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If there was a software tool that could help you find the information you didn't know you had, could leverage the knowledge of your customer base while you’re developing new products, and could speed the time to market for those new products, would you use it?   Manufacturers are definitely interested in the functionalities called “Web 2.0,” in the possible use of blogs, podcasts and wikis in their businesses. But there seems to be some hesitation about implementing them internally.     What is Web 2.0? A buzzword credited to author and publisher Tim O’Reilly, “Web two-point-oh” refers to a new wave of technologies like wikis, blogs, RSS and “social networking” that, in general, allow for greater interaction, communication and collaboration on projects through the Web. Web 2.0 technologies also have the ability for people with little formal training in computer programming to develop new tools by combining others into “mashups.”     Web 2.0 also includes the often controversial “social networking” systems like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, which allow people with no computer programming ability to share ideas and post videos on the Internet.     While Web 2.0 holds great appeal for Gen Y, manufacturing businesses stand to gain a lot from implementing the technology. “Something like Facebook for the enterprise is not really that new a concept,” says Jim Murphy, Research Director, Knowledge and Content Management with AMR Research in Boston. “Companies like Boeing and others in the aerospace and defense industry were doing that 20 years ago. But the consumer Web has popularized these new applications.”     One of the most common and obvious examples of a Web 2.0 application for business is the user forum. Apple, Dell and Intel are just three high-tech manufacturers who sell to consumers to sponsor user forums, with sign-in, search and threaded discussions. “They’re scratching the surface of the technology,” says Hugh Thompson, head of Digital Home Canada and a Web 2.0 consultant based in Toronto.     Such discussion forums can reduce customer service costs, by diverting a large number of phone calls to the Website; it also leverages the knowledge of the user base, augmenting that of the staff experts, and bringing the knowledge of third parties under the manufacturer’s umbrella.   New capabilities for manufacturers “The software can be really transformational,” says Susan Minassian, Product Manager for Lotus Connections at IBM. Both a user and a developer of Web 2.0 software, Minassian is enthusiastic about the business process benefits the technology offers. “Software like this can provide direct channels to feedback from customers and employees. Feedback is essential product designers and engineers, because it can point out drawbacks or weaknesses from the customers’ point of view, and can help you decide where to focus time and resources.”   IBM, and other companies, are also using Facebook-type “social networking” software to capture not only feedback, but also knowledge from employees across the enterprise.   “It provides a significant productivity boost for projects, because of the amount of information that employees have is now available in many different channels, allowing more people to leverage what’s been learned by their colleagues elsewhere in the organization,” says Minassian.     Creating a user forum is not that difficult, and many companies have been using internal “bulletin boards” on their intranets for years. What Web 2.0 applications do, however, is provide standardized tools to make that even quicker, and make it possible for individuals to create new tools that fit the way they want to work.     The notion of the “mashup,” the combination of two or more programs into one function, has also been around for a long time; Murphy points to companies that combine Google Maps or Yahoo Maps with their customer relationship management systems to show the closest retailers, dealers or service locations on their websites. “Standardization of software elements has made it possible to combine functionality,” Murphy says. The Web has become a platform that allows users to put applications together.   Web as intermediary “E-mailing spreadsheets back and forth is just too old-world,” laughs Ken Toews, President of Kanata, Ont.-based of BCT International Inc., a contract manufacturer of electronic and mechanical assemblies, plastic injection moulding systems, cables, and provider of die casting and metal stamping.     BCT has mashed together a FileMaker database and the Web to allow people in its manufacturing facilities in Hong Kong, Shenzen, China and New Delhi to keep the head office up to date on projects and products automatically. Using the database, managers on both sides of the world can see and update order status. The database also can export data and send it in a format directly to BCT’s customers’ supply chain systems.     “It cuts labour and transaction costs, because the customer doesn’t have to call someone at our office to find out their order status — they get a report in their system automatically,” Toews explains.     This use of the Web as both a delivery medium and application platform is a key characteristic of Web 2.0: in the U.S., Ford Motor Co. has a specialized Web portal open only to dealers that allows them to log in, select images and build a customized brochure. The software then orders quantities from approved printers.     “A wiki could help support product innovation or new product introduction by capturing what was learned in the past, with previous new product introductions,” says AMR’s Murphy.   “Web 2.0 applications provide a level of interactivity combined with new technologies that allow people to do new things easily,” says Thompson.   The majors notice But aren’t data integration, knowledge management and networking what the big enterprise-wide software systems are all about? Does Web 2.0 threaten to replace them, at least at the low end with smaller companies?     The big software firms have noticed Web 2.0. In 2006, Google — itself a Web 2.0 developer — bought YouTube. Last year, it launched Google Apps, free office-type software (word processing, spreadsheets) available through a Web browser.     IBM developed its suite of Web 2.0 applications from systems its people had developed for their own use on other IBM projects. “By 2002 to 2003, more people were using ‘social networking’ types of applications to share information and ideas, and what started to emerge were ‘communities of interest,’” explains IBM’s Minassian. “A lot of people were also writing blogs on our intranet to hold discussions across different locations.” IBM started to see real benefits from this type of application: faster spreading and sharing of knowledge and solutions across the enterprise, better collaboration and better research. Eventually, the company put these together into a suite sold under the Lotus brand, called Lotus Connections.     Lotus Connections includes Profiles, which lists people by profile and helps users find knowledge, experience and expertise; Communities, the equivalent of social networking, which allows users to organize according to interest, expertise, or job requirements; Blogs, for personal sharing of information, ideas and opinions; Dogear, which is a “social bookmarking” system that allows users to “tag” Web pages, e-mails, files and just about any other digital asset and make them available to others in their Communities; and Activities, which helps users organize tasks and projects, share files and e-mails, paths and other tools. Each application is available separately, but are also completely integrated: users can move tags from Dogear to help organize Activities, use Profiles to help build a project team, and use Activities to share with others in their Communities.   Microsoft’s SharePoint is a web-based platform that provides and manages access to shared files and servers, and can thus produce things like wikis, blogs and other collaboration systems. Users can create task lists, discussion forums and more.     SAP, one of the leaders in enterprise software systems worldwide, has launched NetWeaver, which gives users the ability to put together different functions into dashboards — analogous to the Web mashup. NetWeaver also makes it — relatively — simple (compared to using most SAP applications, anyway) to organize and manage collaboration, teams, projects and digital assets, or files.   Failure to launch “The use of Web 2.0 by businesses is really still in its infancy,” says Thompson of Digital Home. “Companies will put up discussion forums for their customers to share solutions, but some are worried about negative comments — one retailer even cancelled a discussion forum for fear that someone might endorse a product they don’t carry.”     Jim Murphy of AMR Research points out that Web 2.0 is not without its risks. “The consumer Web has made things like FaceBook and blogs popular, and businesses have to either adopt similar functionality within their organizations and the IT structure, or they face a risk when people start using them on their own.”     Businesses, particularly those heavily dependent on their IT infrastructure and the knowledge of their people, will face increasing pressure to implement at least the functionality of Web 2.0 tools.     Consulting firm McKinsey & Co.’s 2007 global survey, “How businesses are using Web 2.0” finds that nearly three quarters of respondents to a survey of executives said they planned to maintain or increase company investments in Web 2.0 technologies.     “Companies using Web 2.0 technologies have developed a new way of bringing technology into business,” the report states. “This new approach is easier to implement and more flexible than traditional top-down approaches.     “Companies aren’t necessarily relying on the best-known Web 2.0 trends, such as blogs; instead, they place the greatest importance on technologies that enable automation and networking.”   And North Americans may not be the leaders this time around. “Executives from China and Latin America … now plan to invest at the same rate or even faster than those in Europe and North America,” says McKinsey’s report.     “They’re enabling technologies,” says Murphy. “They enable people to find information, share it and support their projects and tasks. Then allow businesses to bring information and feedback in from their user communities, and use feedback more effectively.     “What often happens when a product hits the market and takes off is that another company realizes they had the same idea a year earlier, but it didn’t go anywhere for a variety of reasons. Better ability to capture the knowledge they already have can help businesses increase their speed to market and learn from previous experiences.”     Scott Bury is a journalist and educator based in Kanata, Ont. He regularly covers high technology and manufacturing. You can reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
