May 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 5|
By William Leventon
| More shops and builders are remotely monitoring machine tools.
When machine operators are properly trained and shops are properly equipped, remote monitoring of machine tools can be done from a shop’s control room, from the shop manager’s hotel room thousands of miles away or from a remote facility staffed by the machine tool builder.
The latest monitoring technologies allow a variety of machine parameters and conditions to be checked remotely. These technologies gather new types of information and give users new options for accessing critical manufacturing data. They also streamline the monitoring process and help boost productivity and lower operating costs.Common Monitoring Data
Monitoring systems are commonly used to determine if a machine is on, ready to be used, in use or in an alarm state. Beyond these basics, systems can also generate information about machine operation, capacity and utilization.
With machine operation, for example, remote monitoring can determine the spindle’s load and whether it’s experiencing heat or power spikes that might indicate problems, according to Rob Nash, regional sales manager for EMAG LLC USA, Farmington Hills, Mich., which sells machine tools and monitoring services.
The systems also can tell users where machine capacity is available, as well as where it’s bottlenecked, noted Brian Sides, director of technology for machine builder Okuma America Corp., Charlotte, N.C.
As far as utilization goes, “You need to know if you’re over- or under-utilizing a machine so you can correct that situation,” said Jim Brown, control software development manager for machine builder Makino Inc., Mason, Ohio.
According to Brown, whose company also sells MPmax machine process-monitoring and data-management software, users of remote monitoring systems want to see the status of the equipment being monitored at a glance. Particularly useful in this regard, he said, is a summary page showing information such as whether the machine is in alarm or in cycle, cutting conditions and what programs are being run.
Courtesy of Okuma America
Other helpful graphics display the machine’s alarm history. Makino’s monitoring software shows alarm history in two charts: the top 10 alarms by frequency of occurrence and the 10 alarms that caused the most production downtime. “With this information, the maintenance staff knows which alarm conditions need to be addressed first,” Brown said.
Alarm data from remote monitoring systems can tell a shop’s maintenance supervisor if a machine needs immediate repair. In addition, it can help the supervisor spot trends that indicate action must be taken soon. For example, a recurring motor overheat alarm indicates the motor might be going bad, said Okuma’s Sides, whose firm offers monitoring products called MacMan-Net and Constant CARE. “An operator may just clear the alarm and keep running the machine. But a maintenance supervisor who’s seen that alarm several times in a week might decide he needs to order a new motor.”Builder Monitoring
As noted earlier, remote monitoring is sometimes performed by the machine’s builder. When it comes to monitoring, shop personnel might be more concerned about process issues, such as the amount of time the machine is in cycle, but the builder might be more focused on machine health issues, such as failure type and frequency, according to Pete Tecos, executive vice president of global business development for MAG IAS LLC. The Erlanger, Ky., machine builder also sells monitoring software. Machine health information could help the builder improve machine design, Tecos noted.
Builders can also use remote monitoring data to diagnose and fix problems. Some builders offer customers the option of subscribing to a continuous remote monitoring service. One is DMG/Mori Seiki USA Inc., Hoffman Estates, Ill., which offers such a service in Japan and to a limited extent in the U.S. When a machine alarm goes off, it triggers messages to the builder’s service center and the machine’s owner. If the owner’s personnel are unable to fix the problem, they can grant access to the builder’s service engineers, who remotely log in to the machine and change parameters to resolve the alarm issue, explained Surya Kommareddy, software manager for DMG/Mori Seiki USA.
Software and programming problems can often be fixed remotely, according to Tecos. While hardware-related problems require the physical presence of service technicians, remote monitoring can improve maintenance efficiency in these cases.
Courtesy of Makino
“With a clear view of what’s happening with the control, you can send your maintenance team out with the proper hardware in hand, rather than sending someone out to diagnose the problem and then waiting until the hardware comes in,” Tecos said. “In many cases, we can shave a day off the service call because our people are going out with the right materials.”
According to Nash, an EMAG case history shows how effective remote diagnosis by builders can be. A customer struggled for a week to diagnose a fan-motor problem that had cut production almost in half. The customer finally contacted EMAG’s service department, which connected remotely to the machine. Within 5 minutes, the service department diagnosed the problem, then dispatched a properly equipped technician to fix it. Upon arrival, the technician had the machine running at 100 percent capacity in less than 30 minutes.Seeing in the Dark
Among other things, remote monitoring is a key enabler of lights-out machining. With access to a remote monitoring system, for example, “a service guy who went home at 5 p.m can get an e-mail or text that a machine went down at 8 p.m.,” said Okuma’s Sides.
Makino’s remote monitoring package can inform users by e-mail or text about alarms and other events that take place during unattended machining. “If a part finishes in the middle of the night, the software can notify you so you can come in and change the part out,” Brown noted.
Remote monitoring by machine builders also can facilitate lights-out machining. “If there’s a software glitch or a switch is malfunctioning at 10 p.m., we can override the switch or fix the software problem right there at our desk,” said EMAG’s Nash.
