Manufacturing has pushed for years to move shop related computing functions out of the office and into the shop where the action occurs. The CNC machine has been a primary target to host many of these shop floor computing functions. Until recently when PC-based controls came on the scene, shop floor computing was normally accomplished by purchasing additional computers. These additional computers have performed significant roles including: status reporting, part program management and storage, communications interfaces, statistical analysis on parts being manufactured and shop floor programming and so on. These separate computers which are often interfaced to CNC machines, have fulfilled an important shop need in the past but they represent additional cost and additional maintenance. Also, many proprietary controls present a significant challenge when it comes to interfacing them to shop computers. The PC-based controls entering the market today provide a more seamless and less expensive approach to integrating computers into the shop. This article looks at some of the PC-based third-party software and hardware packages.
The term "third-party package" covers a wide variety of products. The major criteria to be concerned about when selecting one is if they are compatible with the PC platform in both the capability of the PC and its operating system. Capability includes its computing power as related to the type of processor and speed, that is 486/66, Pentium 166, and so on; free space required on the hard drive; and megabytes of RAM memory required. The operating system available in the PC-based control is also an important element of compatibility, that is Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, UNIX and others.
Here's a brief description of some common third-party packages. These are packages that can run at the machine. If they can be run in the CNC as opposed to adding another computer, so-much-the-better:
Norton pcANYWHERE—This is a PC third-party software package from Symatec Corp. that allows a user at one PC to connect to another PC. It works through a modem or a local area network connection to access an office PC or other computer from a remote location.
GageTalker—GageTalker Cimworks Visual SPC is a third-party data collection software package designed to reflect how the factory floor runs and how managers work. It is a Windows-based package designed to manage data collection. It consists of a Visual Real Time, Visual Wizard, Visual Designer, Visual Analyst, and Visual Reports sections.
CIMpro/WIN 32—This is a CNC programming system supplied by Intercom Corp. which consists of an APT processor, postprocessor, and tool path verification for 2- to 5-axis machines. These are the same functions that only a few years ago companies wishing to process APT programs could only do so on large main frame computers. Today, this capability plus much more can be accomplished in seconds with a PC-based control.
Quickscan Barcode Reader—This is a hardware package manufactured by PSC, Inc. that includes a hand-held barcode reader and "Y" connector cable for splicing into a standard PC keyboard. For PC controls that utilize a standard PC keyboard, the barcode reader becomes a fast and efficient way of entering data into a control and eliminating error prone key strokes.
QuickCam and CU-SeeMe consists of combination hardware/software package provided by two different companies. This package has become very popular with PC desktop users and is now finding its way into the shop. QuickCam VC is a small low cost video camera manufactured by Connectix, Inc. that interfaces to a PC through the parallel port. CU-SeeMe is a software package that enables PCs to record, send, and display real-time images.
Space does not permit a description of how these third-party packages are used and why they are important to shops—this will be covered in next month's column. Also, the above list is certainly not an exhaustive list of third-party packages. Almost any PC compatible package is a candidate for shop use. There is little doubt that creative shops will find new and innovative ways of using third-party packages for solving manufacturing problems now that PC based controls have made their integration possible.