This is a very different column for me, because I really didn't test drive the software–I had it driven for me at an event in Utah. For those of you who were at the ISA show in Houston, you would have seen the introduction of this new breed of HMI/SCADA software. The formal launch date is set for sometime this month. This is a significant product; as significant as the first version of Wonderware was when Windows 3.0 was revealed. This is the first product that has been designed from the ground up to be used with Microsoft's Vista operating system.So who cares? Maybe not many right now, but the integration of ICONICS' Genesis64 with Vista is remarkable. "Itís a quantum jump in the evolution of the HMI," ICONICS president Russ Agrusa told me. You can't buy a computer today without Vista, which amplifies the importance of Genesis64 and the resetting of the HMI bar. SharePoint is a Microsoft technology that allows for enterprise data access and employee collaboration. Genesis64 supports and integrates these services. This would allow for a true global design for a company's data and plant floor. You would be able to access the plant floor data in China as if you were right there, and it would be painless to do so since Genesis64 is fully Web-enabled with all of the connectivity you need. Supporting the .NET framework also allows Genesis64 to scale very well. Since it runs on 64 bit hardware, the responsiveness is very impressive. Genesis64 is fully OPC-UA compliant, which allows the software to access any OPC-enabled device or PLC. Typically, building an HMI application requires the use of add-ons, bolt-ons and a lot of design work. Certain aspects of an application should be easy, like menus and button bars. These are going to be very passé! Microsoft has developed technologies that make our life easier and increase the cool factor on our desktop. Iconics has integrated these technologies to create a HMI that will redefine the development curve and the run-time environment. The only downside I see is the need for 64 bit hardware, which may make a panel-mounted touch screen a bit more expensive. Agrusa was obviously excited when he was showing me his new baby. He has been involved in HMI products for a long time, and he must feel the same as Dennis Morin did in 1989 when Wonderware hit the streets and coincided with Microsoft's Windows 3.0 release. It took a few years for the rest of the vendors to catch up, and by then it was too late. I'm sure Agrusa hopes the same thing will happen here. ICONICS is the first company out of the gate with a true Vista product, while others are merely making their stuff work under Vista. Some of the advantages you would benefit from are from Microsoft, and some are Iconics-conceived. Gadgets are small applications that can reside on the desktop (or inside the Genesis64 application), or they can reside in whatís called a Sidebar. They are running applications, but they now have a container to be docked into. These gadgets can be considered forms, or windows, that expand and contract at your will. Answers to operating questions such as "What time is it?" for manual data logging or "What's the temperature?" can be answered quickly, regardless of where the operator is or what screen he has displayed. Sidebar is a technology that organizes gadgets and other objects that you may have in your Genesis64 application. It's just there; you drop the gadgets you want into the sidebar, and the operator can find the information he needs quickly. Sideshow allows you to mimic part of your main application screen onto a portable device without having to code anything, so a screen in Genesis64 could be pushed to a PDA simply by turning on the PDA. Genesis64 can interface with Virtual Earth so you can view global activities by location and by objects. Agrusa demonstrated a GPS application that lay on top of Virtual Earth so that the GPS location and the physical location were connected. For some, 2-D graphics can provide enough insight, but we all want 3-D and in the past, it has been too much of an effort. Not anymore. Any 3-D images can be imported (from CAD systems, etc.) or built and then fully manipulated and tied to OPC data tags. Fully animated 3-D objects might not work for everyone, but will for a bunch of us. Agrusa points out, "You want to make the user experience clearer, faster and more powerful." Mission accomplished. Check out www.iconics.com for the availability of the product and online demos. Genesis64 raises the bar for HMI/SCADA applications. Jeremy Pollard is a 25-year veteran of the industrial automation industry. He has worked as a systems integrator, consultant and an educator in the field. Jeremy can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . PRODUCT SPECS:Name: Genesis64Version: 1.0Vendor: ICONICSApplication: SCADA/HMIPrice: TBA
In the competitive automotive market, there is no room for error when it comes to product shipments. Materials are typically ordered "just in time," so any delay or errors can stop auto-plant production cold.
