Fast equipping of machine tools

When large machine tools are in use, hundreds of individual drills or milling tools need to be changed within a short period of time and transported from the magazine to the spindle and back in the precise order. A new app from Siemens was developed in cooperation with the machine tool manufacturer Heller. The app, which runs on Sinumerik Edge, greatly reduces the time required for these processes – and it has been made possible thanks to cutting-edge mathematical optimization methods. These methods pave the way for optimization without the need to purchase new hardware.

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Automated from the magazine to the spindle

In industry, a few seconds of waiting time can make a difference for leading machine tool manufacturers. Those seconds can determine whose product will hold its own on the market. Wherever products are manufactured in large numbers, every event is multiplied by many factors.


For example, hundreds of tools are used to manufacture metal engine blocks for commercial vehicle. The tools used to drill or mill workpieces with a high degree of precision are stored in ultra-tall magazine cabinets that are located inside the machine tools. In automated manufacturing, a mechanical arm inside the machine removes the tools from their positions on the shelf in a precisely coordinated sequence and places them in a transfer compartment; from there, they are inserted into the spindles. This process is repeated for all workpieces in the same sequence.


Conventional machine tools have already been optimized to the point that these operations run in parallel. While tool B is milling, tool A has already been put into place and tool C is being fetched. Because the transfers depend on where tools A and C are placed in the magazine, in certain situations this can take more time than the actual milling operation and result in wait times of several seconds.

Finding the ideal tool position 

A new app that machine tool manufacturer Gebr. Heller Maschinenfabrik GmbH offers along with its machines makes it possible to significantly reduce these wait times and, in some cases, even eliminate them completely. The app runs on a Sinumerik Edge device and re-sorts the tools needed for a sequence of workpieces into their ideal positions.


Finding a model for this is an exciting undertaking for mathematicians who work on optimization functions. If there are 500 tools – which is not at all rare in modern production – a “factorial of 500” different sorting processes emerges. The Siemens mathematicians also had to consider the different tool sizes as well as the question of whether there would be enough space for the tool in the theoretically ideal position.

With the optimal placement, we can reduce the transport time of a piece in the magazine by as much as ten percent
Bernd Zapf, Head of the department for developing new business fields at Heller

Digitalization speeds up production

“This app allows us to very clearly point out the benefits of digitalization,” says Bernd Zapf, Head of Heller’s department for developing new business fields. “With the optimal placement, we can reduce the transport time of a piece in the magazine by as much as ten percent.”


“Until now, it has been a common practice to purchase new hardware in order to optimize processes,” adds Michal Skubacz, Head of Industry Software at Siemens Motion Control. “Now we can significantly improve the performance of machines even without new hardware. Optimization is possible using existing resources.”

Heller was founded in 1894 as a small craftsman’s workshop. Today, the global Group develops and produces state-of-the-art CNC machine tools and manufacturing systems for machining operations.
As one of the leading machine tool manufacturers in the machining sector, we have a global workforce of 2,900. Last year, the corporate group generated sales of 560 million euros. 

November 2019

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