Smart Manufacturing Control Node (2019)
This board was developed to run multiple milling programs on a single machine, specifically without human interaction to load new programs. This also gives the ability to remotely queue parts or alter the programs on the fly, realizing the potential of smart manufacturing. The board was designed to be non-intrusive to the machine software and to be a fully reversable modification.
- Eagle PCB Design
- Contract PCB Fabrication
- Control System Reverse Engineering
The current cutting edge
When industrial CNC milling machines and lathes are used at production volumes to machine parts, they will typically replace the CNC operator with a robotic arm, typically in the $20,000-$100,000 range. The more expensive robots are typically collaborative robots, intended to work within close proximity to humans as they're capable of detecting resistance and pausing their movement to prevent harm to a human. The robots will typically load and unload the machine, and physically press the start button to initiate the cutting program.
If you’re only cutting a single component hundreds or thousands of times, this approach is sufficient, however if you need to change the component being cut, or want to form a production cut queue then an operator is required to intervene. At this point an operator would pause the robot, load a new program onto the machine, set new tooling offsets, then let the robot get back to its button pushing and let the new parts run, or even run the entire cut queue themselves.
A new approach
This board allows operators to remotely alter the program being run without interfering with the robot, opening up the possibility of machining queues if producing multiple parts from the same stock material. It also reduces the cost associated with the robot, as the human wouldn’t interact with the machine within the reach of the robot, reducing safety requirements.
A set of CNC machines each with their own boards can be controlled by a central computer, allowing for a cluster of machining nodes to dynamically work through a job queue, with work being distributed to the machines with different priority levels, such that a new one-off component can be pushed to the front of the queue with no direct human interaction and less oversight. As there’s full control of the machine, it’s also possible for a robot to place different size stock pieces, run a probing sequence to initialize tooling offsets, then proceed with milling or turning, producing different sized components one after another without human interaction.
This board bypasses the user interface to simulate human data entry, capable of ~240 commands per second, allowing full control of the machine, from changing the cutting program, automated tooling calibration, and altering cutting speeds on the fly. There’s also dedicated data lines for the ‘Cycle Start’ and ‘Pause’ buttons. The board can be remotely controlled, allowing operators to upload and start new programs without touching the machine. The board can be fitted to a machine within 5 minutes and requires no additional hardware or software changes.