Historically, the majority of a manufacturer's costs have been labour. When Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line in 1913, labour accounted for an estimated 80 per cent of total costs. One of Ford's key beliefs was that labour costs could be greatly reduced by eliminating unnecessary steps from the manufacturing process.Ultimately, machinery accomplished what Ford and many others set out to do: streamline the production of goods and improve efficiencies on the shop floor. Machines could complete the same tasks as humans on an assembly line, but at a much quicker pace and at significantly lower costs. As a result, production and assembly processes required fewer workers and labour costs dropped considerably. Faced with tighter margins and increasing competition, job shops and custom manufacturers today are embracing innovative new ways to take shop floor automation and business management to the next level. Driven by new applications and technology advancements, these solutions are enabling businesses to minimize costly manual labour practices throughout the manufacturing process to obtain a level of efficiency that their predecessors could only have imagined. In addition, these solutions allow shops to maximize other resources, including their existing investments in machines, systems and applications. One of the new tools responsible for driving this level of efficiency on the shop floor is intelligent numerical controls (INC). Capable of running on virtually any machine - from the simplest lathe to multi-function machines running the most advanced algorithms - INCs monitor and measure the output of production data, such as job starts, machine hours and part counts, without manual intervention. These controls provide seamless integration with almost any application and peripheral, including shop management systems, while also interfacing with barcoders, feeders, robots, probes and tool setters to help streamline production.It is critical for job shops and custom manufacturers to have access to this production data, along with employee information and other operational data, in a single system to more effectively manage production. The integration between the shop floor and back office provides a more holistic view of the organization. It enables management to better plan and schedule projects, ensuring that business is always running smoothly and that customer expectations are being met. While computer numerical controls (CNC) have been in use for decades, intelligent numerical controls are a very recent introduction. Based on standard PC motherboard architecture, these controls truly represent the state-of-the-art in numerical control form and function. Whereas previous controls relied on hard-wired control mechanisms, intelligent controls rely on software. The difference is significant. For example, every machine purchased with CNC controls was, in essence, obsolete the day it was installed. It could be upgraded with new controls, of course, but this was extremely expensive and time consuming. In contrast, intelligent controls are upgradeable simply by installing new software. Should additional computing horsepower ever be required, the components of the intelligent control are as easy to upgrade as the components of any personal computer.The true value of intelligent numerical controls is apparent when they are integrated with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system on the back end to automate the collection of production data and enable communication with business and production systems on the shop floor. Production data can come directly off machines into the ERP system, providing a level of accuracy unattainable through traditional data entry methods. Moreover, by automating this process, job shops can always have the most up-to-date data in real time, and they can also better control headcount and costs.ERP integration with INC controls offers powerful additions to a manufacturer's competitive arsenal. Far more than simply reporting machine run times and parts produced, the integration of ERP and INC systems helps to drive all aspects of manufacturing effectiveness and efficiency. The product of ERP/INC integration can be as basic as real-time reporting of machine data to the ERP system. However, since INC is a software-based environment, manufacturers can now achieve unprecedented synergy between not only the INC and ERP systems, but also a wide range of affiliated applications, including robotic controls, automated tool management, metrology, cooling systems, material feeders and tool setters. Achievement of such integration typically involves the use of an application program interface (API). Well-designed intelligent numerical control software includes not only a resident API, but also a well-documented, easy-to-use .NET interface. With these components in place, integration between multiple systems is a relatively straightforward process. One of the benefits of the integration shown in Diagram 1, is real-time data transfer from the machine to company management. Among the possible data being transferred are:• Job setup time (accurate tracking of setup time and costs);• Job starts and stops (machine time costs, maintenance schedules, tool changes);• Machine operator time (accurate labour tracking, not only by work centre but by job); and • Material usage (pulling material from inventory within the ERP system as material is depleted on the job).Such basic integrations offer all of the advantages you would