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Bring Ideas to Life: Machine Tools on the Fast Track to Industry 4.0

The old days of machine building and CNC machining are over. The customary way of building a machine tool or cutting a workpiece, then testing and optimizing it by adjusting parameters and settings in an iterative way in the real world will soon belong to the past. The money now lies in the optimization of complete workflows rather than just the technical operation of machines. When it comes to CNC controllers for machine tools ’digitalization‘ and ’digital twin‘ are more than just buzzwords. There is real change happening, which will thoroughly transform the industry and the way we think of machines.

Maximize Productivity 

As in other business operations and production as a whole, in the machine tool industry also, it’s all about productivity. Machine builders and machine users are constantly seeking for higher productivity. We understand that productivity is encompassing

  • Quality 
  • Flexibility
  • Speed
  • Efficiency

I could write an elaborate blog about each of these topics. But there is one thing people still expect of us above all: They seek the best CNC controller on the market. All digitalization and innovation of workflows and engineering processes is worth nothing without having the best CNC controller that beats all its predecessors. And of course, we have done just that at Siemens. SINUMERIK ONE, the newest release in our elaborate CNC portfolio, tops previous controllers in terms of PLC and CNC performance in machine operation, cutting speed and also data acquisition and processing performance. Bringing such advances in productivity to life is nothing less than the basis of our success.

Innovate faster

But the world is changing faster and faster. And having the best CNC controller may not be enough to be successful in the future. Some customers are a little further ahead than others. But they all realize that the money is in the optimization of the complete workflow. 

Therefore, the old days of machine building are over. Building a machine, then testing it and finding out how to optimize it and adjusting parameters and settings in an iterative way in the real world will no longer be an acceptable way in the future.

What people ask for now is to do this faster and in a digital fashion. Adjusting parameters in engineering is required to immediately show indications on what it brings in terms of machine performance or surface quality. 

The same is true for the machine user. The design of parts shall immediately result in production planning and execution for the complete process and not just for one step limited to the machine tool. It shall include the surrounding automation of one or several machines as well. 

All this is giving machine builders and machine users the possibility to innovate faster. And it’s not stopping there. The complete obsolescence of process steps is giving even more speed, which leads me straight to the third point.

Excite digitalization

More than half of the world population is using the internet today. More and more of these users grew up with the internet. These ’digital natives’ are the decision makers of the future. So we realized it was high time to develop a digital native CNC for machine tools.

Digitalization changes everything. How many times have you heard that? It is one of those buzzwords that we are all a little sick of hearing. But think back around 15 years, when we had the big launch of the current SINUMERIK 840. 15 years! It doesn’t sound like a very long time but compare that to the overall speed of how the internet evolved in that time. 

I’m not even trying to imagine what kind of changes we will observe in the years to come. What will the world look like in 15 years from today? 2035!? One thing is clear: The internet will further define the way we live, work and think. More than half of the world population is using the internet today. More and more of these users grew up with the internet. These ‚digital natives’ are the decision makers of the future. So we realized it was high time to develop a digital native CNC for machine tools, for the current and the future generations.

Today, the digital twin is not reserved to nerds anymore. It is emerging from being a rather elusive and somewhat spooky concept. In the near future, it is going to be the normal and natural way to work with digital twins for products, production and performance in the virtual world. It is already happening today. Siemens and a lot of its customers have started. But is it already the natural way of working? Is it the first thing that comes to mind for everybody involved with CNC controllers, machine building and manufacturing of goods? Soon business will not just be done with hardware – machines and CNC controls -, the added value now lies in the virtual world.

Discover a new way of thinking

The expectation will be that the machine optimizes itself.

We have to change the way we think. Here at Siemens Machine Tool Systems (MTS) we are striving to identify future markets. How will machine building evolve over the next years and decades? What kind of new requirements will the industrial producers, the machine users of the future, ask for? How can we best support these needs? What does the future CNC technology need to be capable of?

Among machine builders the willingness to go through prolonged and costly optimization routines is on the decline. Likewise, the demands of machine users have changed. The growing push for customization of industrial goods and increased adaptability to volatile market demands and globalized competition have changed the expectations of what machines should be capable of and how they are operated.

Going away from being a system from experts for experts, now the expectation is that a future-oriented CNC system is supported by software tools which help the machine to optimize itself. This should ideally require barely more than pushing a button.

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift, that allows machine builders to follow a new way of thinking and re-think their whole business portfolio.

For machine builders it is quintessential to adopt a new way of thinking. New business will not solely be found in building and selling the best possible machines. The real money now lies in digital services that bring added value for the machine users. With SINUMERIK ONE Siemens offers the technology to easily create and work with digital twins of machine tools. And it is the digital twin, the most accurate virtual model of a machine with all relevant parameters, that allows machine builders to develop these customized digital services for their customers.

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift that allows machine builders to follow a new way of thinking and re-think their whole business portfolio: How can the digital twin of a machine generate additional business?

A machine tool is most productive when it produces chips. Thus, some parts of the operations (e.g. run-in of new workpieces, training of new personnel) can be transferred from the shop floor to the office. Also here the digital twin is the perfect aid: 

  • The run-in of CNC-programs for new machining tasks can be performed ‘offline‘ while the machine is still in operation.
  • New personnel for machine handling can receive instructions and training without blocking the actual machine by using its digital twin.
  • Change the way we think and also how we do business also means to e.g. enable virtual showrooms to sell machines in a digital fashion

We are in the midst of a digital turn in the machine tools market. When the machine builder has created a digital twin of the engineering process, or the entire machine was already developed and optimized within such a virtual model, it is easy to make this digital twin accessible to machine users. This means: The machine builder suddenly does not just sell machines, i.e. hardware, it also sells software, which brings added value to the customers, for example through digital self-optimization tools, predictive maintenance tools for reduced and planned down-times and intelligent assistance systems for machine safety and handling.

I am excited to play my part in the digital transformation of the machine tool market. Please feel free to reach out, ask questions and share your experiences.