According to the TopShops survey, 30 percent of the shops polled have already implemented some connectivity while of the remaining shops; three-quarters plan to begin implementing within the next few years. Moving to connecting machines is due in part because we are entering into Industry 4.0, an initiative that is revolutionizing manufacturing. Connected machine shops and smart manufacturing are on the rise because of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is the concept of connecting any device to the internet and other connected devices to pull, analyze, and utilize data. In a machine shop, this can mean anything from monitoring and collecting machine status and downtime tracking to monitoring internal temperature and then using artificial intelligence (AI) to adjust production accordingly.
Connectivity is a powerful tool that can be extremely beneficial for machine shops. Here, we break down the advantages of connectivity into three categories: knowledge, security, and profitability.
By monitoring and analyzing data from your machines, you will begin to see trends in your manufacturing operations as well as getting real-time performance data. This allows you to optimize processes and procedures more effectively because you have a greater understanding of what needs to be addressed to implement improvements. Whether it’s identifying issues with tooling, amount of machine downtime, cycle times, or tool change, real-time and collective data provides the statistics needed to make well-informed decisions to enhance operations.
You can also use AI and machine learning tools to gain deeper insights. An example would be tracking the internal temperature of your machine or the pH of your coolant. Machine learning algorithms aggregate all the data collected and outputs the trends that you could not have independently recognized. This knowledge lets you implement a continuous improvement process to address specific findings.
Security can be thought about in two distinct ways – the security it provides your business and security of your data. Let’s first address the security it gives your business. If you are running unattended or lights out, the more information you can access remotely, the better. You have the peace of mind knowing that you can check-in and monitor your machines no matter where you are or what time it is. If any issues do arise, you will be alerted immediately. If a machine unexpectedly changes status, real-time notification lets you diagnose and respond to the problem as needed.
On the other hand, the security of data is one of the most critical issues we face today, both personally and professionally. While we continuously hear about cyber attacks, attacks on machine shops are rare, but the stakes are very real. Luckily, there are measures to put in place like hardware firewalls, encryption, and cyber security insurance policies to reduce the risks and protect your business from a cyber attack.
With more information about your operations, you can make better-informed decisions for your business which leads to improvements in operational efficiency as well as reduces downtime and past-due backlog resulting in higher profits.
AI is being used to transition from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance. It will tell you when maintenance is necessary on a machine, not necessarily when the preventive program calls for maintenance. Costs remain low because performing maintenance is done when needed. Further, you can gather information about best practices from your connected machines. CNC operators take an active role in analyzing the data to identify operational issues more quickly and drive process improvements to be more efficient.
Creating a connected machine shop is an ongoing process. Start by figuring out what is most important to measure. Increase the quality and quantity of the data you gather and tackle issues as they arise. Particularly when machining lights-out, connectivity can provide the peace of mind and information for you to make the best choices for your business.