There was a time, not too long ago, when computer numerical controls were notoriously closed and proprietary. Adapting or upgrading an existing CNC was difficult. It may be a sign of how much control technology has changed that one major supplier now offers a range of options for upgrading not just its own CNCs, but other CNCs as well.
Jim Spearman, manager of machine tool solutions for GE Fanuc Automation (Charlottesville, Virginia), says that his company is focusing more of its attention on products aimed at the end users of existing controls. While the new CNCs it offers to machine tool OEMs continue to improve, end users will represent a growing share of the company’s business. Products for this market include “Black Box” add-ons that equip existing controls with new capabilities.
One example is the “iAdapt” Black Box, which adds adaptive feed rate control. When the user of this capability specifies a target spindle load, the system adjusts the machine’s feed rate on the fly in order to maintain that load. Even if a CNC already has some sort of adaptive load monitoring, this Black Box might do the job better. As a stand-alone unit, it can sample the load and compensate within a period smaller than 4 milliseconds—faster than what many CNCs can manage. As shops run at faster feed rates, says Mr. Spearman, this faster sampling speed becomes more important for smooth control. The capability can be added to any CNC, whether from GE Fanuc or from another company, that meets certain basic requirements.
Probing is another capability that can be added to a range of CNCs. Yet another system also available for add-on is the company’s “iCellOEE,” in which “OEE” stands for overall equipment effectiveness.
This latter system collects information on machine availability, performance and quality. The system continuously tracks machine uptime, cycle times, setup times, stoppages, part yields and other process characteristics, with the data plotted automatically to illustrate trends. Reports can be viewed both at the control and on the Web.
Practically any control can take advantage of this data-gathering capability, Mr. Spearman says. When the system is used with GE Fanuc Ethernet or High Speed Serial Communications, however, advanced capabilities are available. They include NC file management, remote diagnostics and remote viewing of the CNC display.