Leverage Your IT Team with SFA

cnc machine computerLeverage Your IT Team

It is a safe bet your company has an IT Department or person helping you out with computers and other technical aspects within your office. However gifted your IT person is, it does not necessarily mean they may be a good fit for fixing problems on your manufacturing shop floor. This is why we want to help you leverage your IT Team with the Solutions and Support we are famous for.

We have all likely seen the crazy stereotypes of IT people portrayed in pop culture. Some examples include the scathing Nick Burns character on “Saturday Night Live”, or Nick from “The Office” (same first name – irony?) who gets mad that no one includes him in the office community and throws people under the bus using their personal info only he could see.

The truth is, your IT person or IT team is a valuable part of your infrastructure. We want to work with them so that they can focus on what they are talented at, instead of guessing what solutions are needed with your machines. To use an analogy – just because a cook works in a kitchen doesn’t mean you would expect them to fix the oven they work with when it’s broken. Another analogy – you would not ask a psychologist to perform open heart surgery because even though they are a doctor, they are not trained in that specific area of expertise.

To use an analogy – just because a cook works in a kitchen doesn’t mean you would expect them to fix the oven they work with when it’s broken. Another analogy – you would not ask a psychologist to perform open heart surgery because even though they are a doctor, they are not trained in that specific area of expertise.

Here are three pieces of advice we would give to IT specialists, or their bosses, about working with CNC machines and alike manufacturing equipment:

We are here to help you – We are not here to belittle or make your IT department look bad in any way, shape or form. We also do not intend to replace your IT department, since we are here to help you with the solutions for your machines and not technical issues that IT is more accustomed to. We want to free up your IT department to do what they do best, which will save you potential time and money lost if someone in IT accidentally breaks something, causing a shutdown in production.

Be upfront about changes made – Did IT change the entire network infrastructure? Did they play around with settings to experiment? Being honest with us on the phone during a technical troubleshooting call (as well as in person) is the best protocol and we promise we won’t be mad. We just want what you want, and that is for the problem to be fixed. It ultimately saves you time that you can compile to use on your ticket for future issues and it makes both our jobs easier and quicker.

Other quick, helpful hints – Be sure that the machine is on when we are troubleshooting hardware during a remote session, so we can replicate the issue. We also do not recommend updating software yourselves – software specific to these machines can be a bit intricate, so we can update it for you and configure it to work best for your shop floor employees. Also, having IP addresses and passwords on hand when we call in or visit the shop is extremely helpful and a big time saver.

Ready to see what we can do for you and your IT team? Call us at (877) 611-5825 or fill out a contact form.

Unconventional Machine Monitoring

Machine MonitoringUnconventional Machine Monitoring from SFA

We love it when we get to surprise people who work for manufacturing shop floors, machine shops and job shops with what exactly our solutions can be used for. The general assumption is that our hardware and software only works on CNC machines, but the reality is far different. For instance, one of our techs relayed this story of how we helped implement machine monitoring to help prevent environmental conditions from halting production.

“This Aerospace company was painting airplane parts and in order to do that, you have to control the environment,” one of our longtime technicians said in an interview. “They have 9 different stations within the facility, but these 2 air handling systems were basically the best way to indicate whether they were working or not, in terms of temperature and humidity.”

“We just wired the machine monitoring into the air handling systems, which is different from what we normally do,” our technician said. “Normally, we wire into a CNC machine or a particular device, or something like that. This was just kind of a different way of doing things.”

Though it was a creative challenge, SFA was able to get it done for the customer, with time to spare. “We had to dig into the schematics and figure [out] just exactly what was turning that whole system on and off. We planned for an entire day for each machine, but I actually ended up finishing early!”

This is just the tip of the iceberg for monitoring unconventional machines or systems. Aside from a dairy farm that we help monitor, there are also other examples. “Autoclaves are kind of a strange one, and some of the other techs were talking about forklifts, which is pretty interesting.”

“There is a whole set of different things we can tap into that we’re not really [doing] right now,” our tech says, “and it’s just a matter of finding the right condition to be met. To say ‘this is what is actually considered cycling, running, or operating’.”

Learn more about machine monitoring in manufacturing. We also invite you to call us at (877) 611-5825 or fill out a contact form

Holiday 2016 SFA Newsletter

shop floor automations newsletterThis is an archive of our Holiday 2016 Shop Floor Automations Newsletter.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from all of us here at SFA!

We have special holiday hours the 23rd & we’re closed the 26th. We are back
the 27th – thank you!

Check out the new Holiday-themed Shop Floor Man comic strip. Enjoy!

Toll Free: (877) 611-5825

Connect with us on Social Media

See the original newsletter

More about the Shop Floor Man comic series:

“With an eye toward a younger manufacturing audience, the company has launched a Web comic series,” says Jedd Cole of TechSpex. “With the intention of carving out a space for manufacturing-related humor on social media, especially Twitter.”

