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Ask the Machine Whisperer

April 25th, 2019

From James in California: Hi Steve, we are an aerospace job shop of only 8 machines running mostly short to medium runs of parts, and we are currently using USB sticks to load programs into our CNC machines. This method seemed to be working fine until we recently ran the wrong revision of a CNC program, while our programmer was on vacation. I’m advocating for implementing a DNC System, however the owner of our company is concerned that the upfront cost of what he considers a “nice-to-have” system is not justified. Could you please share how long it usually takes to realize full ROI for a new DNC system?

Steve: Hello James, I usually recommend when trying to justify a DNC system to have the operators keep track of the total time it takes every time they need to get a new program into the machine.  This includes walking to the office to copy the programs on to a card or thumb drive, then walking back to the machine and copying the program into memory.  Most people find that each time they need a program it could take from 10 to 20 minutes. If you add the program loading time up for the total number of downloads and multiply it by the cost of your hourly machine rate, you will usually find that you can pay for a DNC system in six months or less with just the savings realized with the vastly improved program download speeds. Most program downloads through a DNC system should be completed in a minute or less, unless it’s a very large CNC program. In a scenario like yours when the wrong parts are ran that can obviously be a very expensive mistake, sometimes so expensive that the cost will actually be greater than the total cost for a DNC system. The added bonus of file revision control that a DNC will provide will eliminate that problem for your shop, so that savings should also be considered when figuring out the ROI for a DNC system. Good luck James!

From Henry in IL: Hi Steve, I’m also a big fan of Apple and was curious what you thought of the company’s recent shift to focusing on services like Apple Card and TV+, and do you think we’ll see the new MacBook Pro at the WWDC 2019 event in June?

Steve: Hi Henry, I think the Apple Card sounds great and much more secure, as for the MacBook Pro I doubt if they will release one at WWDC since they seem to focus on software at that event.  But there has been talk out on the web about a new one coming, but when we will just have to wait and see.

Sample eNETDNC Justifier

Ask the Machine Whisperer

April 9th, 2019

Spring has officially started, and U.S. Manufacturing’s strength continues to impress. Despite concerns over trade tariffs and foreign economic slowdowns, U.S. manufacturers grew at a faster pace in March and have reported growth for 31 consecutive months. The Institute for Supply Management, said Monday that its manufacturing index rose to 55.3 last month, up from 54.2 in February.

Please enjoy the latest installment of “Ask the Machine Whisperer”, and don’t hesitate to send in your questions for Steve Anderson. If your shop has DNC or Machine Monitoring needs please visit www.enetdnc.com, or just give us a call (414)817-7070.

John from Texas: Hi Steve, our shop exclusively uses Mazak machines and Mazatrol programs. We really need a DNC system, so my question is are there any limitations for DNC systems with Mazatrol programs?

Steve: Some DNC systems can handle Mazatrol and some can’t.  If it’s a newer machine such as Fusion or Nexus controls the program will be sent out as a three position G code.  Older Mazaks use a format called CMT, not all companies store the CMT format the same so if you save a program with an older Mazak with one system it may not be compatible with another DNC system.  Some newer Mazaks do not have serial ports and connect using Ethernet or USB thumb drives. The issue with these two formats are if you’re using thumb drives you can lose control over the programs by having operators not returning the programs that have been modified, and with Ethernet method the machine is connected to the network like a computer on your network, and can be susceptible to getting a virus. This is where a system such as eNETDNC can really help you out because we can adapt to all of these different issues.

Chuck from Oregon: Hi Steve, my company is currently evaluating Machine Monitoring systems. Since you have done so many Monitoring installs over the years, I’m curious if there are there any specific features of a Monitoring System that you consider must-haves?

Steve: Hello Chuck the main features I would look for in a Monitoring System are, the ability to monitor all of your machines no matter what type of machines including manual machines and other secondary equipment in the same way. The ability to keep track of why the machine is not running and a way of enforcing reporting of downtime. Making sure that you have the data collected on your servers and that you own the data. The ability to access the data anyway you want so besides using the tools given to you from the monitoring system, you can also access it in other helpful programs (such as Excel).

eNET Machine Monitoring Downtime Barcodes

Ask the Machine Whisperer?

