already digital, and he goes on to say that it is just a matter of time before the U.S. catches up and the problem goes away.
Toyoda Machinery USA Inc. also uses ISDN lines for its remote system. Called Virtual-Tech, it connects machine users through both audio and video in real time to the OEM's technicians in either Arlington Heights, Ill.; Wixom, Mich.; or even Japan.
Virtual-Tech incorporates customer plant-level, two-way wireless audio and visual systems together with high data-compression video links over standard phone lines using ISDN technology at Toyoda. All of which transforms even untrained personnel at the machine tool into the eyes, ears, and hands of Toyoda experts. Operators are then literally walked through, in real time, the steps necessary to repair or service the machine.
According to Howard Michael, company president, the system puts technicians virtually on-site. He further states that Toyoda envisions expanding the system to include remote training, inspection, and video conferencing.
Tree Machine Tool's Tree-IS (interactive support) system is inter-active audio, data, and video support. It facilitates remote communication either between the company and endusers, distributors and endusers, or all three simultaneously. Every machine Tree manufactures will now come standard with this remote technology.
Tree-IS lets Tree remotely do everything to an enduser's machine except physically touch or cycle start it. With the system, companies can tap into and conduct two-way communications with Tree's Interactive Support Group for service, training, diagnostics, application assistance, and troubleshooting. In addition, Tree-IS includes a white-board feature that lets both parties view and manipulate the same electronic document, such as a print or machine schematic, simultaneously.
A complete package consists of a Tree machine tool featuring a Vickers PC-based 2100 control with Windows NT-4, Tree-IS, a modem, headset, and video camera. The whole system operates over a single, standard phone line, probably the most distinguishing aspect of the system, says Tim Novotny, a vice president at Tree.
Instead of an ISDN line or Internet connection, Tree uses a direct modem connection together with patent-pending bandwidth technology that packs more data into normally narrow standard phone lines. The reason Tree went with this type of connection was in large part due to its mostly small shop customer base buying knee mills and VMCs.
Shops of this size, explains Novotny, usually have just two lines—fax and phone— and don't want the hassle or costs associated with T1 or ISDN lines. For now, Tree's goal is to help the shop owner un-plug his fax and to plug the line into machine tools on the shop floor.
But why not use the Internet? Tree Electrical Engineer Brandon Zemlo explains the reasons for going with a point-to-point connection: "Large amounts of high quality data transfer faster for less money through this type of connection. Once the modems negotiate a connect speed, it remains constant, as does the bandwidth. All this provides more effective throughput."
During simultaneous voice, data, video, and electronic document collaboration, a tremendous amount of information flows through a single standard phone line. "Relying on the packet method of the Internet and its routing means there is no guarantee that a user will get the throughput needed for all these simultaneous functions," says Zemlo. For example, he says, transferring a 14 to 15 Mbyte file from the U.K. to the U.S. using an ISDN line and connection to the Internet can take three to four hours. On Tree's direct modem/modem connection, the same size file makes the trip in little over an hour and at non-ISDN rates, comments Zemlo.
While Tree's IS presently connects endusers to the OEM, the company foresees it also connecting shop owners to machine tools.
According to Novotny, everything is in place, if the company chooses, to begin marketing the system as a host unit. With it, shop owners could remotely monitor and interact with their own machines. Zemlo believes that this type of interactive technology will raise customer expectations of machine tools as far as communications are concerned.
As easy as PCs in a network
Machine tool builders such as Mazak and Hurco let the customer choose the type of connection. Basically, both companies interconnect two separate PCs within one machine tool control. With such setups, endusers get the best of both worlds—fast and accurate motion control together with the openness and freedom of a PC to manipulate data and connect to the machine remotely.
Shops can link machines to remote locations using any of the same methods for interconnecting PCs within a network. For example, Mazak's Mazatrol Fusion 640 CNC 64-bit control connects to the rest of the world using any industry standard networking card together with Windows 95. After obtaining the cards at just about any computer store, users simply plug them into the machine motor drivers, and the machine is ready to join a network. Once in a network, machines become part of an integrated whole as opposed to being an isolated, individual system.
Fusion 640 CNC fuses the power of CNC with the communication capabilities of a PC. Its Windows 95 operating system provides bi-directional communication between the fused PC and CNC and other factory PCs. The control generates daily and weekly status reports for spindle load, spindle speeds, part counts, and machine status on a real-time basis. All of which is accessible from a remote PC. Using commercially available software, called PCAnywhere, shops can view and manipulate a machine tool's screens and data as if they were at the machine.
In Mazak's network, a single PC, usually the remote one, is designated as the host, while others in the network (machine tools in this case) are slaves. Shop-floor machines connect to the host, which then connects to other company departments such as programming, production control, maintenance, and the toolroom, linking them to the machine tool's data.
