Connectivity the Key to Unlocking Creativity

Editorial in MetalForming Magazine

By: Brad Kuvin

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


Intra-machine connectivity—where pieces of manufacturing equipment communicate amongst each other and can adjust, without human assistance, to changing conditions —has become reality. Case in point: Mazak, which has brought the Internet of Things to its factory in Florence, KY, and is ready to share its good fortunes with the manufacturing community it serves.

We caught a look at Mazak’s “smart factory” loaded with “smart machines” during its recent Discover 2015 technology/education event. There, through its partnerships with industry suppliers Memex (Merlin software) and Cisco (a secure networking platform), Mazak introduced its new SmartBox device. When mounted to a machine tool, the device uses the MTConnect communication protocol to enable enhanced monitoring and analytics, with state-of-the-art cybersecurity. For analytics, SmartBox, because it is a completely open standard, works in conjunction with numerous third-party analytical software platforms. Within its own manufacturing operations, Mazak opts for the Memex solution.

This concept elevates lean manufacturing to a whole new level. Mazak demonstrated the new digital-manufacturing strategy, dubbed the iSmart factory, on an automated four-machine cell. iSmart provides plant management with real-time visibility and insights into factory-floor operations. And, third-party personnel (your equipment supplier, for example) can securely log on to your network and access the data, too.
The impact of such grandiose connectivity and information flow reaches as far as the imagination can take it. Within the Mazak facility in Florence, plant management boasts of double-digit increases in machine utilization after using SmartBox devices for a little more than a year. That’s the low-hanging fruit, we’re told; continued significant operating efficiencies remain in play.

Lean machines are coming, and they can’t get here too quickly. I recently heard consultant Dick Kallage (KDC & Associates, Barrington, IL) spring this zinger on metalforming executives: The number of people required to operate a $10 million metal-fabricating shop will drop by 20 to 25 percent by 2020, and by 65 to 75 percent by 2025.

Yes, the “horsepower race” will continue, with equipment suppliers providing more power, workpiece capacity and operating speed than ever before. However, pay very close attention to intra-machine communication that promotes efficiency throughout the manufacturing process. This is where metalformers can make enormous progress in their efforts to eliminate waste.

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Mazak Raises the Bar in Manufacturing Technology at DISCOVER Event

By: MoldMaking Technology – November 19, 2015

Mazak Corporation asserted its leadership in manufacturing technology at its recent DISCOVER 2015 event where attendees flocked to see the company’s new SmartBox technology along with over 30 of the industry’s most advanced machine tools. The technology and education event held Oct. 27-29 and Nov. 3-5 at the company’s North American Manufacturing Headquarters in Florence, Ky., welcomed attendees from manufacturing companies across North America.

Mazak’s SmartBox is described as the industry’s first – “launch platform for easy and highly secure entrance into the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).” With MTConnect technology at its foundation, the open-protocol SmartBox facilitates connectivity of machines and devices, while allowing for enhanced monitoring and analytical capabilities. SmartBox also introduces advanced cyber security protection resulting from a key partnership between Mazak and Cisco Systems Inc. for the development of the SmartBox.

On the analytics side, the SmartBox – because it is a completely open standard – works in conjunction with all the popular third-party analytical software platforms. Within its own manufacturing operations, Mazak’s platform is Merlin from MEMEX Inc., but the company welcomes customers to use their individually preferred software packages such as those of System Insights Inc., TechSolve Inc., Forcam Inc. or 5ME, LLC.

Such openness gives the SmartBox adaptability and flexibility in terms of a user’s application, existing facility software and operational needs. The strategy of non-exclusivity with any one software platform allows users the freedom to choose any software based on performance levels and capabilities and select the package that best fits their needs and fulfills their particular analytical expectations.

“The SmartBox technology represents a huge leap in digital integration across manufacturing, and the access to real-time manufacturing data it provides is critical for the improvement of overall productivity efficiency and a manufacturer’s responsiveness to customer and market changes,” said Brian Papke, president of Mazak Corporation.

During DISCOVER 2015, Mazak showcased the power of SmartBox in one of the automated cells that are part of the company’s own manufacturing operations. This offered attendees a firsthand look at the device in action within an actual manufacturing environment and facility network.

