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Controls are ready to talk.

Controls are ready to talk

The major technological change in controls is in communication between machines with different controls, says Rex Ferguson, director of marketing and product development, Motion Control Div, Allen-Bradley Co. "At IMTS-88, people talked about those abilities, but didn't really have them. Now, the architecture is there; information passes freely between machines. The CNC can now communicate to a network, host computer, or other device."

Previously, the few controls that could do this did so only on a very-slow-speed basis, he notes. "Today, you have three or four communication options on a machine. That, coupled with greater user sophistication, has a big bearing on what people are buying today." Although Mr Ferguson admits this doesn't mean much yet for the small shop, it's critical for medium and large shops. "People getting into cells or lining up machines to work together need this communication."

"At IMTS-88," he continues, "we talked about 32-bit processors, soft keys, menu-driven, operator interface, tool-path graphics, color screens, etc. Today, all those things are givens." Although "user friendly" has become an overworked term, controls manufacturers continue striving to make their offerings easier for the operator to use. "In the past," he admits, "some programming was difficult, and we had to do a lot more training before the buyer was able to use our controls."

The controls market remains three tier, based on three distinct types of machine tools:

1. Low-end machine tools are capable of two to four axes of control with minimal integrability to other automation products. They are usually standalone tools with no communication capabilities. 2. Mid-range controls typically handle six axes or more, with four of these dedicated to the machine itself and the remainder for a toolchanger, part loader, etc. These controls need some level of local-area-network communication and ties to other automation products, ranging from programmable controllers to full communication networks. 3. High-end users continue pressing upward to aerospace machines with as many as 21 axes, with up to 14 of these within the CNC itself, a high level of integrability, and high-speed, high-instruction-rate machining. The leading-edge buzzwords today are such things as minimum block-cycle times of 10 msec and servo update times of 1 msec.

Performance criteria, Mr Ferguson explains, go up with each product range. To be a world-class player in each of these markets, a CNC vendor must meet these criteria within a window of opportunity of 24 months or drop out.

As you move down the product-capability curve, these criteria ease considerably. "Whereas performance is the key on the high end, the issues at the low end become price, a complete package, one-stop shopping, mating up with my existing controls, and operator training."

Three becomes two

"Today," he continues, "the marketplace is driving us toward two ranges. They want a control product that can handle low-end machines, yet give them capability to stretch up into mid-range product that can move into high-end."

With too many different controls on your shop floor, Mr Ferguson says, your investment in service, support stock, training, and operator expertise can become exponential. Recognizing this, control vendors on the low end are moving toward, if not a standard, at least a merging of thought or common definition of what the customer wants. "They are now much more reluctant to introduce radically different technology, particularly in terms of how it's serviced or how much the user needs to know about what's inside the box, and this will be beneficial long term."

In short, you are asking them to lower your cost and boost your performance capabilities. "All the bells and whistles aside," Mr Ferguson admits, "the bottom line is how many parts, how fast, and what quality."

PHOTO : Rex Ferguson Director of Marketing & Product Development Motion Control Div, Allen-Bradley

PHOTO : Co Milwaukee, WI
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Metalworking Product Guide; machine interface
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Previous Article:Motion controls.
Next Article:Machine controls.

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