29 July 2019

“Virtual” genes for machine tools (part 1)

Consumer behaviour and expectations are changing. That’s why also the manufacturing and the operation of machines will undergo a digital transformation.

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

Mention this legendary quote of Henry Ford’s to manufacturers in 2019 and you’ll barely get a weary smile. In a world of endless new digital possibilities, consumers are demanding products that are increasingly customized – and preferably available immediately. The machine-tool world can’t avoid being affected. Both the manufacturing and the operation of machines will undergo a digital transformation. With Sinumerik ONE, Siemens’ newest generation of CNC controllers doesn’t just  have a brand-new name: As a “digital native CNC,” Sinumerik ONE is also a catalyst for a paradigm shift in the way machine tools are used.

My personal consumerism also tends toward personalized products with short innovation cycles.

People often refer to digitalization and the associated social change as though they were outside observers looking in. But if we examine these phenomena more closely, we realize that we ourselves are causing and fueling the change – myself included. My personal consumerism also tends toward personalized products with short innovation cycles: for example, a new car whose configuration has to be precisely tailored to my needs, or a new smartphone for which I expect new features to be available in no more than two years.

The main challenges for machine operators

Because machine tools are an integral component in the production chain of pretty much every consumer product, machine-tool operators are also affected. Their batch sizes are getting smaller, which means that the already highly streamlined business of contract CNC manufacturing has to become even more productive.

Paradigm shift in the use of machines

I’ve noticed another definite social change in the context of my team’s CNC training partnerships. Behind this are service providers within the dual training track for cutting-machine operators. In the medium term, we’re going to run into a skills shortage because there’ll be fewer people to operate more machine tools. This means that a growing number of tasks will have to be shifted from the machine to the CNC job preparation.

That’s why I see the digital twin not as just a buzzword but as a central component in the virtual preparation of production orders. A digital twin can be used to test whether CNC programs are consistent and collision-free. CNC programs can be run in offline. CNC program runtimes and therefore machine utilization can be very precisely measured ahead of time. The benefit of this shouldn’t be underestimated, especially for contract CNC manufacturing companies who are increasingly bidding for contracts on Internet platforms. The virtually simulated production order isn’t implemented in reality until the customer has accepted the bid.

CNC controller with “virtual” genes

As a digital native CNC, Sinumerik ONE – the latest generation of Siemens CNCs – comes with a virtual model of the controller. Along with the real CNC, Run MyVirtual Machine provides the right software portfolio for implementing this exact virtual model of the machine-tool application. This means that the paradigm shift of first running a completely virtual simulation in the CNC work preparation phase using a digital twin isn’t just a vision of the future – it’s already possible today.

Paradigm shift also applies to machine manufacturing

But the paradigm shift doesn’t just affect the way machine tools are used. Machine-tool manufacturing is also experiencing a distinct trend toward customization. In a separate article, I’ll explain how digital twins can support machine-tool engineering. I’ll talk about how the processes of machine manufacturing and operation, which are still largely separate today, are being brought closer together by digital twins.

I look forward to hearing from you! Leave a question or a comment. What do you think about the digital transformation as it applies to the use of machine tools?

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