Download the white paper to learn more about the Mazak SmartBox, and visit Cisco’s blog to learn more about the partnership.

To see the full article, please click here.

Why Machine Monitoring Matters

By: Tim Heston, The Fabricator – November 4, 2015

When Dave Edstrom speaks at manufacturing events, he likes to challenge his audience. He asks if anyone’s company is practicing lean manufacturing or other improvement techniques. A lot of hands go up. Next he asks how many are monitoring the uptime and performance of their equipment with overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) metrics.

“I then ask, ‘If you are doing either lean or OEE, please raise your right hand and keep it up.’ Then I say the following, ‘Please also raise your left hand if you are monitoring your shop floor. By shop floor monitoring, I do not mean simply counting good and bad parts, nor do I mean simply knowing what color is on the stack light. By shop floor monitoring, I mean the ability to know anywhere and anytime exactly what a given piece of equipment is doing in your plant or shop.’”

Not many raise their hand. He then makes a bold statement. “Unless you have both hands in the air, you might think you are doing lean or OEE, but you are not.”

Edstrom told this story in his book MTConnect: To Measure Is to Know. His point is simple, and it’s nothing new to manufacturing: If you don’t measure something, how can you improve it?

Years ago if a manager at a custom fabricator asked a press brake supervisor about how long the average job changeover took, quite often he got a generic response. “Oh, about 15 minutes.” When that manager performed time studies, he might have found that 15 minutes was a gross underestimate.

But wouldn’t it be great if that information and more—including OEE data and other performance metrics—were a click away for all machines, no matter their brand or their age?

The State of Data

Edstrom was chairman of the MTConnect Institute ( from 2010 until January 2014. His mission (and the institute’s mission) basically has been to allow people to see what’s really going on with their equipment. MTConnect isn’t software but instead an open-source, royalty-free standard that, using Internet-based protocols, helps connect the information in machine tools to the outside world.

The roots of MTConnect go back to 2006 when Edstrom, then chief technologist of the global system engineering business line at Sun Microsystems, walked the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago. He was slated to give a keynote address, and representatives from show producer AMT, the Association for Manufacturing Technology, asked Edstrom his opinion of manufacturing and the machine tool industry. “I said it looked like 1985. We need an open way for these systems to communicate easily with each other and, most importantly, with the outside world.”

From these conversations, Edstrom along with Dr. Dave Patterson from UC Berkeley began working on a standard. The idea was to go beyond basic interoperability and add definitions to make connections between systems easier. They built MTConnect using the same protocol as the web uses (HTTP) as well as XML.

“But the secret sauce,” Edstrom said, “is the data dictionary, and we got the machine tool vendors to agree on what that dictionary will mean.” With a basic interoperability standard, “You see the highway, but you don’t know what’s inside each car. With MTConnect, you know exactly what’s in each car.”

Dave Edstrom, past chairman of the MTConnect Institute, has asked, “How do you have the Internet of Things unless you have a common definition of what the data means?”

Edstrom added that having a common interface is critical to make the idea of the “Internet of Things” a practical reality. “How do you have the Internet of Things unless you have a common definition of what the data means?”

Today Edstrom is chief technology officer for MEMEX Inc., a company that produces interfaces that allow the machine to communicate via the MTConnect standard. In his book, Edstrom compares MTConnect with the Bluetooth® communication standard in consumer electronics. You don’t have Bluetooth “software,” but you can purchase devices that can connect via the Bluetooth standard.

MTConnect has gained more traction in the machining arena, probably because of the nature of the work with its long cycle times for milling and turning parts with critical tolerances. If a machine requires eight hours to mill a massive component, and that machine isn’t performing as it should be, managers want to know about it immediately, lest an entire shift be wasted machining one bad (and extremely expensive) part.

All the same, various types of shop floor monitoring are gaining traction in metal fabrication. Some vendors offer production control software that connects directly with certain machines. Others offer ways to connect to machine control interfaces to record machine availability and capture OEE data, which is communicated to the manufacturing execution system (MES) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Amid all this, MTConnect is just starting to gain a foothold in the sheet metal business. Earlier this year, for instance, Ingersoll Rand’s Commercial HVAC division (which includes Trane) started using the MTConnect standard in its Clarksville, Tenn., plant to monitor the OEE of its new Mazak laser. The HVAC division already tracked OEE of other sheet metal cutting machines using a system it developed in-house, so adding a system using the MTConnect standard seemed like a logical move.

