Nestled in the woods near the foot of Mt. Fuji, FANUC Corporation’s expansive manufacturing campus utilizes more than 2,500 of the company’s own industrial robots to manufacture other robots as well as CNC and drive systems. Tomoaki “Tomo” Ishibe, president of FANUC FA America, points to the parent company’s operation as a prototypical example of what automation should look like—an example that can be particularly informative for U.S. manufacturers that might be reluctant to accept the upfront time and cost investment required to automate properly. While recognizing that many are held back by lack of technical skills, he says the world won’t wait. Ramping up both automation and the education that facilitates it will be increasingly critical to take advantage of reshoring and other market trends contributing to continued strength in the U.S. manufacturing sector, he contends.
Mr. Ishibe made these comments during a conversation at FANUC Corporation headquarters in Oshino-mura, Yamanishi, Japan, where thousands of customers and FANUC representatives from worldwide subsidiaries gathered during the first week of April for the company’s annual open house. Many of the products on display offered performance advantages compared to previous-generation systems. However, given the aforementioned difficulties of U.S. users, the prevalence of features designed to make technology easier to use and easier to integrate merit particular mention. Here are a few examples:
*Simulation software as an educational tool: NCGuide and NCGuide Pro, FANUC’s PC-based CNC simulation software, now feature a cycle time estimating function that can aid users in planning production on the shop floor. One aspect of the software that makes this particularly useful is the fact that it can simulate operations on any FANUC CNC, regardless of the make or model of the machine it controls.
That capability also makes the software ideal for training purposes—and Mr. Ishibe noted that FANUC FA America is extending this training beyond users’ shop floors. To help combat the skills shortage in industry, the company offers NCGuide Academic, a version developed for schools and vocational training programs. Some of these education programs have already adopted the company’s new Certified Education CNC Training (CECT) Program. Unveiled late last year, CECT is a credentialing initiative that focuses on certifying instructors and approving curricula that rely on FANUC technology to ensure students have the skills required by industry.
*General motion control made familiar: Power Motion i-Model A is a new 32-axis CNC for general motion control applications. Company personnel explained that such a system would be especially useful for easing implementation of a shop-wide automation system in an environment with 20 to 30 different machine tools with FANUC CNCs. As opposed to a system consisting of PLCs, motors and drives from multiple vendors with unfamiliar interfaces, Power Motion i-Model A provides a complete package from a single supplier with the same look, feel and function as a machine tool’s CNC.
*Expanded Robodrill connectivity: The company has replaced its previous I/O Link robot interface with the FL-net interface. As a result, users can link as many as four Robodrill machining centers to one robotic loading/unloading system, with all robot status information and control functionality available within the machines’ CNCs. In contrast, the previous interface enabled connecting only one Robodrill. Also, the interface includes a new production counter screen that tracks parts produced in a given time period, and it reduces wiring compared to the previous system.
*Hassle-free machine monitoring: The Series 0i-Model D control now features CNC status notification via email to a tablet or smartphone without the need for an internet mail server or third-party software. According to company personnel, this direct communication contrasts with monitoring capabilities that require connectivity with ERP systems or other such software that might not be available in smaller shop environments.
*New PC front end: The FANUC Panel i is the latest PC-based, front-end unit for the company’s range of CNCs. The windows-embedded unit features a large, full-color touchscreen that, like many smartphones and tablets on the market, enables users to “pinch-zoom” in and out. Other benefits include HSSB-based communication with the CNC, which is said to shorten data transfer time by half compared to previous units, and the fact that the company has a 25-year part and support commitment.
*Pendant for large machinery: The new iPendant puts control and monitoring of very large machine tools or transfer lines at the user’s fingertips anywhere on the plant floor. The device mirrors the interface of the actual CNC, which can often be inconvenient to access for operators seeking to determine the cause of machine alarms, adjust programs, or perform other tasks.
*Other Highlights. The array of technology on display went far beyond ease-of-use enhancements. For instance, tool center-point control features that generate smoother five-axis movements and surface finishes have been enhanced to do so within a user-specified tolerance range. Other enhancements include a new measuring cycle for determining the rotary-axis position on five-axis machines, as well as a new guidance screen that eases programming on tilted work planes.
Also notable is the introduction of a high-power version of the a-DiA series Robodrill. Whereas the standard model offers a single spindle for a wide range of applications, the high-power version is available with three different spindles: a high-torque model for heavy machining of iron parts; a high-acceleration model for efficient machining of aluminum; and a high-speed model for smooth surfaces. It also features a revamped splash-guard shape to improve chip evacuation.