Connectivity the Key to Unlocking Creativity

Editorial in MetalForming Magazine

By: Brad Kuvin

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


Intra-machine connectivity—where pieces of manufacturing equipment communicate amongst each other and can adjust, without human assistance, to changing conditions —has become reality. Case in point: Mazak, which has brought the Internet of Things to its factory in Florence, KY, and is ready to share its good fortunes with the manufacturing community it serves.

We caught a look at Mazak’s “smart factory” loaded with “smart machines” during its recent Discover 2015 technology/education event. There, through its partnerships with industry suppliers Memex (Merlin software) and Cisco (a secure networking platform), Mazak introduced its new SmartBox device. When mounted to a machine tool, the device uses the MTConnect communication protocol to enable enhanced monitoring and analytics, with state-of-the-art cybersecurity. For analytics, SmartBox, because it is a completely open standard, works in conjunction with numerous third-party analytical software platforms. Within its own manufacturing operations, Mazak opts for the Memex solution.

This concept elevates lean manufacturing to a whole new level. Mazak demonstrated the new digital-manufacturing strategy, dubbed the iSmart factory, on an automated four-machine cell. iSmart provides plant management with real-time visibility and insights into factory-floor operations. And, third-party personnel (your equipment supplier, for example) can securely log on to your network and access the data, too.
The impact of such grandiose connectivity and information flow reaches as far as the imagination can take it. Within the Mazak facility in Florence, plant management boasts of double-digit increases in machine utilization after using SmartBox devices for a little more than a year. That’s the low-hanging fruit, we’re told; continued significant operating efficiencies remain in play.

Lean machines are coming, and they can’t get here too quickly. I recently heard consultant Dick Kallage (KDC & Associates, Barrington, IL) spring this zinger on metalforming executives: The number of people required to operate a $10 million metal-fabricating shop will drop by 20 to 25 percent by 2020, and by 65 to 75 percent by 2025.

Yes, the “horsepower race” will continue, with equipment suppliers providing more power, workpiece capacity and operating speed than ever before. However, pay very close attention to intra-machine communication that promotes efficiency throughout the manufacturing process. This is where metalformers can make enormous progress in their efforts to eliminate waste.