Wireless Technology Provides Networking Solution For Manufacturer

With complex relocations came the need for this manufacturer of power-transmission components for mining and offshore drilling to upgrade the PC hardware and LAN (Local Area Network) connections associated with their CNC machines. The machines were placed in an area that did not have easy access to the LAN connections.

LeTourneau, Inc. (Longview, Texas) manufactures power-transmission components for mining and offshore drilling. In business since 1929, LeTourneau has thousands of machines running in mines, forests, freight yards and on drilling rigs. The company even has its own steel mill for specialty plate and tool steel.

Early in 2002, LeTourneau, which also manufactures large rubber-tired, diesel-powered, electrically driven front-end loaders, was faced with the need to streamline several product lines. This included its gear manufacturing and associated component parts area. Seven CNC lathes and one CNC machining center were selected and placed into an area in LeTourneau’s main plant that would focus on the task of premachining, hobbing and finish machining its gears.

With these relocations came the need to upgrade the PC hardware and LAN (Local Area Network) connections associated with these machines. The machines were placed in an area that did not have easy access to the LAN connections. “With the machine tool rearrangement, we were faced with the issue to connect these shopfloor units to the LAN for uploading and downloading CNC programs and associated data,” says David Lonsberry of LeTourneau. “The arrangement of the machines would not allow a conventional CAT5 data cable without running long data drops in conduit.”

The company looked at several network configurations and chose to implement and install a wireless solution in the gear area as a beta test site for the main plant. LeTourneau ordered a total of 28 Dell Optiplex GX150s with 15-inch flat panel monitors and purchased a new Windows 2000 server to support these units. These new units were configured to run the newest release of DLoG software on a Windows 2000 platform. They also configured several additional applications that would give the machinists and shopfloor personnel the ability to view part and structure drawings on the shop floor.

The advantage of wireless technology is that it allows a broad area of coverage within a manufacturing area, thus allowing for future relocations or machine additions if needed without running CAT5 cable. If needed, the CNC machines can be relocated, power can be placed to the machine and the machine tool can access the wireless network to upload and download CNC programs and manufacturing data.

“We implemented a hard wire data connection to the CNC machines that are stationary machine tools,” explains Mr. Lonsberry. “The wireless PC units are connected to smaller CNC machines that can be moved if the need arises. All of the shop units are connected to our LAN via Cisco 2948 switches and Cisco 400 series smart hubs. These switches and hubs are connected to a fiber optic backbone, connecting to our LAN.”

LeTourneau currently has eight CNC machine tools with six wireless PC units connected to its LAN. An additional three wireless units have been installed to support areas in the maintenance, warehouse and a remote office location. All of these units have connectivity to LeTourneau’s LAN. A Cisco 350 bridge installation was completed in just a few hours. Each wireless PC was configured with a Cisco wireless NIC card.

“We set up and configured two units, one for the wireless network connections with the added RF Card and associated drivers, Mr. Lonsberry says. “We also configured a unit to connect via a CAT5 connection in the hard wiring areas. Once the unit was booted to the LAN, we imaged or ghosted the additional units and completed the setups. The additional network hardware—for example, wireless antennas and PC stations—only took several days to complete. We contracted DLoG to aid in the configurations and completed all 28 units on the shop floor in 2 weeks.”

The implementation of the PC units, along with the connections to LeTourneau’s LAN, has given the shop area better access to the electronic documents within DLoG JobPack-DNC and other applications. The ability to view part drawings and perform math calculations, coupled with the DNC software for downloading and uploading proven programs, has provided the shop area a new level of efficiency. LeTourneau just completed its second phase of training for the machinists. Phase I included the use of the DLoG software and the associated shopfloor programs installed on the PC units, such as shop math, drawing browser and simple Word documents associated with the CNC programs. Phase II introduced the JobPack database with the new JobPack program to further enhance the DNC functions with electronic setup sheets, tooling list, .jpg color pictures and, when needed, detailed setup drawings produced by the CNC programmers.

LeTourneau has further enhanced the shop network by placing network printers in key areas of the main plant and in the tool room. This gives both the operators and CNC programmers the ability to print Jobpacks and tooling listings to the toolroom area and in each department.