Latest Developments in CNC Technology and What the Future May Hold
CNC software has come a long way since the simple punch tape numerical controls used by the early machines of the 1950s. To provide a little context for the recent advances we discuss in this post, we feel a little history is necessary! The various punch tape methods mentioned previously evolved into several different codes used by the different manufacturers. These codes were eventually replaced by the universal programming language that we know as G-code. Along with this shift in control “languages,” tape readers, and other controllers were replaced by fully digital computers.
As time went by, the development of new software systems slowed for the latter part of the 20th century but has seen resurgence since the early 2000s. While G-code still lies at the heart of CNC machining, changes in industry leaders and the advances in machine center technologies in more recent decades have led to proprietary programming methods used by competing machine manufacturers. Regardless of who is using what, several new concepts and software programs have emerged in recent years. In this context, three topics that we feel worth discussing are as follows:
Simulation, Verification, and Optimization Software
One innovation saves companies time and money by reducing scrap and eliminating damage to their machining centers, is simulation, verification, and optimization software. Numerous companies have sprung up to supply these software packages, some with unique and innovative features, but in general, they all offer some common basic abilities.
These software packages allow a manufacturer to simulate the machining of a new part, verify tool paths to eliminate collisions and crashing and optimize production. Furthermore, they allow the detection of discrepancies through measurement and analysis, to eliminate any surprises. While this can be a tedious endeavor that adds additional work on the front end of the process, it results in increased capacity with flawless results, and even more advanced parts.
CGTech’s Vericut Program
One example is the cutting-edge, yet-to-be-released update to CGTech’s Vericut program. Heavily used in the demanding aerospace industry, it has the ability to simulate all types of CNC machines, including multi-axis milling and drilling, water jet cutting, and more. The software runs as a standalone program, but easily integrates with every leading manufacturer’s CAM software.
Using Software as the Sensor
Advances in machining center control software have been substantial, but smarter software always required smarter hardware. For effective implementation of condition monitoring and adaptive control, additional sensing hardware and probes had to be installed on tools, workpieces, and the machining center itself.
Omative Systems and Recent Developments
A more recent development by Omative Systems relies purely on the software to monitor the cutting conditions, and automatically make adjustments to maintain an acceptable product. The machine spindle is generating digital signals regardless of what sensors may be installed, and this new software can read and analyze those signals. The especially interesting part is that the software essentially learns the cutting conditions on its own, without any setup or input from the operator.
The software will then adjust feeds, speeds, motor, and drive to correct or compensate for any number of conditions. The system is also able to reduce or eliminate, damage to a machine by continuously monitoring vibration acceleration, velocity, and displacement, and comparing those parameters to a baseline. Should any parameter present a significant deviation, the system will stop the machine and trigger a maintenance alert.
Machine Monitoring and Connectivity
It was only a matter of time before big data, and the Internet of Things(IoT) reached machining and manufacturing in general. As part of the “Industry 4.0” initiative, companies are adding new levels of control, automation, and data collection over their machines and processes. The end goal of this initiative, which is often referred to as the “smart factory,” is better communication between machines, and between humans and machines, by leveraging wireless technologies, machine learning algorithms, and other technological advances.
The ever-increasing amount of data available to companies, coupled with improved abilities to analyze and interpret that data, can offer new insights into their machining processes, and overall business practices, that were previously unthought of.
Identifying Trends and Performing RCA
Manufacturers can now identify anything from trends and outliers in a single machine’s performance, to the root cause analysis of a bottleneck in a particular process, or even better understand the needs of their customers. Numerous companies are developing products to support the Industry 4.0 drive. Heidenhain’s StateMonitor is one such offering that focuses more on the performance of individual machines, and connectivity between machines. Users will have the ability to know the status of every machine in their shop, and the status of a process involving multiple machines, from wherever they may be. Data can be easily visualized and evaluated from a desktop computer, tablet, or even the smartphone in the palm of your hand!
In closing, technological advances, especially those driven by the Industry 4.0 movement will continue to force CNC machining to grow and evolve. We will see smarter, more connected machines. These machines will learn on their own, gradually requiring less and less interaction with, and dependency on, their human operators.
Manufacturing businesses will have greater insight into their machines and processes, allowing more deliberate and effective maintenance, decreased waste of time, materials, and other resources, and higher quality, more complex parts. Programmers and operators will no longer experience trial and error with actual parts and machines, but instead, will perform these processes virtually in increasingly powerful software. In short, CNC machining is here to stay, but we will see a progressively sleeker, smarter, and faster version of it!