Focus on digitalization

You ask, we answer

You ask, we answer

Politics, media, management... the topic of digitalization is on everyone’s minds. But what impact will it have for operators of CNC machines? What things will machine operators now have to adapt to? CNC4you addresses these issues in its “Questions and Answers on Digitalization” series.

Those working on the shopfloor or in production planning on (virtual) CNCs today are benefitting from a technological revolution that began back in the 1950s. The first NC machines that came onto the market in the 1960s and transformed into highly flexible CNC machines by around 1970 (as a result of the development of integrated circuits and microprocessors) triggered many emotions and fierce debates – all quite similar to those stirred up by the current topics of digitalization and Industrie 4.0. Back then, many people feared the loss of jobs while others put emphasis on the enormous potential in regards to reductions in workload and increased efficiency. Today, we know that many traditional jobs on manual workbenches have disappeared. However, there have also been new market and product developments resulting in the creation of new jobs with completely different qualifications.

Digitalization is changing workflows and will have a concrete effect on work with CNC machines over the coming years. These changes will demand different modes of operation and also require additional new qualifications and skills from employees in production. CNC4you will be posing the question “How will digitalization change our jobs?” while exploring the answer in detail through a variety of articles that provide you with lots of information and tips – always with a concrete link to your job. Alongside this, we will be offering “Questions and Answers on Digitalization” online for our readers, in addition to explaining trends and describing new technologies – all on our CNC4you portal (siemens.com/cnc4you).

What questions do you have about the digital future in your field of work? Write to tell us what you would like to know about digitalization by sending your questions to contact.cnc4you.i@siemens.com. We will then provide you with the answers through our own research and interviews with experts.

New: “How will digitalization change working time models in CNC production?”

The fourth industrial revolution is leading to the widescale networking of machines. Humans are essential for this interaction between machines, guiding them intuitively through the work process or improving operations with their own professional experience. Recent studies show that digital transformation in German companies is progressing at different speeds and with varying intensity. Many skilled workers fear this will only result in an added burden and increased flexi bili - z ation. However, it is more likely that new working environments will provide a wide range of employeefriendly solutions.

One conceivable solution, for example, is further developing the working time accounts introduced a few years ago. This involves employees largely organizing themselves depending upon the order situation and delivery deadlines; rigid shift schedules do not exist. This not only makes it easier to balance work and family life, but also offers more freedom in the workplace: with an integrated, virtualized, and highly automated production facility, peak workloads can be better planned and accommodated in advance. When it comes to job sharing, with several colleagues sharing one workstation, digitalization could allow better planning of alternating half-day and half-week units. The working time models in CNC production are likely to become more flexible and agile as a result of digitalization — benefitting both companies and employees.

Our tip:

Working time solutions are as unique as the companies in which they are implemented. Find out what your company already has on offer for employees regarding “Work 4.0”, and speak to your supervisors about possible future developments in working time models. If you wish to help shape the opportunities for flexibility, it is also a good idea to seek training on the new machines and work processes, which will make you particularly valuable to your company.

New: “How will shopfloor programming change? Is it still needed in view of CAD/CAM technology?”

CAD/CAM technology has been increasingly used alon g - side classic shopfloor programming for years. The advantages are obvious: the G-code is already created during production planning, downtimes are reduced and the machines made more productive. In addition, errors that may occur when transferring a drawing are eliminated because the CAM software takes the data directly from the CAD software. Many industries and manufacturers will aim to make greater use of this potential in the future. Nevertheless, shopfloor programming and the expertise required of machine operators remains important. This is partly because the systems are only able to respond to special events to a certain extent. Special machine and material behavior or unexpected dynamic effects are only some examples of such eventualities. Optimal start-up settings and quick fixes during operation require operators with in-depth knowledge and experience regarding production and machines. Another reason in favor of classic shopfloor programming is that the process chain using CAD/CAM technology to the machine is capitalintensive. In many applications, especially for small quantities and parts with low/medium complexity, this will not be cost-effective. Shopfloor programming still remains the more efficient solution.

Our tip:

Extensive experience and comprehensive expertise are an invaluable asset when working on CNC machines. Use your existing skills and continue to develop them. Broaden your knowledge, for example by learning about production planning. New job profiles, such as that of a production engineer, or training as a certified process manager in production technology, will break down the rigid boundaries between planners and operators and offer experienced CNC professionals new fields of activity.

“What impact will additive manufacturing processes such as 3D printing have on machining processes and work on machine tools?”

Additive manufacturing will be used more and more in a variety of areas in the future – including in place of and in competition with machining processes or injection molding. A few years ago, the financially and technically feasible applications were still limited in regards to materials, with limited workpiece sizes as one-off products or in small batches. However, today a wide range of plastics, metals, and ceramics can be used for additive manufacturing.

