Unlike CNC lathes and machining centres, where the sights and sounds of machining are visible, EDM, by comparison, is a relatively sedate and hidden process.
True, wire and sink EDM does generates a storm of electrical activity, as well as temperatures that rival those found in the sun’s atmosphere, but this volatility occurs beneath the surface of a water or oil-filled tank, or deep inside a workpiece. As a consequence, determining what’s going on in the EDM process in real time, or at any given time for that matter, has always been open to speculation.
This situation has changed with GF Machining Solutions’ Live Remote Assistance (LRA) facility - part of the company’s rConnect central communications platform - which not only gives customers the ability to observe and record every minute detail of the EDM process, but to enable them to initiate maintenance operations remotely - from the machine’s control.
Says Martin Spencer, managing director at GF Machining Solutions UK:
“LRA gives us direct access to the machine’s control.
“A customer, when they want to access the service, pushes a button on the user interface and this sends a message to our support centre. Once we have confirmed our credentials - essentially confirming who we are - and given access to the machine’s control, we are able to perform a range of diagnostic and preventive maintenance operations remotely.”
These operations include a whiteboard facility where a service engineer can pull up and access a service document, and then highlight a specific area of interest or concern for the customer to review.
The system enables the customer, via a plug-in headset, to talk directly to the service engineer and, if a Windows-based tablet is available, its camera can be activated to provide the engineer with ‘eyes on the ground’ allowing him/her to inspect the machine virtually…to peek inside the machine’s electrical cabinet…or to check the status of the machine’s various LED indicators.
For more complex repair and maintenance situations the GF Machining Solutions rConnect facility can be used by on-site service engineers to liaise directly with engineers at the support centre. The result being faster and more efficient and effective customer support.
LRA also provides a user interface that the customer can use internally to check the machine’s status from the front office (instead of the machine shop), or review upcoming maintenance activities.
There is more to IIoT than maintenance, and GF Machining Solutions uses it to provide real time monitoring of the EDM machining process, and allow customers to record and access the resulting data.
“This”, says Martin Spencer, “is an important development for aerospace and medical customers where traceability is critical.”
IIoT functionality has made inroads into wire EDM consumables.
“We’ve created a system that can read RFID tags placed inside the wire spool”, says Martin Spencer. “When you place the spool in the machine it’s constantly reading and updating the information stored there.
“This facility has a number of benefits. For example you can tell how much wire is left on a spool, when the wire was manufactured and where it was purchased. This eliminates the possibility of running out of wire during a job or that the wrong spool or type of wire gets used.”
As IIoT gains more acceptance and traction it’s clear that more ‘enlightened’ manufacturing companies will see it as ‘need to have rather than a nice to have’ technology.
Production managers can see what assets are running, what’s being worked on and what’s next in line. Machine tool operators and programmers have easy access to everything needed to do their jobs, and can take the proper corrective action if something goes awry. And when such an action is taken, the steps are recorded—so no more knowledge silos.
Best of all, management has a clear view of their operating costs. Taking on a rush order is no longer a nail-biting experience. Scheduling is more accurate, uptime increases, and quality improves. The company becomes a data-driven organisation, one that uses facts to make continuous improvement decisions, rather than assumptions or best guesses.
Concludes Martin Spencer:
“It won’t be too long before, using sophisticated sensor technology, that variables such as a dielectric’s pH and temperature (as well as other parameters that affect quality and productivity) will be recorded in real time giving manufacturers the ability to access and analyse data, and make changes and improvements to their processes.
“The IIoT is here to stay and GF Machining Solutions is at the forefront of its development and use.”