Machine Shop Shortstop Goes Digital

Originally designed as a basic spindle-stop notification device, this unit now offers greater connectivity and capability while retaining its trademark simplicity.

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When things get busy, even the most attentive shopfloor personnel may find machines sitting idle for too long before they can change parts, oil a tap, clear chips or perform any other task within the workzone. That’s precisely the scenario that Tom Ryan, a shopfloor veteran himself, had in mind when he developed the ShortStop, a device that links machine to operator similarly to how baseball shortstops were originally conceived to link infield to outfield.

We first reported on the ShortStop back in 2014. Resembling a garage door opener, initial versions of the device served as a simple audio and visual cue. Installed in the machine tool ATC, the unit moves into the spindle at the end of an operation. If operators didn’t see that motion, they’d hear the ringer triggered upon the spindle maneuvering the unit to compress the button against any stationary object in the workzone. 

As long as they were relatively close to the machine, that is. Now, Mr. Ryan says they can receive notifications from virtually anywhere, and on more aspects of the production process. Thanks to a custom circuit board with WiFi capability, users can receive alerts via push notifications and text messages. Those same messages can also be sent to management. This kind of data collection and analysis, he explains, can provide a simple, relatively inexpensive means of tracking job and personnel performance. The ability to send accurate cycle times to a phone or tablet can provide the same advantage for performing time studies. Indeed, sample cases on shortstop.tech include using the mobile app to set up different units for different machines and notification types, or using a single device for multiple tasks within the same program.

Although the ShortStop has been upgraded for the digital age, he insists that the device has lost none of its trademark simplicity. As was the case before, it mounts in a CNC toolholder (a chuck or a ¼-inch collet). As was the case before, it can be moved as easily as any cutting tool from machine to machine. Setup is a simple matter of setting offsets and programming the spindle to maneuver the unit to a set position with the aid of a light that blinks rapidly when the power button is sufficiently compressed (the “mode” button is used to “arm” the shortstop and allow the mobile app to connect). Made from Delrin and 6061 aluminum, it is both vibration- and water-resistant, as was the case before. The real difference lies in the internal electronics, which were implemented to provide a means of leveraging process data that’s both simple and effective.