expect, including reduced human error and improved accuracy. Perhaps most important is the instant addition of the data to the manufacturer's ERP system. This empowers managerial decision making. Any purchasing manager responsible for raw materials can tell you how important that becomes during times of material shortages or price volatility. While the basic integration of ERP and intelligent controls is powerful, imagine what you can do by taking the concept one step further. In Diagram 2, the same use of the API is applied to integrate with several other systems in the work cell. The diagram shows tool usage data flowing from the automated tool crib, through the API, into the intelligent control, and out to the ERP system. We also see that the tool usage data are being combined with tool wear data from a metrology system. The entire overall system is now working more effectively and efficiently than ever before. For example, tool wear data combine with tool availability data. The metrology system authorizes the automated tool crib to issue new tools when they are needed. Purchase orders are automatically issued, just-in-time, based on rules set up within the ERP system. Costs are tracked more accurately than ever before, and finite adjustments to the system are now possible. In this example, we've only leveraged the intelligent control to integrate ERP with the tool crib, metrology, machine data, material usage and labour. Similar integration, based on the straightforward use of the intelligent control's API, greatly broadens the possibilities. As shown in Diagram 3, an entire manufacturing operation can now be integrated. Integrating two systems, however, can be problematic, and integrating three or more can be overwhelming. But history shows that such integration is possible. Consider, for example, the integration of your PDA with your cell phone and laptop. This was originally looked at as an impossible dream until the appropriate APIs were developed. Now, such integration is commonplace. It has changed the way we do business and the way we live. The integration of the manufacturing environment, made possible through the use of intelligent numerical controls and ERP, holds similar promise. At the very least, it will change the way we manufacture. Given the history of manufacturing breakthroughs, it could just change our world.Dan Deanovic is the director of development for Exact JobBOSS, a provider of job shop software.
Pick up a pen. Have a sip from your coffee mug. Climb into your car, grab the wheel and drive to work. Start up your computer. Lean back and enjoy your ergonomically designed chair. Call your spouse on your cell phone. There’s an increasingly good chance that all of the physical objects that you interact with on a daily basis started out in digital form. A host of new product development, analysis and design engineering tools are transforming the way manufacturers bring products to life. Despite the amazing advances, many visionaries and experts say we are really still only in the infancy of figuring out how to easily and accurately convert digital ideas and concepts into physical products. But as you’ll find out in our feature story, every day, brainy new entrepreneurs, engineers and software developers are taking us one step closer to bridging the digital divide. For designers, a gulf still exists that prevents them from easily and seamlessly converting their ideas into final products. But the gulf is narrowing all the time, and new technologies are part of the answer. Cultural change is another key element that is still missing. Even in the early days of CAD/CAM integration there was a noticeable rift between the manufacturing and design aspects of production-centric organizations. In most instances, it was the manufacturing process component that was the primary area of contention, says Dick Slansky, a senior analyst with the Dedham, Mass.-based ARC Advisory Group. "Fortunately, as Dassault, SolidWorks, Fluent and other industry leaders have matured we have seen continuous movement into an era of complete integration including virtual product and process validation as well as simulated production line processes using existing PLM data," says Slansky. "All of these aspects help in validating the production process without physical investments. Being able to accurately do this has the true ability to change the entire time to market." As promising as the future looks, however, Slansky acknowledges that a divide remains. "There is no question that the two sides still do not connect. Yet, it is not a matter that the tools do not exist. The various vendors are offering very robust tools, but discrete manufacturers need to embrace the components and the two sides need to understand that when working together it is possible to accomplish the goals before them," he says. "This all comes down to the basic aspect that people need to work together to bring a product to market in an efficient and agile manner. Widespread adoption of simulation is what will make this possible." Harnessing the information Jim Heaton, president of Chelsea, Mich.