“I work in Cincinnati, and if ever I want to see what’s going on [in Clarksville], I just log in and see the display,” said John McCaughey, advanced manufacturing engineer at Ingersoll Rand.

According to McCaughey, Ingersoll Rand soon plans to use machine control interfaces, produced by Memex, to track the performance of its older turret punch presses. The monitoring software will connect to those machines by using the MTConnect standard.

Monitoring in Metal Fabrication

Plant managers may not care about the intricacies of software development, but they do care about what the monitoring software can produce. With MTConnect, this depends on the problem at hand—that is, what a company wants to track.

Mark Mercurio, applications and technical support manager at Mazak Optonics Corp., Elgin, Ill., described several data points that can be tracked for laser cutting, including the starting of a machine cycle, when the machine is idle, its performance during the machine cycle, and whether an operator has performed any manual overrides on the control. Alarm signals, such as those that trigger action items like oil changes, also can be communicated.

Put together in the right way, the data points can produce a useful OEE score. For instance, consider a machine that’s running with very little downtime between sheets. Sheets are being loaded, parts are being offloaded, and beam-off time is mere minutes between jobs. All seems right with the world. Still, downstream operations are suffering; managers are shuffling the schedule because all the parts for certain subassemblies don’t arrive at the welding department in time.

Now consider the same cutting laser, this time with not only uptime monitored but performance as well. The monitored laser surprisingly has a low OEE score, even though downtime between jobs is minimal. Why? It turns out that the feed rate is lower than it should be.

The monitoring system also may involve some manual intervention. For instance, if an operator sees that a few parts from the nest need to be scrapped, he needs to enter that information into the monitoring system, which in turn lowers the machine performance score.

Any monitoring of this type doesn’t solve problems on its own, but it does allow managers to ask the right questions: Why is the feed rate down? Is it a machine problem, or is there an issue with operator training? “It could be something as simple as an operator not being able to find a piece of steel,” Mercurio said. “Or he may need to do a focus lens cleaning, and he can’t find the tools.”

About Asking Questions

A low performance score spurs people to ask questions. The machine may have been down because of unavailable material, or perhaps the nest wasn’t available from programming—so why was that material or nest program unavailable?

Consider the following hypothetical example. For several weeks an operator finds that he had to tweak the laser program, lowering the feed rate to ensure he could produce the required parts. Eventually the entire machine went down, thanks to a faulty part, and the shop had to wait six weeks for a replacement to arrive.

Thing is, the laser didn’t just crash out of the blue. The operator had known something was amiss for weeks. The problem occurred in part from lack of communication between the shop floor and management. The operator knew it was his job to maintain throughput, and he felt he was using his expertise to tweak the program parameters to “make it work.”

What if the laser communicated information directly to a monitoring system? This would have added some predictive elements to the maintenance situation. A low OEE score (from all the machine idle time, when the operator tweaked the cutting program) would have been posted, which in turn would have thrown up a red flag, a harbinger of big maintenance problems.

What if a machine is available to produce and yet is still idle simply because of the lack of orders? The OEE score still takes a hit. McCaughey explained that his operation has run into this issue, particularly during the slower winter months.

He added that in these cases, the company sends enough work to a limited number of cutting machines. This ensures these machines run at full capacity while still fulfilling kanban-triggered orders and delivering them on time to the next process, usually in the forming department. This raises the OEE score for these machines and lowers the scores for other machines that are now mostly idle. This also frees the other machines to produce should unexpected demand arise.

Monitoring the Press Brake

McCaughey recently toured Mazak’s production plant in Florence, Ky., and when walking through the fabrication area, he noticed press brakes being monitored via MTConnect. McCaughey added that Ingersoll Rand hopes to be tracking its press brakes soon in a similar way.

The press brake tracking resembles OEE tracking on lasers and machining centers, but with a few differences. The score produced isn’t the same OEE score used for other machines.