Hurco's Ultimax 4 dual-screen programming station also incorporates an optional second PC for connecting the company's machine tools to the out-side world. Files transfer across the two PCs, one for each side or screen, via ethernet. Hurco's first intention was to provide a second CAM station at the machine for toolmakers in the mold industry. With two screens, experienced toolmakers could program their toolpaths on the right-hand screen while running a program on the left-hand screen.
For remote access over the Internet, Hurco adds a communications card to the second PC, but the control is compatible with any type of remote connection, says Robert Albaugh, international marketing manager at Hurco. It's up to the company to decide the level of connection quality they need for access purposes.
For example, one shop owner with Ultimax 4 currently does remote work over the Internet with customers from either his plant or home. He receives CAD data and manipulates it, using Pro-E for instance, into a part file. After which, he either creates the tool-home. He receives CAD data and manipulates it, using Pro-E for instance, into a part file. After which, he either creates the tool-path himself and sends it to the machine, or he transfers just the part data and lets the operator create his own toolpath on the shop floor.
Doing it over the Internet
DMG Netservice is an immedi-Live! — from the manufacturing floor ate and direct Internet link to any of the Deckel Maho and Gildemeister machines produced during the past few years. With it, DMG technicians view, on their PC, the screen contents, error messages, programs, stored memories, input/output status, and log book information of an enduser's machine. This immediate and complete access to programs and machine diagnostics lets technicians back at DMG technology centers quickly identify errors and intervene to correct them, so the machine can resume operation.
"This level of support," says Allen Turk, president and CEO of DMG America, "is only possible with an open architecture and PC-based controls." That means the control must have a microprocessor chip as its basis along with a Windows-compatible system for the user interface. This compatibility, says Turk, makes remote access to program data and machine diagnostic functions, tracked by the PC/CNC-control, possible.
"Essentially, DMG is following the lead of Microsoft and Netscape by adapting Internet communication technology to machine tools," adds Turk. And he foresees a day when remote training of new machine operators and programmers may also be done over the Internet.
The Gildemeister Group plans to selectively establish partner-ships with customers in the U.S. and worldwide that will subscribe to Netservice support for a number of machines. Ultimately, the plan is to offer this level of service to even the smallest companies using Deckel Maho and Gildemeister machines.
Why the Internet? The main reasons, states Turk, are its low cost and wide-spread availability. The Internet brings remote service and support within the reach of small shops that are more likely
Perfecting a common connection
The control in a new machine tool is basically brain dead, and OEMs must program them. The most common way to do it remotely, as opposed to sending out a technician, is through what is called a serial connection. With this connection, OEMs can dial up a machine's control and not only do initial startups, but also change programs or functions to work differently. There is only one problem. Modems used in the serial connection don't always cooperate.
For the most part, a serial connection is one that goes from a PC to a modem, to the phone lines, to another modem, and to the machine's control. The remote modem calls the plant modem, which answers and makes a transparent link, explains Steven Hickox, manager of computer and communication technical support at Rockwell Automation in Ohio. The glitch is that the off-the-shelf modems OEMs purchase from local computer stores are not always the same, and configuring them for the controller-type situation can be tricky and time-consuming, if not impossible.
What Hickox and his team at the company's Tech Center have developed to remedy the problem—because they were the ones being swamped by calls from OEMs—is a remote access dial-in kit. These kits provide the enduser with preconfigured industrial modems and architecture configuration along with all required hardware and cables.
Each Remote Access Dial-in Kit also includes a CD ROM-based tutorial, which instructs, step-by-step, on hardware installation, modem initialization, and software configuration. The pre-tested modems are rugged with high-level security and can be remotely configured from a phone line as well as from a direct computer connection.
Live! — from the manufacturing floor
Perceptual Robotics Inc., Evanston, Ill., refers to its iCam system as telepresence—being there through the lens of a camera. Users, from the comfort of their PCs, can pan, zoom, and tilt a camera or cameras mounted at completely different locations. The system provides a live, interactive experience over the Internet that offers universal access without the installation of an additional infrastructure. From their offices, for instance, managers can literally see any of their company's operations, no matter where they are located, connecting from city to city or country to country.
In manufacturing, iCam is a popular tool for monitoring such things as assembly lines and machining processes. For example, a major car manufacturer mounts the camera on its assembly line so that engineers back in Japan can debug and better understand the whole process.
Another company, a supplier to the aerospace industry, has a camera on one of its special machine tools. The shop's aerospace customers then log on, watch, and check progress of their parts. This isn't meant to keep the supply company on its toes, says Paul Cooper, CEO of Perceptual Robotics. The iCam system is a tool for customers to help diagnose and detect possible problems early on in the manufacturing process. For this application, he says, the zoom function is especially useful.
What differentiates the system is that it is not a conferencing tool. "It's all about the power to look around a remote location," says Cooper.
People can come together at a common location, so to speak, and solve a problem.
Another advantage of iCam, he explains, is that pictures are digitized data, which can be stored in database archives to document conditions at a specific time. The system's software allows for picture sharing and playback at a later date. It also can assemble big, wide field-of-view panoramic images, such as the entire interior of a plant.