Interview: CNC Machines Join the Smart Factory

August 16, 2018 Ken Strandberg

While they may seem like an old story, CNC machines are definitely hot again.But the increasing numbers and types of systems on a factory floor introduce big challenges.

I recently spoke with Don Yu, Product Manager at IEI Integration Corp., about how CNC machines can become part of today's smart factory.

insight.tech: Tell me about what is happening in Smart Manufacturing, and specifically the CNC market that has created the demand for a solution like yours.

Don Yu: We see a lot of technological advancements—in the auto industry, for example—that require next-generation machined products. Also, with the manufacturing of more and more consumer products, there's an increasing need for more precision manufacturing for casings and many small component parts.

I bet you are using an iPhone. So, the iPhone casing is not allowed to have any mistakes during production. Once you have any errors, you have to throw out the material casing, then you have to produce it again. The position of the CNC machine is very important for the factory site.

i.t: So some of these parts were injection molded in the past? And now they’re actually being milled on a CNC machine, correct?

DY: Yes. One reason, as I said, is for high-precision manufacturing. Another is that CNC machines are getting cheaper and cheaper compared to three or five years ago. I think that the use of CNC machines will be increasing for the global market compared to molding systems.

So this is changing the product landscape. There are hundreds of CNC machine providers worldwide. Data is the core of the smart machine. The main thing we help our customers do is collect the different kinds of CNC machine data, which can then start to be analyzed and utilized for efficiency, production quality, and more.

i.t: It’s the volume of CNC installations and the burden that it puts upon the operations department to maintain and manage them that helps drive the need for your product. Is that the way this works?

DY: Right. Different CNC providers use different kinds of industrial protocols. They can't interact with one another or other factory systems. So how to make those protocols communicate with one another is the first step.

Actually, one of the features of our CNC solution is to solve for the different kinds of protocols to collect machine data. Then we can translate the different kinds of industrial protocols for the raw data into our Machine Data Analysis (MDA) Server.

i.t: That makes sense. It sounds like that what’s really critical in your solution is that you have solved the problem of translating the protocols from all these different kinds of manufacturers into a common language that can be used for managing, maintaining, and processing data from these machines, right?

DY: Yes, that’s right.

i.t: What happens to the data once you get it into your system?

DY: Once we collect data from CNC machines, we preload with the factory Manufacturing Execution System (MES). The data can then be used for management of all the CNC machines, for production efficiency. Also, you can manage and schedule the CNC machines.

i.t: So it’s a complete end-to-end solution from capturing the machine data, the management interfaces, and managing the machine and whatever data that’s coming off it.

DY: Right. So, from data collection, to the industrial protocol translation, and then transferring the data. The data can be uploaded and enable system reports.

i.t: What are a couple of scenarios that your equipment is used in?

DY: One company in Nanjing, Japan that manufactures car components—they are using more than 100 CNC machines. They have very old machines that were purchased maybe 10 years ago. And they also have new ones, that they acquired 3 to 5 years ago.

In this case, we help them to solve the protocol conversion issue and the collection of all the data from all of the CNC machines' data. In this case, we improved the production capability and efficiency due to the increase in the machine utilization.

We also reduced machine maintenance costs and downtime and increased troubleshooting efficiency. This enabled better worker efficiency and reduced operator errors. Sometimes human error has the biggest impact on overall production.

The third part is based on our software. They can now provide very useful visual data and reports. It's easier for the customer to see their CNC machines' status.

i.t: Okay. If your solution weren't available, what kind of challenges would the customer face? What are they dealing with in things like downtime and utilization?

DY: Most CNC operations need people to stand in front of them to control and monitor the machines. But this is time-consuming and requires too many people in the field.

By adopting our solution, they can reduce manpower in the field. Now an operator can manage all the CNC machines from one screen. It’s easier if something happens or if some production is stopped by an individual machine. They can directly dispatch technicians to fix the problem.

For the production efficiency, according to our customer’s feedback, it will be improved around 25 to 30 percent compared to before.

i.t: So what is special about the relationship IEI has with Intel®?

DY: IEI was founded in 1997 and so we’ve had over a 20-year relationship with Intel. From the very beginning, most of our solutions have been based on Intel technology. Now we are a member of the IoT Solutions Alliance.

i.t: What kind of innovation has Intel brought to help you get your job done?

DY: Intel adopts more and more new technology inside of their chips. For example, in this case, if Intel didn't support virtual technology, we would not be able to provide these solutions to our customers, because our system is actually based on the virtual machine. Of course, the virtual machine requires higher CPU performance. This is also the strong part of Intel right now.

About the Author

Ken Strandberg

Ken Strandberg is a technical story teller, creative writer, and amateur filmmaker. He writes articles, white papers, seminars, case studies, web-based training, video and animation scripts, technical and non-technical marketing literature, and interactive collateral for emerging technology companies, Fortune 100 enterprises, multi-national corporations, startup businesses, and non-profits. His work has appeared on a wide range of websites from large enterprises to a carpet cleaning service, in leading trade publications, and on blogs. Mr. Strandberg’s technology areas include Software, HPC, Industrial Technologies, Design Automation, Networking, Medical Technologies, Semiconductor, and Networking and Telecom. For the last ten years, he and his wife roamed North America, traveling in and working out of a van (vanlife.us), until recently settling in Oregon, USA.

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