Considering the nature of the press brake bending operation, the monitoring system doesn’t compare the ram stroke speed (a brake’s “feed rate,” so to speak) to an “ideal” speed. Instead, it tracks the time the brake is stroking and, most important, when it isn’t stroking. If an operator does have a bending problem—be it because of the tooling, thickness variation in the material, or anything else—the time between those ram strokes can add up quickly.

Having a little time between bending strokes, of course, is a normal part of press brake operation. An operator needs a little time to fetch the next part, and he also needs time to check workpieces periodically.

To account for this, the monitoring system allows for a certain amount of idle time between strokes—say, 30 seconds—to give the operator the needed time to fetch blanks and check parts. If the operator strokes the machine again within 30 seconds, the monitoring system records it as a continuous operation. But if it takes longer than 30 seconds, the monitoring system counts it as idle time and incorporates it into the final machine performance score.

The machine performance score isn’t the only metric used, of course. Throughput is considered as well. Still, because the brake is monitored, people know exactly how much time elapsed between the last good part of the previous job and the start of the next job, all recorded as idle time by the monitoring system. And they know if an extensive amount of time elapses between brake strokes. If the uptime score is low enough, people again can start asking questions: Why did setup take so long? Were the tools or materials unavailable? Were there problems with the size or thickness of the part blanks? And again, improvement ensues.

The Argument for Machine Monitoring

Machine monitoring can reveal the tip of the iceberg of larger problems. Consider this hypothetical example. If a laser cutting machine has a low OEE score posted near it, the supervisor knows to start asking questions. He finds that excess machine idle time is driving down that OEE score. Why? It’s because material isn’t available. Why isn’t material available? The purchasing department chose another supplier. Why? The supplier had a good price, but (as it turns out) it lacked in reliable on-time delivery.

More questions are asked about purchasing, order processing, and engineering. Further analysis shows that it takes an extraordinarily long time to process a new job through the front office, and inefficiencies and inaccuracies pop up everywhere. Eventually an improvement team gets everyone on the same page and streamlines front-office operations dramatically, from weeks to a few days.

All this started with a supervisor noticing a low OEE score at the laser.

Standardization and Market Dynamics

In his book, MTConnect: To Measure Is to Know, Dave Edstrom recounts the story of William Sellers, a tool builder who back in the 1860s came up with a uniform system of screw threads. Sellers’ screw threads could be easily measured (the 60-degree threads are one-third of an equilateral triangle). The struggle wasn’t over the technical merits of the screw’s design, but whether there should be a standard at all.

Ultimately, a few large machine shops recognized the merits of Sellers’ design, and its popularity ultimately pushed industry to adopt one uniform standard.

As Edstrom wrote, “While the idea of standards was very controversial, it proved to be brilliant, because something as simple as a standard screw created many, many industries.”

As Edstrom said in an interview, “Customers [of machine tool vendors] ultimately will drive this. “They’ll say, ‘I need to know what’s happening on the shop floor, and I don’t want to spend a lot of money per device to get information off the machines in a standard format.’”

Edstrom added that an open standard like MTConnect introduces a kind of Bluetooth functionality to the machine tool world. If you don’t like your Bluetooth-enabled phone headset, you can just buy another one. Similarly, if a shop isn’t happy with its machine monitoring system, it’s free to switch to another MTConnect-enabled monitoring software.

To see the full article, please click here.

Manufacturing in the cloud: Part makers and IT get to business

By: James Anderton, – November 2, 2015

Machine connectivity with platforms like the Cloud allow manufacturers to collect large amounts of data in real time to isolate errors and improve machine performance. met with Chet Namboodri, global industry director at Cisco Systems at MAZAK Discover 2015 to talk about how Cisco’s collaboration with MAZAK Corporation and Memex Inc. will change the working dynamic between manufacturers and the software industry in automation.

See the video above and the Q&A below for highlights of the interview.

Jim Anderton (JA): Manufacturers have been a little reluctant to relinquish control of manufacturing processes to people from the software industry. I understand that the collaboration between MAZAK and Cisco changes that dynamic a little bit.

Chet Namboodri (CN): We’ve had a history of trying to enter into this space from the IT perspective. The differences in viewpoint between what we refer to as OT (Operations Technology) and IT has been a barricade to overcome for us.

