The path toward digitalization and the future

Upgrading a plant at every level

By Brian McMinn December 16, 2021
Courtesy: Siemens Industry Inc.

Big data, Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), edge technology and the cloud are terms people know. Whether someone is a machine tool builder, a job shop or contract manufacturer, they’re thinking about digitalization and the best way to get started (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Whether someone is a machine tool builder, a job shop or contract manufacturer, they’re thinking about digitalization and the best way to get started.

Figure 1: Whether someone is a machine tool builder, a job shop or contract manufacturer, they’re thinking about digitalization and the best way to get started. Courtesy: Siemens Industry Inc.

For the machine builder, it’s about managing big data from the machine, reducing time-to-market and using the newest technology to create smart machines. These are cognitive computing systems, meaning they can make decisions and solve problems without the help of a human.

This is where artificial intelligence (AI) enters the equation, as the machine learns from what it does. Machines must be ready to engage the Internet of Things (IoT) to be successful in the current market. Machine builders still sell on the features and benefits of their machines, but this isn’t the only way to distinguish them­selves from the competition.

Digital twin

The digital twin concept in machine development allows simulation of a machine tool not only in its design, but also in its physical performance, before the machine is even started physically (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The digital twin concept in machine development allows simulation of a machine tool not only in its design, but also in its physical performance, before the machine is even started physically.

Figure 2: The digital twin concept in machine development allows simulation of a machine tool not only in its design, but also in its physical performance, before the machine is even started physically. Courtesy: Siemens Industry Inc.

With the digital twin, every condition on the machine is simulated in real time with feedback to the design loop. That way, engineers don’t need to waste time on the shop floor or in a test center as they’ve done previously, with the “trial and error” method. The science has developed, so the build process must likewise.

Smart machines and digitalization

Computerized numeric control (CNC) machine users need their machines to be smart communicating with each other and the control center in their shop or in a large production facility. Think someone can’t imple­ment digitalization because they’re a small machine shop? Think again. Key performance indicators (KPIs) can be established and achieved sooner in terms of production, machine run time, maintenance and even energy use.

For CNC users, the digital twin enables a machine shop to be IoT-ready. The higher-end software permits real-time adjustment in-process, everything from cycle time to tool tip position or tool magazine loading for the next jobs, to facilitate faster startup and precision workflow.

This can be achieved with a competent digital team that is in tune with the current technology and how to implement it in a particular environ­ment. If needed, take time to find a system integrator in the area that can provide relevant technical and industry knowledge. This is vital to success. For example, the digital-native CNC, SINUMERIK ONE will open the next chapter in the machine tool world’s journey toward digi­talization (see Figure 3). It features power and software options to allow expansion as the job volume increases or the complexity of the work increases period.

Figure 3: The SINUMERIK ONE features power and software options to allow expansion as the job volume increases or the complexity of the work increases.

Figure 3: The SINUMERIK ONE features power and software options to allow expansion as the job volume increases or the complexity of the work increases. Courtesy: Siemens Industry Inc.

Virtually, it offers the machine builder and end user total flexibility to move from the CAD to the CAM to the CNC machining steps, then onto the virtual shopfloor and into a virtual pro­duction before the first cut is made on the machine.

Cybersecurity

As ransomware attacks have become common in the industrial environment, the issue of cyber­security has taken on new importance. Prevent­ing an attack means taking into consideration several issues.

One is the integrity of the network. The other is the effect of the wireless network in the plant and externally. The third, and most important, is how effective the defense is. For example, in a football game, one wrong move from a player can adversely impact the game plan.

There must be several layers of specific security so that setup, operation and programming, maintenance and plant operations/control personnel have different defined levels of access to machines and data. This is often a time consuming, but very worthwhile endeavor.

Looking toward the future, digitalization is at essential­ly every level of a factory. This includes robotic handling and the transfer of materials to the next machine. The “factory of the future” won’t be without people, however. Rather, personnel will take on higher level tasks that don’t involve machining. Cobots and CNC will work with a human or directly with the machine intelligently.

Digitalization is here to stay, so get started today.


Brian McMinn
Author Bio: Brian McMinn is the head of the Machine Tool Business at Siemens Industry Inc. He is an electrical engineer with 25 years in the motion control and drives business. He has a passion for the emerging technologies in machine automation and control.