Manufacturer turns to the cloud

Author Cutting Tool Engineering
July 25, 2022 - 02:30pm

Tech Manufacturing Co. already was running CNC machine tools 24/7 when the aerospace parts manufacturer sought Brea, California-based Moxa Americas Inc.’s help to raise production capacity, reduce lead times for clients’ largest and most urgent orders and expand the useful service life of existing machines. The Wright City, Missouri, company machines parts made of aluminum, titanium, Inconel, stainless steel and beryllium copper with tolerances as tight as 1.27 µm (0.00005") for helicopters, as well as military, remotely piloted and commercial aircraft. Customers include Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Bombardier Inc., Embraer SA and Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.

“We needed a better understanding of how our machines were actually performing for us in real time,” said Jerry Halley, chief engineer at Tech Manufacturing, which has about 70 employees. “Live and historical machine performance data would also help us identify technical or process issues that were detrimental to productivity.”

Chief Engineer Jerry Halley gathers information from Tech Manufacturing’s CNC monitoring system.
Chief Engineer Jerry Halley gathers information from Tech Manufacturing’s CNC monitoring system. Image courtesy of Moxa Americas

Purchasing additional machines would have increased production capacity, but he said the company wanted a “smarter,” more efficient approach that didn’t require a large capital investment. Tech Manufacturing determined that a CNC monitoring system was the smarter way, which would enable the company to collect, analyze and visualize necessary performance metrics.

Before taking the next step, however, Halley said he carefully weighed the productivity gains of a system against the cost and effort of deployment, especially if it involved a new, unfamiliar server-based information technology infrastructure. The ideal system would be deployed easily without specialized IT equipment, knowledge or effort, and the system would not require repeated software installation, updates or configuration.

To assist with integration of a cloud-based CNC monitoring system, Tech Manufacturing turned to Shop Floor Automations Inc. in La Mesa, California. Each of Tech Manufacturing’s CNC machines was connected to the existing local area network to avoid adding IT infrastructure.

For legacy machines that did not have an Ethernet port, Shop Floor Automations provided an easy-to-deploy solution based on Moxa NPort W2150A and W2250A wireless device servers, which permit communications software to access serial and Ethernet devices over a wireless LAN. Being wireless, the device servers, which can be moved from place to place, required far fewer cables and let users roam among several access points.

“Getting our CNC machines connected and monitored has made it much easier for us to deliver on our clients’ build-to-print orders with maximum efficiency and minimum lead time,” Halley said. “It is a lot easier to get connected than a lot of people may realize.”

With the local network connected to the internet, CNC machine performance at Tech Manufacturing can be viewed and analyzed by cloud-based CNC monitoring and overall equipment effectiveness software. Key performance metrics are organized on a visual dashboard so machine shop owners and operators can see, down to the machine level, exactly how productive each cell is.

With a cloud-based monitoring system, Tech Manufacturing was able to minimize its upfront cost and deployment effort, according to Shop Floor Automations.

Tech Manufacturing reports that the live dashboard has made it easy to identify critical productivity issues. For example, one immediate finding was that setup times on certain machines were unnecessarily long, leading to hours of lost productivity each day. By rearranging the setup sequence and on/off times, Halley said the company quickly achieved significant productivity gains with those machines.

He said having comprehensive machine performance data also enables better service from machine tool builders. Service calls now are backed by an expansive set of historical data, enhancing identification and troubleshooting of potential hardware issues.

“Manufacturers have become more willing and able to provide support when we need it because we have the data to show abnormal operation,” Halley said. 

Related Glossary Terms

  • computer numerical control ( CNC)

    computer numerical control ( CNC)

    Microprocessor-based controller dedicated to a machine tool that permits the creation or modification of parts. Programmed numerical control activates the machine’s servos and spindle drives and controls the various machining operations. See DNC, direct numerical control; NC, numerical control.