These days, thinking about the next five years frankly incites vertigo. It seems clear that we cannot look the other way and wait for the developments and innovations of others to arrive. The competition never stops and at this time being able to foresee the role and behavior of the different players in the industry’s digital transformation (machines, software, platforms, communications protocols) is essential in order to draw the line and be able to lead the change ahead of us.
Article by Asier Ortiz, CTO of Lantek
Given this scenario, what will the machines of the future be like? In previous Industrial Revolutions, the fundamental pillars were allowing more to be manufactured at a lower price, while in the Fourth we’re facing hyperconnectivity and interoperability, where the machine has to leverage not only physical technology, but also digital technology. The metal manufacturing industry of the foreseeable future will be equipped with sensors to compile data on any situation relevant to the machine, machines will be connected like any other software system, and the information will flow, be shared, and stored on the cloud in order to be analyzed thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning. This new situation makes it possible to offer up new responses, this time, predictive and prescriptive ones that help people and systems make better decisions in real time.
At the speed of Industry 4.0, technological development advances so quickly that it can seem arrogant to confidently describe the machines of the future. Nevertheless, we can guess where the trends are going and which direction we feel we should take. Smart machines will begin to work within the set of systems as just another software system and that will require machine-tool manufacturers to change their paradigm with regard to how they design, manufacture, and implement their machines in their customers’ production plants. It is a fact that the smart factory is currently in design and the role of each of the components comprising it is being clarified: machines, the programming software thereof, production planning software, business management software, mechanisms for integration between the different business systems, etc. A machine immersed in a smart factory must be a smart machine as a result of the incorporation of software as an essential part of its system. Since its creation, CAM software has generated the program that runs the machine, but until now they were separate from one another. The machine of the future will include functions that are now only part of the software external to it, i.e., in the near future, machines will become just another software system within a solution of interconnected systems that are mutually interoperable.
With regard to machine programming software (CAM), the challenge is knowing what the new architectures will be like and how far their capabilities will reach. In the last 40 years their base has not evolved: CAD importers, generation of instructions based on machine configuration and parametrization, and generation of a numerical control sheet for industrial control. All of this is based on algorithms and functionality supported on software interfaces installed on a personal computer or, in multi-user environments, on a server connected to the local network. It should be noted that this structure and all of the capabilities offered by the software programming the machine is supported by its algorithms and functionalities and they are limited to their current potential scope.
Analysis will need to be done on whether the new possibilities of obtaining additional processing power in environments other than a local computer allow a new, much more powerful algorithm to be executed. The aim is that this execution will be unattended and imperceptible for the user. In order for this to occur, it is very likely that a significant part of what we now understand as an element belonging to the CAM software will be transferred to the "machine system." In short, the programming software must focus on understanding the result required by the customer (quality, cost, time) as well as components that may affect the manufacturing process. The production process begins with receiving work, continues with planning, the resulting supply of raw materials and reservation of capacity, is carried out on a machine in a cutting plant with all of the subsequent operations, and concludes with delivery to the customer. Throughout this process, software programming will allow the machine to resolve the specific characteristics related to each cutting technology in order to transform a design into a final part. All of this occurs with the essential choreography of the process, created thanks to the integration of the CAM with the manufacturing execution system (MES).
Determining which part of the current CAM software must be migrated and fused with the machine is the Gordian Knot of the smart factory. That decision will have consequences for the other systems involved, affect the way the different systems relate to one another, and define how the services executed in the smart factory will be orchestrated. After checking the different sensors and internal alarms, a smart machine will tell us the production status of the machine and whether it is able to complete the production assigned to it in time. It will also be able to ask for attention to resolve abnormal situations or modify plans and provide data that will allow behavior patterns to be found that will help to improve its performance and foresee future undesired situations.
The machine of the future will work autonomously in a smart factory, aiming to be productive and efficient; it will avoid undesired idle time, have all the data and applications that give it the intelligence to make decisions in real time, request functions or services located on the cloud to clarify decisions or obtain supplementary data, and report on the results it obtained, as well as the data it used to make the decision. These data will be able to be processed by analytical systems that allow for the improvement and understanding of planning systems, CAM, or the machine itself, making the solution as a whole an expert system.
Until now, the entire machine system had to be hosted and computed with the resources of the machine itself. With our vision, we predict that the idea is not to place more electronics and computing power on the machine side, which would be an old approach. Thanks to technology like 5G, we will be able to have high speed connectivity and data transfers as well as host the computing resources outside the machine itself, with the same effect that we now have with devices integrated into the machine locally. This opens the door for software to continue to be an intrinsic part of the machinery system, even while it is hosted on the cloud, which brings us to a new level of computing that offers a world of options for the services offered by the machine. Today, it offers an interface to run a CNC, tomorrow it may offer an infinite number of innovative services with which we will be able to fulfill the manufacturing needs of production plants or clients directly.
In order to be able to use and make the most of the technological capabilities in industry 4.0 problem-solving, we must clearly determine which processes and data will be run on the cloud and which will be hosted locally. With the machine as just another software system, its contribution will be decisive in the success of the whole operation, even more so than before. This distributed architecture in smart systems is what should ensure high productivity for both the machine and the factory as a whole, while solving problems more effectively thanks to new technology.