Partnerships with companies like MAZAK enable that dialogue to occur because we have a common language that we are able to adopt together, based around a common problem we’re both trying to solve.

This is an opportunity to really level up all that control optimization that is taking place in the machines here at the MAZAK Discover 2015 event and level that into the system perspective.

So, by connecting a machine into a larger system, suddenly you’re able to optimize a much broader set of variables that are required for producing any type of parts within any type of environment.

Collaborations like what we’re having with MAZAK include a company called Memex Inc. We’re leveraging their software platform in order to provide for OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) level dashboards and information that we’re able to use for predictive analytics by focusing in on that problem.

With companies such as MAZAK, we’ve been able to drive that integration to not only technologies between the original OT and IP based technologies, but also organizationally and culturally – really coming together in terms of that language and the problems that we’re looking to solve.

We’ve really appreciated the opportunity that has arisen here with MAZAK and Memex and we’re happy to be part of the show.

JA: Closed loop controllers take the thinking out of the process as they’ve made it possible for less experienced operators to still get great results.

In terms of the information sharing of multiple machines and the flow of information in the central system, can a machine shop with 30 to 40 machines dedicate one human being just to analyze this data, or is that something the software can handle?

CN: Yes, more and more software can handle data analyses. The advantage that we have with the architecture with Cisco combined with the IT perspective is that we’re taking computing power all along that stream.

We’re able to take the computing power that’s local and do some analytics in conjunction with the information that we have from other machines, from the ERP, the suppliers and the ecosystem and then use that with local analytics that’s then done in conjunction with Cloud-based analytics.

We refer to that as Fog computing, like a lower level Cloud. There’s a lot of software out there that’s able to take advantage of the computing power locally and do it in conjunction with a Cloud-based system.

For more information, visit

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Connected machines: Mazak’s SmartBox shows intelligent connection

Todays Medical Development – November 2, 2015

During Discover2015 – a Mazak Technology & Education Event, which ran 10/27-29 and will continue Nov. 3-5, 2015 – Mazak Corp. has been showcasing its SmartBox – technology developed in collaboration with Cisco, a supplier of IT connectivity solutions, and Memex Inc., a provider of machine-to-machine communication solutions. Designed to ease the connection of machine tools to a web-enabled, plant-wide network, the SmartBox works to connect to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) from the factory floor.

As described by Bryce Barnes, senior manager responsible for Cisco’s Machine and Robot Segment globally under Cisco’s Internet of Things Manufacturing Solutions Group, this SmartBox technology will enable real-time manufacturing data and analytics from Mazak machines to improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) for Mazak’s manufacturing customers.

A component within Mazak’s iSMART Factory concept, SmartBox uses the Cisco Connected Machines solution to provide insights into machine operations. Using a fog-computing model, manufacturing data is gathered via the MTConnect protocol. MT Connect software agents run directly on the Cisco Industrial Ethernet (IE) 4000 switch – providing real-time visibility and insights into data right on the factory floor. Network level security can also be embedded to help prevent any issues with unauthorized access to or from the machines and equipment within a network

This seems to be the starting point with how companies are working together to capture the value of the data that used to be held captive in a machine.

Read the Cisco white paper that explains more on making machine more connected and intelligent. 

As noted during Discover2015, the SmartBox achieves:

  • A digitally integrated platform to improve manufacturing efficiency – machine utilization and associated downtime
  • Track machine utilization using OEE as a standard measure
  • Produce machine, operator, and plant productivity analytics and KPI reports for actions by management/production teams
  • Establish a secure, plant-wide network to connect new and legacy machine and other equipment to track OEE
  • Use sensor technology for monitoring characteristics of machines, enabling predictive maintenance

And this is just the start…stay tuned…

MEMEX’s MERLIN Takes Bigger Role in Milwaukee Tool

By: Steve Anderson, Real Time Communications – October 30, 2015

Milwaukee Tool recently took on a small-scale pilot project involving MEMEX Inc’s Manufacturing Execution Real-time Lean Information Network (MERLIN) system. With just five licenses in hand, Milwaukee Tool got a look at just what MERLIN could do, and the results proved impressive enough for Milwaukee Tool to step up the project in a  big way.