Customized mass production, functional design, high energy and resource efficiency as well as shorter innovation cycles – the advantages of additive manufacturing are being leveraged more and more in the industrial environment. Whether it is powder bed fusion, directed energy deposition, material extrusion or jetting – all these techniques build up workpieces layer by layer based on digital 3D design data. These techniques allow extremely complex structures to be created, which are both light and stable – in fact, finally, parts can be cost-effectively created with batch sizes of just 1. The first 3D printing solutions came from pioneering companies that were allied more with traditional printing processes than machine tools. However, these were mostly solutions for small workpiece sizes such as for medical technology or in the field of spare parts / small components. Now there are prototypes of machine tools that have special print heads as the tool which enable them to "print" a wide range of materials. The key benefits are the precision and stability of machine tools; the size of machining rooms or the length of the traverse; their flexibility (three-axis/five-axis) and speed; and the fact that CNC programming is part of an everyday process chain. Modification of cycles for use in additive processes seems logical.

Many workpieces manufactured using additive processes also require finish-machining, such as in the form of surface treatment or hole drilling. Therefore, for many service providers and suppliers it makes sense to offer customers complete solutions that encompass both additive processes and machining.

Our tip:

Use your knowledge from the areas of CNC programming, materials, and eco-nomic machining; obtain additional qualifications in the field of additive manu-facturing processes; and find out about the behavior of new materials that are suitable for additive manufacturing. It is highly likely that the 3D printing head will become an additional machine tool in your milling and turning centers, or that you will be operating CNC-controlled machines for additive manufacturing alongside the milling and turning centers used in production – and combining the various technologies in the manufacturing processes.

"Production has to become ever faster, while at the same time software and machines are becoming ever more complex. How will digitalization change the acquisition of knowledge and skills for employees in production?"

The dynamic development of digitalization in production calls for lifelong learning. If you want to successfully survive in your career as a CNC expert, you will need to continually expand your knowledge. Course outlines will need to be critically assessed to determine whether they still meet the requirements of networked production. During the course of a three-year vocational training program, technology can develop so quickly that the program’s objectives can become out of date. Industries and associations are already offering additional qualifications alongside training. Traditional job profiles will gradually disintegrate. For example, modern CNC machining centers are already demanding skills in both turning and milling – and soon in 3D printing, too.

The need for further training will increase dramatically with digitalization. Processes will change and operators will need to adapt to new tools and software. This will not be able to be achieved in reasonable time – or at reasonable expense – solely through traditional attendance-based training in which trainers and trainees teach and learn in a room at fixed times. In the future, more and more employees will acquire knowledge through webinars, forums, tutorials, colleague networks, knowledge databases and online searches.

In order to solve problems with CNC machining much faster, on-the-job Internet research will be used more frequently. Our forums, as well as the relevant manufacturers of machines, tools, and control systems, also offer materials in the form of PDFs, articles, diagrams and videos.

Our tip:

Familiarize yourself with the extensive research and assistance options available on the Internet – including how to distinguish trustworthy and reliable offers of help from advertising; or identify unreliable, incorrect sources of information. In particular, industry forums – Internet portals where colleagues come together on a range of professional topics – offer many opportunities to acquire knowledge besides traditional formats. In addition, you can put your experience with online research to good use at home.

“Robots are being deployed more and more in the vicinity of machine tools – for loading and unloading, for visual inspection or for special remachining operations. Will that change my work on the machine?”

Automation is boosting efficiency and making it possible for modern, flexible robots to be increasingly deployed in a production environment. Robots will also take on many different tasks in the vicinity of machine tools in future – from simple handling to complex tasks within the process chain.

Digitization is likewise changing many aspects of robotics. Whereas robots used to be designed for specific jobs in mass production and had to be extensively programmed by specialists, more and more flexible, universal and increasingly mobile robots are being used these days in many different areas. They can replace their tools/grippers and perform a wide range of actions at different workplaces. The underlying idea is that batch sizes are shrinking in many areas and work operations have to be constantly modified. Rather than having to be extensively programmed, these robots can learn major parts of their programs via traditional "teaching". In other words, an operator simply moves the robot the way it is expected to move later on and "teaches" it the required process-related motions and actions. These crude movement patterns then only need to be fine-tuned and optimized in the course of further programming. This means robots can be deployed more flexibly and, thanks to modern sensor technology, also work right next to their human colleague (collaborative robotics) outside of "cages".

Another trend: To enable efficient and flexible deployment at machine tools, robots and machine tools have to be synchronized. Instead of using special robotics programs, robots can also be programmed in many cases via the machine's own CNC control system. One example is the Sinumerik Run MyRobot functions which can be used to control robots, for example from KUKA or COMAU, via Sinumerik CNC.

Our tip:

Our tip: As a CNC expert, you have learnt to program complex series of process steps in machine tools via multi-dimensional axis movements. Programming modern robots requires similar skills. Robots can also be programmed in the immediate deployment area of the machine tools via CNC controls. Might this be a new area of work for CNC experts?

04/26/2018 | Author: Thomas Schlegel