EMAG customers with home or off-site access to the same information also can participate in the process of correcting lights-out production problems. “It’s all about them being able to walk into the shop the next day and have a pile of good parts rather than a pile of parts they have to gage,” Nash said.One Shop, Multiple Brands
For most shops, the task of remote monitoring is complicated because they use machine tools from more than one manufacturer. “It’s not often that you’ll walk into a small or medium-size shop and see a homogeneous machine or control environment,” said MAG’s Tecos. “Typically, they’ll have many different brands of machines and many different types of controls. To get an accurate picture of what’s happening on the shop floor, a remote monitoring system has to be able to report on all of those assets, not just a small subset.”
Several products enable remote monitoring of machines from different builders. One is MAG’s Freedom eLog, part of its Freedom eWARE software suite. With Freedom eLog, which is sold as a stand-alone product as well as with other Freedom eWARE modules, “it doesn’t matter who built the machine or what type of control it is,” Tecos noted. The software can extract data from any manufacturing asset so users can see how much time their machines are actually spending in process, in cycle, in repair and in several other time categories defined by global standards.
Courtesy of DMG/Mori Seiki USA
For MAG and other companies developing such products, MTConnect, an initiative spearheaded by AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology, has made it easier. MTConnect’s goal is to create a common language for machine tool data, Sides explained. In an MTConnect world, “vendors selling remote monitoring software packages don’t need to contact each machine manufacturer to get their software drivers,” he said. “It’s the same across the board.”
Sides and others report MTConnect is starting to gain traction. “It’s becoming the standard for how manufacturing equipment will communicate,” said Joel Neidig, a systems engineer for ITAMCO, Plymouth, Ind., a job shop.
ITAMCO is putting “MTConnect compatible” on purchase orders for new machine tools, noted Neidig, who is also a member of AMT’s MTConnect Technical Advisory Group. At present, only a small percentage of ITAMCO’s machine tools are compatible with the MTConnect standard, but the company’s goal is for all of them to be made compatible to facilitate monitoring. To bring older “legacy” equipment into the MTConnect world, Neidig explained, an intermediate communication layer consisting of adapters and other elements must be retrofitted into the equipment—a task addressed in the MTConnect standard. Third-party integrators are helping make legacy equipment MTConnect-compatible.New Uses, New Data
In addition to keeping tabs on machine and process health, many companies use remote monitoring data for business management. For example, “there’s great interest in getting maximum utilization out of an investment,” Makino’s Brown said. So, if process data indicates a line is underutilized, the user may want to move manufacturing of certain parts from an overutilized line to the underutilized line, he noted.
Courtesy of MAG IAS
Along those lines, Neidig noted that ITAMCO is working with its software supplier on integrating its monitoring system with the company’s enterprise resource planning system. This will allow ITAMCO personnel to use monitoring data to help them make business decisions—such as whether it’s necessary to add more resources to get a job done on time—and then see if those decisions have the intended effect.
Besides using monitoring information in new ways, ITAMCO is interested in getting new types of information from its monitoring system. For example, its monitoring software allows the shop to examine machine power consumption.
At MAG, Tecos is seeing more interest among customers in monitoring and minimizing their machines’ energy consumption. This is good news for MAG, which has included an energy module in its Freedom eWARE software suite. Freedom eWARE is modular and scalable, so customers who start out with Freedom eLog to help streamline their processes can add the eWARE’s energy module later to help them manage their equipment’s energy use.Helpful Hardware
Software isn’t the only tool providing shops with more remote monitoring data. ITAMCO, for instance, has installed cameras on some of its machines, allowing Neidig to review a video of what was happening inside the machine if a crash occurred, which may be helpful in determining the cause.
Camera use is a growing trend among machine shops, according to Kommareddy, whose company offers a visual monitoring option.
A couple of years ago, DMG/Mori Seiki developed a technology that uses a camera for setup-error detection. With their high resolution, today’s cameras also can be used for workpiece edge detection and to spot tool breakage and wear, Kommareddy noted, but these technologies aren’t quite ready for commercialization. Challenges include dealing with camera-unfriendly occurrences inside the work envelope, such as coolant and vapor getting on the lens and obscuring areas of interest.Machines Get ‘Social’
Technology is also advancing at the user end of remote monitoring networks. ITAMCO has developed an iPhone app that allows connection to any of its MTConnect-compatible machine tools, according to Neidig.
The machine data displayed on the iPhone’s screen includes power status, controller mode, whether the machine is active or ready, the program being run, feed rate, spindle speed, axes’ positions, alarm status and the last alarm message. Despite its impressive capabilities, Neidig describes his company’s software as a “basic” app, adding that higher-end MTConnect apps are available.
At MAG, meanwhile, a new version of Freedom eLog is scaled down to the size of a smartphone display and shows critical manufacturing metrics.
The eMobile offering is MAG’s response to the increasing use of mobile devices to access manufacturing data. “You don’t have to be sitting in front of a PC anymore,” Tecos said. “Using your smartphone or iPad, you can quickly log in to your system and see what’s going on.” CTEAbout the Author: William Leventon is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. He has a M.S. in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.S. in engineering from Temple University. Contact him at (609) 926-6447 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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