Now, Milwaukee Tool’s involvement with MERLIN is up 53 licenses, as the company brought out a follow-on order to the original slate of five. Even that’s just for starters, as there are reports of a multi-phase project that will bring MERLIN to 130 additional industrial machines at the Greenwood, Mississippi plant.

So what got Milwaukee Tool’s attention so markedly with the MERLIN system? MERLIN offers a “shop-floor-to-top-floor” tool that can both track and report on efficiency in the operation, on a real time basis. It uses a variety of different tools to get the most information out of the various processes, and in turn, produces actionable insight on how to improve.

Reports suggest that MERLIN use can mean anywhere from a 10 to 50 percent increase in average productivity, which in turn means at least 20 percent profit improvement as based on a 10 percent improvement in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). The MERLIN system has a routine payback period of under four months, and can connect to most any breed of machine that’s using either MTConnect or can accept several different adapters.

This worked out well for Milwaukee Tool, who—according to the Greenwood plant manager Jack Bilotta—was trying to bring OEE in as a key performance indicator for some time. MEMEX’s vice president of sales John Rattray gave a note of assent here, comparing Milwaukee Tool to other companies who have successfully put MERLIN to use like iMech and Magellan.

Manufacturers are eager to find advantages, and with good reason. With prices of most everything going up and consumers extremely sensitive to the bottom line, saving money anywhere it can reasonably be done is worth looking into. Getting the most out of expensive machines, meanwhile, is a great place to look and something that’s been done effectively since back in 1984 with the book The Goal. While our means to identify places to save on production have only improved—the MERLIN system is proof positive of that—the basic idea remains unchanged.

Getting the most out of an operation is vital to its ongoing success, and tools like MERLIN are a great way to get that improvement thanks to real time communications. It may not work for every operation, but a sobering look at processes overall will identify some waste, promoting overall efficiency.

To see the full article, please click here.

Mazak’s March to the Smart Factory

By: Doug Picklyk, Canadian Metalworking – November 2, 2015

With over 30 machine tool models operating on the floor of its Kentucky-based National Technology Center, Mazak’s Discover 2015 event (Oct. 27-29, Nov. 3-5) revealed the company’s wide range of products and its commitment to the future of manufacturing.

Anticipating 2,500 visitors over the six-day event, there was an emphasis on multi-tasking “done in one” machine tools, with many North American debut products including the INTEGREX i-400AM HYBRID Multi-Tasking machine featuring additive manufacturing along with full 5-axis milling and turning capabilities.

A highlight of the event was the introduction of Mazak’s launch into the connected cyber world with the introduction of the SmartBox, a platform that serves as a conduit between machine tools, shop floor management, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

The SmartBox incorporates connectors, a processor, software and an industrial switch to read standardized MTConnect common language coming from the machine tools and send the data out in viewable reports for management and shop floor workers as well as provide a constant stream of real-time data out to sophisticated algorithms where analysis can be performed to ensure optimized performance and trigger preventive maintenance and other value-adding functions.

A collaboration among Mazak, Canadian software company Memex and IT giant Cisco, the SmartBox is a connection to move manufacturing to next-level efficiency. As a demonstration of its commitment to connectivity, Mazak was offering tours of its 536,000 sq. ft. North American manufacturing plant, where the company demonstrated its iSMART Factory concept.

Using MTConnect open communications protocol data from its machine tools and feeding that information through Memex’s Merlin monitoring software, the factory displays real-time equipment efficiency information on easy-to-read dashboards on 60-inch monitors throughout the building. According to Ben Schawe, VPof manufacturing, Mazak, after a six month trial period, the factory achieved 17 per cent overall improvement in efficiency across all equipment being monitored.

The digital integration of the Mazak factory was part of a recent $30 million investment in its campus.

To see the full article, please click here.

What’s So Smart about the SmartBox?

By: Mark Albert, Modern Machine Shop – October 30, 2015

mazak smartbox

Mazak Corporation showcased the Mazak SmartBox at its Discover 2015 Technology and Education Event October 27-29 at its North American Manufacturing Headquarters in Florence, Kentucky. (The event will continue November 3-5.) Developed in collaboration with Cisco, a supplier of IT connectivity solutions, and Memex Inc., a provider of machine-to-machine communication solutions, the SmartBox is designed to ease the connection of machine tools to a Web-enabled, plant-wide network. Establishing such connections is the first and biggest step toward implementing this so-called Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) on the factory floor.

