The PC-based controls entering the market today provide a more seamless and less expensive approach to integrating computers into the shop, and there are several third-party packages available to run on them. The term "third-party package" includes a wide variety of products. Some are made up of only software, others only hardware, and still others are a combination of both. This article describes some of the more common packages being integrated into PC-based CNCs today and discusses their uses and benefits to the shop.
Norton pcANYWHERE—This is a PC third-party software package from Symantec Corp. that allows a user at one PC to connect to another PC, and then work as if there. It works through a modem or a local area network connection and is a good solution for companies that wish to connect PC-based CNC machines to the shop office or to remote technical centers. This software package provides the capability needed for monitoring a machine's status to get information such as feed and speed override values, alert and diagnostic history records, part program information, tool data, and so on.
GageTalker—GageTalker Cimworks Visual SPC is a third-party data collection software package designed with the factory floor in mind to reflect how the factory floor runs and how managers work. It is a Windows-based package designed to manage data collection.
Many shops have shown interest in the GageTalker portion of this package, which provides the ability to interface a gage to a PC-based CNC through a serial port connection. Once the gage data is collected, this package provides a wide range of standard statistical calculation such as CPK, PPK, CPM, X-Bar and Sigma. When the package is combined with a "Visual Designer's Report Generator," a user can select statistics and charts to meet a customer's request to supply customized traceability and event information about parts and the process in printed form.
CIMpro/WIN 32—This is a CNC programming system, supplied by Intercim Corp., which consists of an APT processor, postprocessor, and tool path verification for machines up to five axes.
CIMpro is a desirable package for shops that have a wide variety of CNC machines combined with a wide variety of parts that are expected to be run on any available machine. With CIMpro running in a PC- based CNC, a generic source code can be downloaded to the next available machine where it is processed and postprocessed in seconds in the control, creating a unique part program for that machine. CIMpro only maintains the generic source files, greatly reducing the number of files to be stored and maintained.
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. Barcode input may be substituted for entering any data that is input through a "data entry window" where an operator is expected to enter an alpha or numeric combination of characters from the keyboard. Possibilities for using the barcode reader are selecting a part program, entering tool data, entering fixture offsets, and so on.
QuickCam and CU-SeeMe—These consist of a 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 manu-factured 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. CU-SeeMe software has recently been packaged with pcANYWHERE software. QuickCam and CU-SeeMe, along with an appropriate sound card, allow PC users to see and talk to each other.
This list of third-party packages is certainly not exhaustive in that almost any PC compatible third-party package is a good candidate for shop use in a PC-based control. There is little doubt that PC third-party package use will increase as creative shops find new and innovative ways of using these packages for solving manufacturing problems now that PC-based controls have made their integration possible.