March 19th, 2019

From Eric in Michigan: Hi Steve, we’ve been reading your blog and it has led to a debate in our shop about what the term “DNC” actually means? I was taught in school that it means (direct numerical control), describing the spoon or drip-feeding of programs too large for the machine memory, into a CNC control. My colleague maintains that the term “DNC” is now accepted to mean (distributed numerical control), describing the direct connection between a software and a group of networked machines using that software to transfer CNC programs. Can you please help us settle the debate?

Steve: Hi Eric, thanks for reading our blog, I’m very happy to hear that it lead to this conversation in your shop. I’ve maintained for years that DNC systems aren’t covered enough by Tech schools, and that has led to a lack of DNC knowledge in many shops that I visit. There’s no lack of knowledge to be found in your shop however, as you are both correct! DNC (distributed numerical control) means a file management system to control and facilitate file transfers of CNC programs.  While (direct numerical control) means to drip feed the program from a computer to the CNC control because the machine does not have sufficient memory to run locally.

From Sean in Pennsylvania: Hi Steve, probably because I’m a big fan of everything Apple, I happily noticed on the blog homepage that you’d also welcome Apple-related questions. Due to the security advantages of Mac vs Windows my company exclusively uses Mac computers. My question for you is will Windows Parallels on a Mac be enough computer to host your Windows-based eNETDNC software?

Steve: Hi Sean, thanks for the question and yes Parallels will work great with eNETDNC, we actually have other customers running eNETDNC this way.  I am a big Mac fan myself, and run it this way on my computer everyday. Don’t forget about the Apple event coming up on March 25th, can’t wait to see what’s new!

And we’re off!

March 12th, 2019

Well, here we are in our 3rd blog post. We’ve laid down the groundwork, and now it’s finally time to “Ask the Machine Whisperer”. I will setup each question with the name and state of the reader asking Steve their question, and then follow each question immediately with Steve’s response. If you have a follow-up question related to today’s blog, or something new to ask the “Machine Whisperer” please let us know on the “Got a Question?” page of this blog.

https://ask-the-machine-whisperer.blog/contact/

John from Wisconsin: Hi Steve, if I have an active ethernet port on my new CNC, do I really need to connect it to a DNC system? Can’t I just put the machine on the company Ethernet network, so I can easily access my CNC programs that are stored on the server, right from the control?

Steve: Hello John, you can directly connect a CNC machine with an active Ethernet port directly to your Ethernet network, but it’s not necessarily a secure network connection or a robust file management system. It depends on the machine, as on some windows-based CNC machines the Ethernet port connects just like a computer on the network and the machine is mapped to a specific mapped drive. These windows-based CNC machines most likely have no antivirus to protect the machine from a virus off the network, and most machine manufacturers say not to load antivirus software onto their machines. Now there are other brands of Ethernet-capable CNC machines that will have secure file-transfer protocols on them such as FTP or CAPPS, and would need an FTP server or CAPPS server running on your network to talk to your machine. This type of Ethernet connection is always safer. Besides network security, the other big risk I see with direct Ethernet connections is with file revision control for CNC programs. With a direct-connect method you are most-likely pointing to one directory on the Ethernet network for downloading/uploading your CNC programs. This can unwittingly give Operators the power to upload edited programs from the machine, overwriting the proven programs in that directory.

If you only have 2 machines in your shop, and they are both Ethernet capable machines, you may be able to design a direct-connect method that works for you.  But most shops not only have more than 2 machines but most likely also have machines that are not Ethernet capable. A big advantage from connecting an Ethernet capable CNC machine to a DNC system is that you can have one software communicate to all your machines old and new, this would include RS232 ports, Ethernet ports, and USB ports. DNC software can also log every program uploaded and downloaded, and send an uploaded edited CNC program to a dedicated “updates folder” in your directory, until a Programmer can review it. Also, automatic file compares can show you the differences between your original files and changes in new uploaded edited files, and can control who has access to proven files and files sent back to the server.  I hope that helps!

Mike from Texas: Hi Steve, I’m curious if over all the years you’ve been networking machines, have you found a specific brand of CNC machine as the easiest to set up on a DNC system?