“The comic appears in two-panel stories in which the main character, Shop Floor Man, shows life with SFA’s solutions compared with exaggerated horrors he faces elsewhere,” Cole continued. “Other comics will riff on familiar trials faced by machinists everywhere, as well as other industry-related humor.”

Shop Floor Automations (SFA) is doing its job to attract a younger manufacturing audience by working its social media channels and developing a comic strip series called Shop Floor Man Presents,” Christina M. Fuges of MoldMaking Technology writes.


Top 3 Tools for Continuous Improvement in 2017

Continuous Improvement

Top 3 Tools for Continuous Improvement

If you frequently attend a fitness gym, you know that you have a goal. You want to lose weight or gain muscle mass. Sometimes, you may require the assistance of a trainer to meet these goals. You are aiming for continuous improvement of your physique or health.

With a manufacturing process, you likely don’t want to aim at just meeting your quota – you want to take on new clients and surpass your goals to make more money for everyone who works on your shop floor. This is where solutions such as machine monitoring, job scheduling, and DNC can come in handy towards the goal of continuous improvement in manufacturing.

“Continuous improvement, sometimes called continual improvement, is the ongoing improvement of products, services or processes through incremental and breakthrough improvements,” states ASQ, a global knowledge network in America dedicated to improved business management tactics.

Here are the Top 3 ways you can aim for the goal of continuous improvement on your shop floor in 2017:

1 – Implement Machine Monitoring. Collecting and processing real-time data from machines is extremely valuable in manufacturing. Getting emails or text notifications when there are issues with production is crucial to making sure the Made in America movement is on its game. Having accurate production data can help make better-informed decisions about machine utilization and can often be integrated with other programs or hardware. Especially with the $45 per month, per machine Cloud option from DataXchange, it is certainly more affordable than most shop floors expect! FYI – DataXchange can also be integrated with Bigfoot CMMS for plant maintenance.

2 – Utilize Job Scheduling. A real-time graphical scheduler will not only replace outdated spreadsheets, but it can also accomplish such tasks as tracking jobs and helping you move them to another machine with less utilization when there is unexpected downtime. It can help you redirect the time you would have spent manually updating and filing spreadsheets on other pursuits. Also, even though it’s not a crystal ball, a job scheduler such as JobPack will allow you to see up to 365 days into the future for scheduled jobs.

3 – Adopt DNC Software for CNC Communications into your routine. Why manually manage and send programs? What if programs are too large to download at machines for operators? You can have revision control and spend less time either running back and forth from a PC, or bringing a laptop from machine to machine. Don’t just hope for a program to send to a machine, or rely on switchboxes, or worry about constantly replacing RS232 cabling.

Interested in any, or all, of the solutions above? We are ready to help you achieve your continuous improvement goals. Call (877) 611-5825 or fill out a contact form. You can also read our many Customer Testimonials to see for yourself the benefits of our solutions.

Hazardous Waste Certifications Reminder

hazard signsHazardous Waste Certifications Reminder

Is your manufacturing shop floor not certified for proper hazardous waste disposal for the upcoming new year? Are you not disposing of hazardous waste appropriately? If you said “no” to either factor or if you are not sure, it can cost you.

The list below are some items from the EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) list of Universal Waste. If you are not disposing of these items properly, it can cost your shop floor a minimum of $110 per day and up to $27,500 per day for RCRA violations! That kind of a financial hit can cause a huge issue for the Made in America movement and to our economy.

Whether you are generating this waste, transporting it, or at a facility that is supposed to treat or properly dispose of these items, it is a grave mistake environmentally and it will financially hurt you.

Does your shop work with any of these materials?

  • F-listed wastes used in manufacturing, such as solvents
  • Used Oil
  • Underground Storage Tanks
  •  Batteries
  • Certain pesticides (P-listed and U-listed wastes)
  • Mercury-containing equipment (M-listed wastes)
  • Lamps
  • Cathode Ray Tues (CRTs)
  • CRT glass
  • Aerosol cans
  • Anything deemed ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic by the EPA

toxic waste A company called Lion Technology is very familiar with these violations and gives regulatory compliance training/support in how to properly handle these materials. “In a settlement reached with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control  (DTSC), a major US delivery company will pay $3,357,975 to resolve allegations the company mishandled damaged containers and packages of hazardous materials,” they shared in this blog post on their site.

If you have any questions about what constitutes as waste that needs proper disposal, call (916) 324-2428 or send an email to rao@dtsc.ca.gov

If your shop is all up to date on hazardous waste certifications and is staying on top of disposal methods, kudos to you! Need some solutions to make your shop floor’s productivity better? Call us at (877) 611-5825 for info on our hardware, software and support team. You can also fill out a contact form so we can get in touch with you.


Cabling is More Complex than Imagined

shop floor cabling

Click the photo above for a larger view

Why NOT to do CNC Serial Cabling Yourself

When it comes to running a machine shop floor, we know that the machinists and engineers, as well as those behind the scenes managing and in IT departments, are really smart, resourceful people. We are grateful when these individuals ask us for help in optimizing their production process, whether they shop with us over the phone or just buy items off of our store without prior consultation. We do notice, however, and we mean no disrespect, that some of these folks make a huge assumption that cabling is not a big decision – trust us that IT IS. 