So what’s so smart about the SmartBox concept? I see five major advantages. Each of these addresses what have been obstacles to joining the IIoT movement.

1. It’s a box. The SmartBox is a mini electrical cabinet about the size of a typical household medicine chest. It can be mounted on the side of a machine enclosure. This enables the box to be connected to a machine tool in several ways. It can be directly interfaced to the electrical cabinet of newer CNC machines without rearranging the components already installed in the existing cabinet.

More significantly, the SmartBox can be connected to legacy equipment that may not have much in the way of electronic controls already in place. Adding off-the-shelf sensors to legacy machines that can then be wired to the I/O rack in the SmartBox gets these machines readily connectable to the shop network for data collecting and monitoring on a basic level. One box can serve several machines, depending on how the user wants to configure the network and how machines are arranged in the shop or plant.

2. The SmartBox provides a high level of data security. One of the main components inside the box is a Cisco industrial Ethernet 4000 series switch. IT departments will love this because the 4000 switch prevents unauthorized access to and from the machines and equipment on a network. Authorized access, however, becomes flexible, simple and secure. The IT people can control and manage network security without getting in the way of what the factory people need to do with critical manufacturing data. Other devices that can be installed in the SmartBox include PLCs and various sensor ports for additional applications.

3. The SmartBox uses MTConnect for interoperability. MTConnect is the open, royalty-free manufacturing communications protocol based on XML and HTTP Internet technology for real-time data sharing. Essentially, MTConnect provides a common vocabulary with standardized definitions for the meaning of data generated by a machine tool (alarms, signals, operator alerts, setting values, messages and so on).

Getting factory equipment to talk the same language, so to speak, is the key to using machine-generated data effectively from diverse machine types and control systems. Depending on the machine’s internal software (which may not use MTConnect natively), the appropriate MTConnect hardware adapter can be installed in the Ethernet switch mentioned above.

4. The SmartBox has built-in smarts. Mazak, Cisco and Memex worked together to enable the switch to do data collection, analysis and reporting with software running on the processor in the switch. With this capability, the switch can communicate directly with operators and shopfloor supervisors without going through the network servers. For example, Memex’s MERLIN manufacturing communications platform can provide local monitoring of machine conditions, do OEE calculations and other machine metrics for display as dashboards on a nearby flat screen or PC station.

Of course, the MERLIN platform can serve as the plant-wide machine monitoring and reporting system, using the SmartBox as a node on the network. But even before a shop or plant gets to that higher level of connectivity, the SmartBox can be delivering interpreted, actionable data on the shop floor.

5. The SmartBox was developed in the context of complete digital integration of the factory. Mazak calls its concept for this integration the iSmart Factory. This concept is being implemented in Mazak’s manufacturing operations worldwide, with its factories in Oguchi, Japan, and Florence, Kentucky, taking the lead. The iSmart Factory is what the IIoT will look like in these facilities and it is intended as a model for implementing the IIoT in all metalworking manufacturing companies.

In addition to the SmartBox, the iSmart Factory concept incorporates other Mazak developments such as Smooth Technology, which covers process and performance enhancements to machine controls and servo systems.

The SmartBox will be available to customers sometime in early 2016.

To see the full article, please click here.

Mazak pushes digital manufacturing envelope

By: Shop Metalworking Technology – October 29, 2015

Mazak has a vision for the future of manufacturing that embraces the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and that vision was clearly evident at DISCOVER 2015, an annual multi-day event held at the company’s sprawling 800,000 sq ft headquarters and North American manufacturing operations in Florence, KY.

The event, being held October 27-29 and November 3-5 was expected to draw more than 2,500 manufacturers from across North America.

Mazak Discover 2015

Mazak Discover 2015

While the event included the debut of new machining technologies, machine tools and the next generation of the Mazatrol Smooth CNC control, one concept captured attendee’s interest: Mazak’s iSMART Factory, a data-driven advanced digital manufacturing concept. The system, in use in the company’s Florence plant, encompasses advanced manufacturing cells digitally integrated to allow manufacturers to monitor and share data from different machines, cells, devices and processes on the production floor.

