Smarten Up

March 31, 2016   Articles, Blog

April 2016, Machine Metrics | Quality, Kip Hanson

When I started on the shop foor, machine tools were dumb. Communication levels weren’t determined by protocols or baud rates but by which machinist could yell the loudest. NC programs were loaded from paper tape, tool offsets made with a hammer, and part quality results recorded on handwritten forms.

What a change a few decades make. Today’s technology allows shops to monitor virtually every aspect of production, from what tools were changed yesterday to how many minutes the spindles sat idle last week to what jobs are running on which machines right now. So much has changed, in fact, that some say the next industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, is upon us.

Getting everyone on the same page

One proponent of this revolution is David McPhail, president of industrial communications platform provider Memex Inc., in Burlington, ON, who counts Mazak Corp. among key global customers for the company’s flagship product, Merlin. McPhail points to data driven manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) as two examples of the technology companies can leverage to improve productivity and part quality, if only they have the will to overcome fear of the unknown.

“Change of any kind is hard, especially when people don’t understand the technology behind it,” he says. “But when someone thinks to themselves, ‘if I don’t do anything, then there’s no risk,’ it brings about the worst kind of paralysis. Manufacturing companies must learn to embrace technology if they are to gain a competitive advantage.”

Those advantages are numerous. Lights out production, shorter lead times, improved tool life—the list goes on. One often-overlooked benefit of integrated machine communication is better part quality, says McPhail.

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