Steve: Hello Mike, this is a tough question, once you hook up a machine you’ll find hooking up another one of the same kind to be much easier, but if I had to pick one I would say Fanuc controls because I run into so many of them and hooked up to every type, so I feel that I could do them in my sleep.  But my best answer would be to buy the best machine for the type of work you’re running on it, most modern DNC systems will talk to any brand of machine.  Thank you.

Is connecting your machines to the IIoT really “Smart Manufacturing”?

eNET Machine Monitoring remote web-based dashboards

February 25th, 2019

Lucas Galindo

Industry 4.0 is often referred to as “Smart Manufacturing”, where technology enables interconnectivity for machines and manufacturing software and systems. It also provides big data, increased visibility and remote access to manufacturing assets. The rush towards “Smart Manufacturing” which encourages manufacturers to connect their systems to the IIoT has led to an inviting number of security gaps that are easy targets for hackers. Manufacturing companies are trying to achieve the Smart Manufacturing goals of increased production efficiency, reduced waste & down-time, improved scheduling and inventory management from the IIoT connectivity. Therefore, the manufacturing industry is the top buyer of IIoT devices, and those connected devices on the shop floor are prime targets for cyber threats. According to a report released by NTT Security in 2017, manufacturing was the most cyber-attacked industry in the UK, accounting for 46% of all cyber-attacks.

What Do the Hackers Want from Manufacturers?

Hackers of industrial networks are interested in assets such as: customer data, intellectual property, banking information, and control of machines and robots, which can unfortunately cause damage and injuries in manufacturing plants. Cyber thieves routinely sell such proprietary data on the dark web, potentially to a manufacturer’s direct-competitor, or even foreign governments.

Legacy systems and machines that are no longer being updated often present prime targets for hackers, as networked legacy machines are not always compatible with the latest firewalls or anti-virus software. Manufacturers are well-known for holding onto machines for as long as they can continue to make money off of them. Rarely does a manufacturer have all new machines that have a common secure communication protocol that is easy to manage.

The manufacturing workforce may be highly skilled labor, but often company training is lacking for IIoT best practices. If there’s a security hurdle that stands in the way of meeting production demands, often times manufacturing managers will disable that security, especially during times of high-demand, such as we face now.

It’s not just manufacturers and their machines that are exposed by IIoT connections. According to cybersecurity company Darktrace, in 2017 an unnamed North American Casino was the victim of a hack into which the cyber attackers gained access to the casino’s network through an internet-connected fish tank thermometer.

What Can IIoT Connected Manufacturers Do?

Manufacturers need to clearly understand that unless every IIoT device they have connected is always kept up-to-date with the latest security updates and patches, their networks will remain extremely vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Since there have been machines on the shop floor with Ethernet and Windows capabilities for over 20 years now, fully securing these legacy assets can probably be best described as “mission impossible”. With data security being such a major concern for connected devices, IIoT connected manufacturers may even want to consider implementing one of the cyber-security insurance policies that are now available on the market. It’s highly recommended that organizations who leverage IIoT technology have a plan in-place for when their networks get hacked. With so many vulnerable entrance points, it’s no longer a question of IF they’ll be hacked, but rather WHEN

A Powerful and Secure Smart Manufacturing Alternative to the IIoT.

There is a simple yet effective alternative for achieving data-driven manufacturing goals. Rather than connecting machines and systems to the IIoT, discreet manufacturers are increasingly deploying closed-loop Machine Monitoring systems that function solely within the well-protected environment of their internal Ethernet network.

One such system is eNET Machine Monitoring, which installs data I/O boards into machines to automatically capture the exact production data that is most valuable to a manufacturer, and can even be utilized on Manual Machines. However, production data isn’t the only information that can be gained through this type of system. For increased visibility of CNC machine utilization, eNET combines their Monitoring Boards with a software feature called “Cycle Start Disable”. This powerful tool allows for setting a pre-determined time limit that a machine can sit idle before the Cycle Start button becomes locked, which forces the Operator to scan a downtime reason code, which then unlocks the Cycle-Start button again.

For more information about the most secure Machine Monitoring solution available, please visit www.enetdnc.com