Explaining Mazak's iSMART Factory concept to visitors

The newest addition to the iSMART Factory is Mazak’s SmartBox, which made its debut at Discover Mazak. SmartBox is the result of partnership between Mazak, Cisco Systems Inc. and Memex Inc. and it’s the next step in the evolution of the digital factory: ensuring data security.

Mazaks SmartBox can be mounted on the side of a machine

Mazak's SmartBox

“Our common vision is the belief that manufacturing is going to dramatically change as companies [begin] to want increased digital technology in their operations,” noted Brian Papke, president of Mazak Corp. during a press conference. Companies will want to move to a “higher level of integration with more data analytics, monitoring of their devices and more sensors to do things like predictive maintenance and establish more meaningful service relationships with customers.”

A smarter way

SmartBox uses Memex’s Merlin manufacturing software, which provides operational and machining metrics on any machine, old or new, and uses the MTConnect manufacturing communications protocol for machine-to-machine communication. A key element of SmartBox is the Cisco-managed switch that provides cyber security. According to Mazak, the switch prevents unauthorized access from both directions, to or from the machines within a network.

The device mounts to the side of a machine and can work with any Mazak model or age of machine and it doesn’t need to connect to a machine’s electrical cabinet, according to Mazak. One box can serve multiple machine tools.

The device is available in different configurations for different production environments.

Attendees to Mazak’s Discover event had the opportunity to see the SmartBox in action as part of the company’s iSMART Factory at the Kentucky plant.

“One of the principles [of the company] is that our plants use the product innovations we offer our customers,” explains Papke.

For example, the introduction of the iSMART Factory has resulted in a more than double digit percentage improvement in machine utilization. Mazak also reduced operator overtime by 100 hours per month and brought 400 hours per month of previously outsourced work back in-house.

Machining innovations

As the data-driven digital manufacturing world continues to evolve, so too do the machine tools that work within this environment. The best example is Mazak’s hybrid multi-tasking machine tool, the Integrex i-400AM, which made its North American debut during the Discover 2015 event.

The machine combines turning, milling, drilling, metal deposition via two laser cladding heads and laser marking in a single setup.

“We’re the first multi-tasking machine tool builder to tool change a cladding head in and out of the milling spindle,” says Joe Wilker, product group manager for the Cybertec Division of Mazak.

In operation, the machine uses fiber laser heat to melt metal powder used to grow near-net shape 3D parts. The dual cladding heads apply the melted metal layer by layer to create the near-net shape of a part. Once that’s complete, the cladding heads return to the tool magazine and then the substractive machining processes kick in: full five axis milling, turning and contouring to finish a part.

“The new version of this machine supplies a coolant to keep the cladding head cool and at a constant temperatures,” explains Wilker. “What’s interesting about this technology is that we can grow parts in different alloys. I can grow a part that might have five different types of material in one part and that’s never been done before.”

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Mazak’s SmartBox to implement MEMEX software and Cisco hardware

CIOReview, Fremont, CA – October 29, 2015

The advent of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), that allows smart machines to accurately and consistently capture and communicate data, has given birth to SmartBox – a launch platform for easy and secure entry to Industrial Internet of Things.  Mazak Corporation will incorporate MEMEX’s MERLIN software and Cisco’s hardware to its SmartBox to achieve enhanced efficiency and productivity of machines.

SmartBox is based on Cisco’s connected machine solution that enables rapid and repeatable machine connectivity with machine optimization, overall equipment effectiveness and predictive maintenance, which is equipped with MTConnect software agent.  Along with Cisco’s solution, SmartBox also adopts MERLIN – a product that allows companies to measure overall equipment effectiveness in real time and helps in monitoring production to improve profitability.  While MERLIN software allows monitoring of machines and testing of other equipment within the plant, Cisco hardware prevents any unauthorized access to or from the machines within a network.

MTConnect also runs on Cisco’s Industrial Ethernet 4000 switch with MERLIN software’s real time visibility and insights to data.  It enhances SmartBox’s connectivity of machines and devices for monitoring and analytical capabilities.

SmartBox can work with any machine and will be offered in various configurations or kits based on how the units will be used.  It legs users to easily connect any standard off the shelf sensors to the system for machine data gathering and condition monitoring.

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