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There are many ways to integrate a personal computer (PC) with a computer numerical control (CNC) system. Almost all of these approaches use the word "open" to characterize the benefits to users. "Open" implies a degree of flexibility or choice not available with "closed" systems—the traditional CNC with hardware and software that cannot be modified or added to by the user.
Now comes yet another approach. Hitachi Seiki (Itasca, Illinois) has introduced Seiki FlexLink Ethernet connectivity for its line of turning and machining centers. This system was displayed for the first time at the recent WESTEC show in Los Angeles, California. The company's Seicos Sigma controls will now feature special software and a Universal User Port (UUP) Ethernet connection which provides for bi-directional communication between the CNC machine and an external PC device or PC network.
Because the new Hitachi Seiki design uses a standard RJ45 Ethernet connection, customers have many options as to what kind of external PC device they might connect to the machine. Connecting to a local office PC network is probably the most likely application, the company predicts. However, it is possible to use FlexLink technology to connect with a hand held personal digital assistant (PDA) or a laptop computer. It is also possible to use the connection over the Internet for remote monitoring and management.
The company says its open CNC architecture is more reliable than some competing designs because proven CNC controls still manage the machines while the open architecture provides for the flow of real-time management information about the machine and its production. This avoids any instability which might be inherent in PC linkages or links dependent upon PC operating systems. This instability has been especially troublesome with the Windows operating system, for example. The Seicos line of controls are based on Fanuc or Yasnac systems enhanced with special software functions developed by Hitachi Seiki for its machine tools.
The company sees the advantages of interactive networking with turning centers or machining centers in three categories: before, during and after production. Before production, Seiki FlexLink technology can provide job scheduling and production control. It can access tooling and fixturing databases, verify CAD/CAM, and provide for ordering of tools that will be required. Interactive connectivity can also provide for remote auto tuning for high speed machining.
During production, this connection can provide remote diagnostics and remote operation. Real-time monitoring of position, program and displays is possible from any terminal on the network. Event calls can be made by e-mail (alarm, completion and work count), SPC data can be efficiently gathered and remote monitoring at the management and supervisory level is always available, the company says.
After production, Seiki FlexLink can provide data for productivity analysis along with a permanent record of all machine data before, during and after completion of the job. A growing list of third party software is already available to interpret and manage data provided by such real-time machine networking. Hitachi Seiki says what can be done with this new machine-to-network communication is limited only by the imaginations of the people who use it and those who can write software to make it work harder.
Also introduced at WESTEC was a new drilling and tapping center, the S-Series MiniCenter. This machine is also capable of face and end milling. For S45C carbon steel, this machine provides face mill capacity of 1.5 in.3/min. and end mill capacity of 1 in.3/min. For AL5052 aluminum, the machine provides 12.8 in.3/min. face mill and 3.1 in.3/min. end mill capacity. Spindle speeds are 240-8,000 rpm with a 5-hp motor. Rapid traverse is 1,417 ipm on the X and Y axes, and 1,181 ipm on the Z axis. Cutting feed rates range from 0.01 to 393 ipm. ATC tool storage capacity is 12 tools (30-taper).
The machine also features what its developers call an environmentally friendly "ECO-eco" design. Self-lubricating linear motion guides and a self-lubricating ballscrew assembly eliminate the need for lubrication. The result is good for economy and ecology because coolant tanks are no longer contaminated by dripping lubricant, the company says. This improves the work environment and reduces disposal expenses. MMS