-based KVQuest Ltd. says that throughout the trials of trying to get along, most"product design and manufacturing organizations have tried to maintain some direct control over critical systems. He says this led to situations where significant computer capacity and systems are not being controlled by manufacturing operations. The "digital disconnect" is often more organizational and cultural than issues of vendor / developer focus, explains Heaton. "Investors invest in companies that have products that sell well," he says. "Going after users with real problems but no budget control does not produce software sales. Underserved"markets are usually an indication that the real need does not equate to"a"currently"viable, commercially servable, market there." Robert Axtman, Delmia’s director of worldwide marketing, (part of Dassault Systemes) says the gap is being closed quickly with the advent of tools designed to eliminate the problems caused when engineers "throw stuff over the wall" to manufacturing. "Part of this is the bidirectional data conduit that can pass back and forth so that everyone is looking at the same data at the same time. Interweaved PLM options are also about having one depository of data so that manufacturing can make its changes while design is taking place," says Axtman. "This does not mean that it is possible to eliminate engineering changes, but we can make changes further up in the design where the cost is much lower – something that is crucial to any production environment." Axtman says that closing the divide further will require a business paradigm shift. "There are too many silos that are not connected, and the sequential production mentality needs to change," he says. "Management needs to make a decision to accept this as a means of reducing time to market while improving quality. There needs to be a justifiable ROI that is acceptable." IT STARTS WITH PARTS In the CAD market, led by industry leaders Autodesk, SolidWorks, SolidEdge and PTC’s Pro/Engineer among others, part design has arrived at a point where many of the latest innovations are now incremental. Whether a company produces small components or large assemblies, chances are that the design process started with some version of CAD software. As this technology marketplace matures, 3D solid modeling tools have propelled growth and consolidation as the top vendors wage war over features and functions. In its attempt to change how developers approach the industry, Richardson, Texas-based Alibre Inc. embraced a strategy to offer professional class 3D modeling tools at under $1,000, which the company says puts power in people’s hands who otherwise could not afford these tools. "The technology is not in the hands of many small manufacturers," says Alibre’s CEO Greg Milliken. "As businesses get larger, access is more common, but the broad base is what makes up most manufacturing and they have long been ignored." According to Milliken, the new view of the market is that the Internet is a vehicle for obtaining software. "If anyone can download and try products without making large commitments, this allows more manipulation and discovery without constraints and stipulations," he says. "Easy access is vital to the industry. Put only what people need out there at a reasonable price is what will breach this digital divide. The barriers need to be removed." VALIDATING ANALYSIS TOOLS As simulation becomes more prevalent and works to bridge the gap between design and production, tools offered by companies like Ansys, CosmosWorks and Fluent will continue to drive analysis and design for manufacturing into uncharted waters. In reality, it may be the validation component that truly bridges the gap to close the digital divide. According to Slansky, the most crucial area where validation tools come into play is the simplification of new line design. "For years the major manufacturers worldwide relied on the combined expertise of design engineers and manufacturing engineers to select the right equipment and then put it in place to allow full steam production," says Slansky. The sticking point, however, is that commissioning the actual process development and analysis is been one of the most time consuming and costly undertakings for discrete manufacturers. "Fortunately, simulation has matured to a point where it is possible to accurately accomplish these tasks without going through the process of physical validation." The same philosophies also exist when a company is developing a new product that relies on various components for ultimate success. "The ability to avoid designing component mishaps can also be a major issue, especially in a marketplace where component design and production is commonly outsourced," says Slansky. "Being able to ascertain compatibility before physically making a part improves the outcome. However, at least in this arena, a key component to making sure that this all works deals with the ability to embrace the various collaboration tools." IMPORTANCE OF DATA As the two sides come together, all parties will rely heavily on the data that holds everything together. Understanding how to deal with,"manage, reuse and preserve all of the digital data that comes from each end could serve as a key indicator as the digital development movement continues to mature. Kevin Prendeville, is a product development practice manager with the New York, NY-based Accenture consulting firm. Prendeville says the biggest problem facing full integration of the data sector is a fundamental fragmentation that also contributes to slower product development and launch schedules. "The translation is too fragmented from customer requirements to technical requirements to solutions to testing solutions," he says. "When, in fact, this should be the driver so that people know when they are done." Prendeville says that there needs to be a single source of data that supports the entire process from requirement to