Mark Albert

Mark Albert is editor-in-chief of Modern Machine Shop Magazine, a position he has held since July 2000. He was associate editor and then executive editor of the magazine in prior years. Mark has been writing about metalworking for more than 30 years. Currently, his favorite topics are lean manufacturing and global competitiveness. Mark’s editorial activities have taken him to numerous countries in Europe and Asia as well as across the United States many times. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana).

Posted by: Mark Albert 8. January 2016

A New Generation of Sensors Is Here

Schaeffler’s Machine 4.0 concept features a variety of sensors embedded in the bearing supports of a machining center. (Photo courtesy of Schaeffler group.)

A new generation of sensors is here and it is ushering in the next industrial revolution. In the interconnected world of the Industrial Internet Things, some of the most important data about connected machines and equipment will come from sensors the likes of which we have not seen before. Here are some representative examples.

Sensors in critical machine bearings. Because bearings and bearing supports are present in all of the moving parts of a machine tool that are critical to the machine’s functionality and machining accuracy, the condition of these components greatly influences the most vital performance characteristics of the machine tool. Detecting and measuring variables related to the condition of these bearings is a real boost to machine monitoring capability. Read how Schaeffler, a leading German supplier of industrial bearings, has embedded digital sensors in a machine tool to support Industry 4.0 concepts

A sensory toolholder measures machining forces in real-time. The Spike toolholder from Pro-Micron USA detects and measures the forces in torque occurring while a machining operation is underway. Strain gages embedded in the holder are connected to a transmitter that broadcasts the data wirelessly to a receiver and attached computer for analysis. We first saw this innovation at Westec 2015

Detecting chips in a milling spindle. Grob’s chip-in-spindle detection system consists of a rotor and stator assembly that is integrated within the face of the spindle. Sensors in these components detect stresses that may indicate chip interference that occurs during an automatic tool change.  Automatic monitoring of tool clamping to detect chip interference between the toolholder and the spindle has multiple benefits. It increases process stability; protects cutting tools and the machine; helps optimize machining processes; makes automatic tool changes more reliable; and prevents runout discrepancies that might result in machining errors or defective parts. 

A low cost way of monitoring the temperature of machine tool components. As a summer project at the Advanced Manufacturing Resource Center in the UK, a chemical engineering student from the University of Sheffield developed the software and hardware for a wireless sensor network that can provide a drop-in solution for monitoring the temperature of multiple machine tools. His system uses the popular Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms alongside inexpensive ZigBee radios which together provide a compact and low-cost solution for wireless data acquisition. Read about the project in AMRC's Quarterly Journal here. (Here is a PDF of the article if you are having trouble opening it in Chrome.)

Also, here's more about the importance of emerging sensor technology in the Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 (the fourth Industrial Revolution). 

Posted by: Mark Albert 25. December 2015

Christmas, Steam Trains and Machine Tools

This Niles quartering machine is one of the vintage pieces of manufacturing equipment that is operational in the Age of Steam Roundhouse. Photo by Tim Sposato, Age of Steam Roundhouse.

We all know that Christmas and steam trains go together (think Polar Express, for example). Historic steam trains, as you can imagine, require precise machining operations for restoration and maintenance. Here is a link to a newsletter about a place where Christmas, steam trains and machine tools all come together.

It’s the Age of Steam Roundhouse Report, Winter 2015-2016. The Age of Steam Roundhouse preserves and occasionally operates historic steam and diesel locomotives. A full-scale, realistic brick-and-timber roundhouse is the centerpiece of this endeavor. This latest report highlights current activities, and includes news of recent loco-restoration efforts, Christmas displays and reconditioning of certain vintage machine tools. These machines are essential to repairing, rebuilding and restoring railroad equipment. The list includes a Niles quartering machine, a Lucas horizontal boring mill and a Putnam 80-inch wheel lathe. These machine tools look like they are brand-new and will be fully functional for their intended purpose. 

Posted by: Mark Albert 24. November 2015

Data-Driven Manufacturing Enabled with Tool Lifecycle Management

This video presents a lively and easy-to-follow scenario of how information about cutting tool availability links design, planning and production. Although TDM's tool lifecycle management software is brought into focus at relevant spots in this video, the larger message that "tool data management will be the control room of digitally controlled production" is sound and compelling.

Posted by: Mark Albert 13. November 2015

Winning the (Tax) Game in the Fourth Quarter

Acquiring new equipment can be a challenging proposition. One important consideration is timing the acquisition to maximize the tax benefits. Some of these benefits may require action before the end of a calendar year. Financing options such as a tax lease give shops a variety of strategies for making crucial decisions late in the game. This article by a finance professional highlights key aspects of these options and shows why the fourth quarter is an ideal time to acquire new equipment. 

Posted by: Mark Albert 30. October 2015

What's So Smart about the Mazak 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, this device 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 Mazak 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 Mazak 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 box 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 box 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. It 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 box include PLCs and various sensor ports for additional applications.

3. It 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. It 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 box as a node on the network. But even before a shop or plant gets to that higher level of connectivity, the Mazak SmartBox can be delivering interpreted, actionable data on the shop floor.

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

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

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