Transition To Wireless Means Less Downtime

Pointe Precision (Plover, Wisconsin) is a contract machine shop providing tight-tolerance machining concentrated in the aerospace, medical and other high-performance industries. When the company determined that a new facility was needed, it became evident that the antiquated DNC system was not going to make the trip. The serial-based system was unreliable and no longer met the needs of the ever-changing shop floor.

Case Study From: 10/14/2005 Modern Machine Shop

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eWireless device

The eWireless device converts the RS-232 signal to Ethernet at the CNC to provide secure, wireless DNC, says the manufacturer.

60,000-square-foot facility

When Pointe Precision moved into its 60,000-square-foot facility, the company had already decided to make the wireless transition with its Ethernet computer network. Management realized it could do the same with eNetDNC.

IS Administrator Nick Sondelski

IS Administrator Nick Sondelski downloads a program using the new wireless system.

Pointe Precision (Plover, Wisconsin) is a contract machine shop providing tight-tolerance machining concentrated in the aerospace, medical and other high-performance industries. When the company determined that a new facility was needed, it became evident that the antiquated DNC system was not going to make the trip. The serial-based system was unreliable and no longer met the needs of the ever-changing shop floor.

At the old facility, unscheduled machine downtime because of DNC system failures had become problematic. Specifically, communications failures, wiring problems and hardware conflicts were often causes for concern. As a result, shopfloor management and the IS department agreed that a systems change was imminent. Nick Sondelski, the IS administrator at Pointe Precision, was given the task of searching for a possible alternative.

“When we started to plan the new building, we had investigated wireless DNC, but it was not available,” says Mr. Sondelski. “To be honest, we had given up.”

Consequently, a visit to PortCNC (Greenfield, Wisconsin) revived the company’s interest in wireless DNC. The company’s past dealings with Port CNC regarding a CAM system had been favorable, so Mr. Sondelski hoped to attain similar results with DNC.

“During the initial visit, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the Ethernet capabilities,” says Mr. Sondelski. “The wireless version of eNetDNC that was under development piqued my interest.”

The eNetDNC system has always been based on Ethernet technology; therefore, moving to wireless was the next logical step for Pointe Precision. Labor data collection, inventory management and all shopfloor PCs were to be connected with wireless Ethernet technology. This wireless solution also addressed one of the company’s major concerns—machine mobility on the shop floor. With the dynamic nature of the operations, repositioning machines to enhance product flow and implementing new technology were becoming increasingly attractive options.

“With the wired system, reconnecting the machines would require a day or two,” says Mr. Sondelski. “We always seemed to be running behind. It was not acceptable to have machine downtime because we could not download the CNC programs.”

The old system continued to malfunction, which translated to additional frustration and machine downtime. “Looking back, we should have installed the system sooner,” comments Mr. Sondelski. “The previous system was constantly costing us money, and it was the source of costly support calls and stress for supervisors. As it turned out, when the new facility was brought to fruition and ready for the machines, the eNetDNC wireless system was ready as well.”

Based on the standard 802.11b wireless Ethernet, eNetDNC can be configured to work with an existing wireless network or as a stand-alone system. Each CNC machine is connected to the wireless network via an eWireless DNC device that converts the RS-232 machine communication to an Ethernet signal. In addition to simplifying conversion, the wireless device is said to provide security through IP addressing while ensuring data quality by performing CRC checking. (The device is linked with a wireless access point that communicates to the network.)

The wireless option eliminates the cost of running the cable to each machine and allows customers to move machines throughout the shop without changes to the DNC system, says the manufacturer.

“When we moved machines with the old system, machines were often unavailable for days because we were waiting for cables to be run to the machines,” explains Mr. Sondelski. “With the wireless system, relocation consumes less than 15 minutes of my time. The machines are already configured, so they can be moved to a new location without touching the DNC system.”

Mr. Sondelski says that the eNetDNC technology could be connected to the network infrastructure already in place. Pointe Precision also goes on to say that setting up its variety of machines and controls was relatively easy because the system is compatible with virtually all types of machine controllers.

The software can operate on any network PC or server, and communicating with the individual machines is accomplished using only the standard Ethernet network card. Because the eWireless device is designed to work with the eNetDNC software, the configuration of the entire system is said to be simplified. In turn, a reliable connection is established, says the manufacturer.

Using the software, the company’s IS department can assign a specific IP address on the DNC software for each of the CNC machine ports, a capability that eliminates the need for a separate serial port server and the complications often associated with those devices. The system is not dependent on special hardware in a PC. So if the DNC computer crashes, the software can be immediately launched on another network computer, restoring the system.

“The new system has eliminated the reliability issues inherent with the previous system,” says Mr. Sondelski. “At the end of the day, that means less machine downtime and fewer headaches for me.”

As a result of its success with DNC, Pointe Precision plans to install the eNetDNC wireless machine monitoring system using the same technology.

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