launch. "Fragmentation creates extreme difficulties that are not impossible to overcome but it means that you need to go beyond the technologies and actually adopt processes that work," he says. One frustrating trend that Prendeville sees is that even the more progressive companies have numerous tools that support all the process, yet they still put the data into silos. "There is a need for the industry as a whole to provide better reporting so that it is possible to make solid business decisions based on all of the information." Digital development tools are robust and getting better all the time, but the business processes still need to catch up. Peter Fretty is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Advanced Manufacturing. You can reach him at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Experts at London, Ont.'s Integrated Manufacturing Technologies Institute bridge the gap between research and reality
Facing substantial costs associated with outsourcing, chemical and pharmaceutical firm Merck KgaA turned to a computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) system to cut production time by 50 per cent at its manufacturing facility in Darmstadt, Germany. Previously, the company used a computer-aided design (CAD) system to design and manufacture fixtures and components for special machines. This method allowed the company to define the geometry of complicated 3D components, but a numerical control (NC) programming bottleneck made it impossible to produce components with anything other than the simplest contours. As a result, the company had to send more of its machining workload out to suppliers at a cost that was considerably higher than doing the job in-house.Merck manufacturing managers recognized that the lack of efficiency in the computer numerically controlled (CNC) programming process was becoming a major problem. They decided to implement a CAM system that could tightly integrate with the existing CAD system, Solid Edge, and selected Esprit from DP Technology. The solution automatically recognizes the CAD attributes and then creates the tool path necessary to machine the given feature, eliminating the time and potential for error involved in entering them manually. The CAM system also allows the programmer to automatically update the previously defined tool path based on new or modified geometry. The savings"The time required for programming has been reduced so significantly that it has cut the typical time to produce parts by about half," said Achim Goettmann, CAD/CAM programmer for Merck. For example, the CAM system programs a part called a release chamber, which has a number of holes and cylinders that are used to make a neurotransmitter release with slices of organic materials. "We could have produced the program for this part on a machine controller but it would have taken a long time to define the machining parameters for each of the holes and cylinders," Goettmann said. "Instead, when we read the file into Esprit, the software understood each of the features and automatically set up the machining parameters."The system has also enabled the company to produce parts that it previously had to outsource. For example, a pill controller is used to present pills at various angles so that they can be visually inspected. The grooves that the pills slide in are very complicated 3D contours. The part is excited and the resulting vibrations move the pills along the slots. The middle section has a unique shape controlled by the size and form of the pills being inspected. The creation of the CNC program for this part was the first job done with the system and was intended to determine whether the CAM system was the right choice. "Despite the complexity of the geometry, this part was very easy to program," Goettmann explained. "We defined the design of the part in the CAD system and pushed a button to move the geometry into Esprit. The CAM system recognized the standard features such as the holes and bosses. Then I defined the contoured slots as toolpaths. The entire part took only a single day to design and program. Then we set the job up to run unattended on a machining centre overnight and we had good parts the next morning."The CAM system recognizes features contained in the solid model and automatically adjusts such information as the diameter and depth of holes that need to be drilled. The company saved additional time by creating tool libraries inside the CAM system. These include all of the cutting tools that are used on a regular basis and "sync lists" that define machine setup parameters. The company also uses the "process manager" to define machining operations that are performed on a regular basis so they can be inserted into any new program. "The bottom line," said Goettmann, "is that the job of the programmer has changed from manually entering the code line by line and hoping that an error wasnít made, to supervising the work of the computer and making high-level decisions about the best way to machine the part."Another benefit, said Goettmann, is that "part complexity is no longer a criterion for manufacturing outside Merck, so we have been able to dramatically reduce subcontracting expenses. By keeping complicated jobs inside, we also have greatly reduced the potential for confusion and misunderstanding between design and manufacturing."Jerry Fireman is the president of Structured Information, a technical communications company based in Lexington, Mass.
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