Posted by: Mark Albert 30. October 2015

What's So Smart about the SmartBox?

mazak smartbox

Mazak Corporation showcased the Mazak SmartBox at its Discover 2015 Technology and Education Event October 27-29 at its North American Manufacturing Headquarters in Florence, Kentucky. (The event will continue November 3-5.) Developed in collaboration with Cisco, a supplier of IT connectivity solutions, and Memex Inc., a provider of machine-to-machine communication solutions, the SmartBox is designed to ease the connection of machine tools to a Web-enabled, plant-wide network. Establishing such connections is the first and biggest step toward implementing this so-called Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) on the factory floor.

So what's so smart about the SmartBox concept? I see five major advantages. Each of these addresses what have been obstacles to joining the IIoT movement.

1. It's a box. The SmartBox is a mini electrical cabinet about the size of a typical household medicine chest. It can be mounted on the side of a machine enclosure. This enables the box to be connected to a machine tool in several ways. It can be directly interfaced to the electrical cabinet of newer CNC machines without rearranging the components already installed in the existing cabinet.

More significantly, the SmartBox can be connected to legacy equipment that may not have much in the way of electronic controls already in place. Adding off-the-shelf sensors to legacy machines that can then be wired to the I/O rack in the SmartBox gets these machines readily connectable to the shop network for data collecting and monitoring on a basic level. One box can serve several machines, depending on how the user wants to configure the network and how machines are arranged in the shop or plant.

2. The SmartBox provides a high level of data security. One of the main components inside the box is a Cisco industrial Ethernet 4000 series switch. IT departments will love this because the 4000 switch prevents unauthorized access to and from the machines and equipment on a network. Authorized access, however, becomes flexible, simple and secure. The IT people can control and manage network security without getting in the way of what the factory people need to do with critical manufacturing data. Other devices that can be installed in the SmartBox include PLCs and various sensor ports for additional applications.

3. The SmartBox uses MTConnect for interoperability. MTConnect is the open, royalty-free manufacturing communications protocol based on XML and HTTP Internet technology for real-time data sharing. Essentially, MTConnect provides a common vocabulary with standardized definitions for the meaning of data generated by a machine tool (alarms, signals, operator alerts, setting values, messages and so on).

Getting factory equipment to talk the same language, so to speak, is the key to using machine-generated data effectively from diverse machine types and control systems. Depending on the machine's internal software (which may not use MTConnect natively), the appropriate MTConnect hardware adapter can be installed in the Ethernet switch mentioned above.

4. The SmartBox has built-in smarts. Mazak, Cisco and Memex worked together to enable the switch to do data collection, analysis and reporting with software running on the processor in the switch. With this capability, the switch can communicate directly with operators and shopfloor supervisors without going through the network servers. For example, Memex's MERLIN manufacturing communications platform can provide local monitoring of machine conditions, do OEE calculations and other machine metrics for display as dashboards on a nearby flat screen or PC station.

Of course, the MERLIN platform can serve as the plant-wide machine monitoring and reporting system, using the SmartBox as a node on the network. But even before a shop or plant gets to that higher level of connectivity, the SmartBox can be delivering interpreted, actionable data on the shop floor.

5. The SmartBox was developed in the context of complete digital integration of the factory. Mazak calls its concept for this integration the iSmart Factory. This concept is being implemented in Mazak's manufacturing operations worldwide, with its factories in Oguchi, Japan, and Florence, Kentucky, taking the lead. The iSmart Factory is what the IIoT will look like in these facilities and it is intended as a model for implementing the IIoT in all metalworking manufacturing companies.

In addition to the SmartBox, the iSmart Factory concept incorporates other Mazak developments such as Smooth Technology, which covers process and performance enhancements to machine controls and servo systems.

The SmartBox will be available to customers sometime in early 2016.

Posted by: Russ Willcutt 29. October 2015

Motor City Mojo

Delta Research shows its pride in being the winner in the machining technology category of the 2014 Top Shops benchmarking competition by Modern Machine Shop, during Gear Expo 2015.

While Columbus and Indianapolis certainly have their charms—as does Cincinnati, where Modern Machine Shop is based—there’s something particularly fitting about the years when Gear Expo is located in Detroit: The Motor City. That was definitely the case Oct. 20-22 at the Cobo Center, where the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA) hosted Gear Expo 2015, which was co-located with the ASM Heat Treating Society’s Conference & Exposition.

In addition to touring the show floor—the AGMA reports at least a 7-percent surge in attendance over the last Gear Expo—visitors took advantage of educational sessions at the Solutions Center about scroll-free turning (Emag), generating grinding (Kapp Niles), grinding automotive gears (Gleason) and gear machining on multitasking machines (DMG MORI), among many other topics.

Trends that I detected include the continued advancement of scudding (GMTA/Star SU) and skiving (Gleason, Mitsubishi, etc.), new service/maintenance packages (“repowering” machine tools by Koepfer, for instance, and a new spindle rebuild program from Cincinnati Gearing Systems) and gear-specific automation systems from companies such as ABB. Go here for a slideshow of the event.

Posted by: Peter Zelinski 28. October 2015

Positive Correlation between Robots and Employment

What is the relationship between robotic automation and employment? The relationship would seem to be an inverse one. That is, as the use of robots increases, employment should go down—or so we might expect.

A new white paper from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) demonstrates that this expectation is false. Robots do not appear to replace employees, because the correlation between them is positive. When robot shipments have gone up, employment has gone up at the same time.

