Digitalization from the perspective of job shops

Digitalization and the increasing flexibility of value-creation processes are wide-ranging topics that entire books have been written about. But what aspects are relevant for contract CNC manufacturing? Where and how can today’s manufacturing companies get started with digitalization? And how is it altering the work of CNC specialists?

Industry 4.0

In the future, Industry 4.0 and digitalization of industrial processes will encompass every step of the product lifecycle - from design to manufacture, service and maintenance. However, as production service providers, contract CNC manufacturers are generally involved in only a small part of this product lifecycle. Product design and services are generally the client’s responsibility. Even comprehensive production planning is not an area of focus for many small and medium-sized firms. Instead, work is almost always performed "on demand." For contract CNC manufacturers, therefore, digitalization tasks primarily arise in work preparation and production itself or in machining using machine tools.

Work preparation and production can be broken down further into additional process steps, ranging from tendering to quality assurance. The demand for digitalization solutions, and the current supply of solutions involving SINUMERIK CNCs, can be illustrated using the typical questions that contract CNC manufacturing companies ask themselves when it comes to each of these process steps.


A perfect solution for everyone

It is not easy to link up the many issues surrounding digitalization with company-specific requirements and to find the right solution according to the contract manufacturer. However, the possibilities highlighted here may provide initial suggestions. The good news is that digitalization can be implemented step by step. The pace and order of implementation should be in harmony with the company’s requirements and resources. Those planning specific investments in production should integrate digitalization and the efficiencies that it brings into planning from the beginning.

How long will the workpiece be on the machine?

It is primarily the unit costs and the delivery deadline or throughput time that must be determined in order to be able to tender for a job correctly. Digitalization is helpful in this area. Today, the amount of time a workpiece will require for machining can be calculated quickly, reliably and - most importantly - without trial runs using CNC simulation solutions. The SinuTrain offline operating and programming software for PCs, which is identical to real control systems, supplies the appropriate information for work preparation. This is based on a virtual SINUMERIK NC software kernel (VNCK) that behaves in exactly the same way as the real SINUMERIK in the machine.

Do I have to use the machine for CNC programming?

Graphical programming on the machine is definitely an option for simpler individual workpieces. However, in the future, companies will favor offline programming for more complex workpieces or to increase the output of the machinery and make production more flexible. Here again, the SinuTrain operating and programming system is perfect as an entry-level solution. A solution with an integrated CAD/CAM-CNC process chain is even more efficient. Siemens offers NX, a CAD/CAM system that can be perfectly adapted to work with SINUMERIK and that guarantees maximum process reliability thanks to its use of the virtual CNC kernel. For machines from some manufacturers, this CAD/CAM-CNC process chain is even available as a digital twin to the real machine.

Is the required machine available?

To gain an overview of machine performance and utilization, operators can consult OEE (overall equipment efficiency) indicators, which are read out from the CNC. For example, the workpiece count, program runtime, current workpiece program or machine utilization can be displayed on a PC or mobile data device. Production managers can use these data to assess the availability of the relevant machine. If OEE indicators are already assigned to specific orders, Analyze MyPerformance from the SINUMERIK Integrate software suite should be used. This function allows operators to assign their workpieces to specific orders within higher-level order systems directly via the SINUMERIK operator interface. It allows them to find out the exact status of an order online during a shift. Thanks to this transparency - along with any automatic warning signals - they can respond quickly to machine malfunctions and shift the production of urgently needed parts to another machine.


Are new tools required for the job?

One key factor in resource planning for CNC production is tool availability. The installation of suitable software can provide a real-time overview of availability and prevent time-consuming searching during production. ncTOUCH makes it possible to bring up the current assignment of individual machines’ tool magazines. This allows the user to immediately see whether the required tools are in the desired machine. Manage MyTools from the SINUMERIK Integrate software suite goes even further. This function makes it possible to quickly and reliably compare tool requirements for specific manufacturing jobs with stocks of tools throughout the factory. The tool requirement lists are then automatically sent to the tool setting device, and the identified geometric data are sent to the CNC’s tool offset memory. If there are any tool shortages, the data are immediately forwarded to higher-level ordering systems.

How comfortable are the operators with the CNC control system?

Users have long become used to the digital world when it comes to private means of communication. A similar look and feel in the control system makes for easy CNC operation. SINUMERIK Operate is a user-friendly operator interface that is based heavily on the operating philosophy of PCs. In addition, thanks to smartOperate, the gesture- based operation that users are familiar with from smartphones and tablets is now available on the machine.

Does the workpiece tolerance correspond to the client’s specifications?

In the future, in addition to being assessed, component accuracy will need to be reliably logged for quality assurance. SINUMERIK CNCs already offer a comprehensive package of measuring cycles for determining component geometries during the machining process. These process-measurement results for the machine can now also be stored directly on a server in CSV format, and the data can be further processed automatically.

Can my machine be remotely diagnosed by the manufacturer?

Diagnostics and maintenance are critical when it comes to complex industrial products such as machine tools. Thanks to networking, telemaintenance makes it possible for companies and manufacturers to minimize maintenance times and increase productivity. In the simplest cases, fault signals from the machine, the entire SINUMERIK operator interface or images from a camera integrated into the machine can be brought up on a PC or mobile data device using ncTOUCH. This allows in-house technicians to prepare effectively for their maintenance work. If the machine manufacturer’s service staff need to access data on the machine or CNC externally, this immediately raises the question of data security. SINUMERIK Access MyMachine facilitates CNC telediagnostics over the Internet and meets the IT security requirements of the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). This makes it considerably easier to obtain consent from the IT departments and IT security officers of the manufacturing companies. SINUMERIK Analyze MyCondition allows the monitoring of machine status, with the machine raising the alarm in the event of a fault. This shortens the time required for diagnostics and minimizes serious consequences such as unforeseen machine downtimes and major damage. It also means that maintenance work can be carried out proactively, eliminating unnecessary periods of machine downtime.


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