U.S. employment data compared to U.S. robot shipments show this. During periods when robot sales were increasing, employment has been generally increasing as well. The correlation was particularly apparent from 2010 to 2013, when both U.S. employment and U.S. robots sales grew steadily. (Employment then dropped a notch in 2014, while robot sales continued to grow.)

The paper also gives examples of companies that have increased both employment and the use of robots. Marlin Steel is one these. The company’s CEO, Drew Greenblatt, is quoted. “Not only has changing over to an automated production process saved our company from the threat of bankruptcy, saving the jobs of everyone here, it has allowed us to expand our work force,” he says. “Since going automated, Marlin Steel has nearly doubled the size of the work force, adding engineers and automated production specialists to our existing team.”

Those job types he mentions suggest another aspect of automation’s impact on employment that the A3 paper also addresses. Namely: The jobs added are often higher in responsibility and compensation than what was typical of the company’s workforce before it increased automation.

Robots, in fact, are helping with the need to attract talent to manufacturing. Vickers Engineering CEO Matt Tyler sees this. After his company’s shift to automation, he says, “We’re now able to attract people who aren’t just looking to draw a paycheck, they’re looking for a career.” Vickers senior automation engineer Jordan Klint adds, “In order to bring young people into the business, you have to have technology. The guys who report to me really enjoy the robotics side. They think robots are cool.”

Obtain the white paper at, and read further thoughts about the relationship between robots and employment here and here.

Posted by: Derek Korn 27. October 2015

Getting to Know Glebar

Glebar’s new 44,560-square-foot facility represents a consolidation of three other locations and features an eco-friendly design and improved workflow for the production of its range of grinding machines.

I must admit, until recently, I didn’t know Glebar as well as I would have liked to. That’s why I was glad to attend the grinding machine manufacturer’s open house last week to celebrate the opening of its new headquarters in Ramsey, New Jersey.

Glebar was founded in 1952 by Miner Gleason (the “gle”) and Robert Barhorst (the “bar”) as a manufacturer of centerless plunge-grinding machines. In the 1960s, it adapted its plunge grinding technology to form billiard balls and golf ball cores. (To this day, 90 percent of all golf ball cores are produced on Glebar equipment.) The company’s product portfolio has since expanded to include OD grinders, double-disc grinders, CNC roll rubber grinders with SCARA-robot feeding systems, CNC serrated-steel rule grinders, CAM grinding systems, dressing machines and Ferris wheel grinders. (Here’s what a Ferris wheel grinder is if you’re not familiar with them.) Glebar serves many markets, including medical, metals, automotive and aerospace, and all of its equipment is made here in the States.

Adam Cook, CEO, says that after operating for more than 60 years in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, Glebar consolidated its three locations and moved to its larger facility in Ramsey to accommodate the company’s recent growth and international expansion. Its new 44,560-square-foot headquarters features LED lighting, updated power systems and eco-friendly features to reduce energy consumption, as well as new manufacturing and inspection equipment, including HMC, VMC, EDM and turning center equipment. The new facility with open layout also enables the company to facilitate workflow through the shop and more effectively implement a lean manufacturing mindset.

Glebar has invested in a number of new machining centers for its shop area, including HMC, VMC, EDM and turning center equipment. At some point, a pallet-pool system will be added to the new Mazak Nexus 6800-II HMC.

Glebar designs its grinding equipment to be modular so it can tailor systems per customers’ applications to enable automation, in-process feedback and intuitive programming and operating. One good example is its CAM2 micro-grinding machine for medical guidewire and other small components. This machine, which can accommodate workpiece stock as small as 0.005 inch in diameter and offers a minimal grinding diameter of 0.0005 inch, can be configured with an in-line gage, wire cutter and wire extractor, spool feeder and cutting system, vacuum feeding system, programmable part extractor and so on.

The company’s CAM2 micro-grinding machines are commonly used to grind medical guidewires for minimally invasive surgical procedures as well as small parts for dental and other applications. The machines accommodate workpiece stock as small as 0.005 inch in diameter and offers a minimal grinding diameter of 0.0005 inch.

It can also be used in conjunction with the company’s new P4K gaging system, a profile metrology device that uses high-speed optical micrometer technology whereby a part is pulled through a laser gage via a precision linear stage while matching diameter and length readings in real time at a rate of 10,000 readings per second (these readings are taken every 30 millionths of an inch). The P4K can scan and feed back diameter measurements to the grinding machine, including taper and radii, to automatically correct wheel dress shape. 

Posted by: Emily Probst 26. October 2015

6 Factors Help Maximize Profitability in High-Precision Machining

To remain competitive, manufacturers need to find ways to eliminate unplanned downtime, minimize scrap rates, ensure consistency and produce high-performance precision parts at a reasonable price. According to Optis, a joint venture that brings together the machining expertise, analytic tools and process improvements of TechSolve with the heritage of Castrol, OEMs currently demand between a 3 to 5 percent reduction in costs for their parts each year and they expect each supplier to achieve or exceed these targets.

Jon Iverson, CEO of Optis says it is important to take an integrated approach to improving manufacturing performance and lists six key considerations that should form an integral part of the manufacturing strategy. Those considerations include machine tools, cutting tools, work material, cutting fluid, machining accessories and machining parameters. Read his full explanation here.

An integrated, holistic approach that considers and optimizes all six factors will lead the manufacturer to a more profitable state of operations, Mr. Iverson says. By thoroughly understanding and acting on these elements, he says manufactures can overcome many of the primary barriers to competitiveness and compliance.

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