For those who prefer the traditional method of transmitting data via cables in their shop floors versus going wireless, there are many choices out there. Trying to save money by using commercial Ethernet cabling, or even worse, trying to use telephone cables, can result in massive issues on the shop floor. Sure, you save money short term, but the cons outweigh the pros.

In the first photo of this post, we see that our Wired CNC Connect has been jury-rigged with some velcro straps to keep the way-too-long cables in place. While this seems like a good organizational method, this shop is potentially endangering the signal at which they are sending programs through these cables by doing this.

It also doesn’t help that the device isn’t mounted on the machine, in the machine, or on a flat surface near the machine, for easy monitoring. It also looks like the device is in a location that is hard to reach, so all around, this could have been a quick setup tutorial over the phone with Support. They also could have saved money by getting shorter cabling.

shop floor cabling

Click the photo above for a larger view

In this post’s second photo, we see that commercial, store-bought cabling is being used. Aside from the fact that we see the returning dilemma of the cable being way too long, there are other risks involved.

With low-quality cable like this, there can be data loss during the transmission, which can result in dropped characters, which can result in a crash of the machine. Also, the harsh environment of a manufacturing shop floor will make this cable not long for this world. Custom, triple-shielded cabling made for the shop floor would have been the better choice.

The bottom line of this piece is to not make anyone feel bad for the choices they make for their shop floor equipment. This is a slowly changing industry and yesterday’s solutions may not work anymore, so that is why you have come to us. We are here to help your production thrive and to also only sell you services that you need. If a shorter cable costs less but is the best option for you, that is what we would recommend. Nothing more and nothing less.

Ready to see what we can do for you? Call us at (877) 611-5825 and check out our cabling solutions here.

December 2016 SFA Newsletter

shop floor automations newsletterThis is an archive of our December 2016 Shop Floor Automations newsletter.

Happy Holidays from SFA!

Shop Floor Automations (SFA) knows that the holidays are different for
all of our customers, and even our employees. No matter how you
celebrate this winter, we hope it is the very happiest and healthiest
of holiday seasons for you!

We would be nowhere without our customers, so from now until the very
start of the New Year, please take advantage of our 10% off sale
going on in our store.

We hope you enjoy the rest of this newsletter, which focuses on Data
Driven Decision Making in manufacturing, as well as a feature on our
Wireless Connect solutions. We would love to help your shop floor
plan a more productive 2017.

Make a New Years Resolution to Go Wireless

Ready to go wireless? We have your shop floor covered with products
from our Wireless Connect line.

Replace your broken cables and increase the speed of file transfers
to your machines. These affordable devices are simple to install, can
be configured with a web interface, and have a lifetime warranty.
Worried about compatibility? Our units work with any CNC control,
regardless of the machine’s age, with RS232 or Ethernet.
Ready to start?

Data-Driven Decision Making for 2017

You wouldn’t make a decision to create a part without having the
measurements and proper software to build it first, right? Then why
not capture data from your machines to make better production

Data-Driven Decision Making, or DDDM, is used for HR decisions,
marketing budgets, and even expansion strategies. It’s perfect to
adopt it into your manufacturing habits, too!

(877) 611-5825 or Fill out a form
Link to original newsletter HERE

Top 5 Shop Floor Product Updates in 2016

shop floor technology

Top 5 Shop Floor Product Updates from 2016

The year quickly coming to a close. We wanted to take the time to share some updates to shop floor software and hardware that you all need to see for 2017.

Whether you implemented them into your manufacturing routine or you are looking for new tech for 2017, here is what you need to know. Obtain the goals of lean manufacturing, continuous improvement, and turning data into actionable items.

1 –  Scytec DataXchange Machine Monitoring & Data Collection – Many shop floor runners are fans of DataXchange for their $45 per month, per machine Cloud pricing. They may also want to check out Version 2016.10.03 updates. New features include an MTConnect Data Viewer, which is a testament to DataXchange’s continuing advocacy of the protocol. Scytec Support staff will also be able to remotely restart DataXchange for users without remote access, as well as many utilization tools being updated or refreshed. You can also integrate DataXchange with Bigfoot CMMS from Smartware Group if you are seeking a plant maintenance management system, which you can read more about here.

2 – The WiFi USB Connect – This new piece of hardware is a wireless USB solution for the manufacturing shop floor. It emulates a USB stick, allowing you to share data from a PC to your machines. No drivers are required, plus Floppy drive emulators and CNC machines with a USB port can now have wireless abilities! The device serves as an easy and economic shop floor upgrade, with more info here from MoldMaking Technology.

3 – Machine Monitoring through Predator MDCWith v11 now available, there are many incredible new updates and quite a few improved features. All the changes will be beneficial to your shop floor. Enjoy accessing MDC machine monitoring on Android phones, a real-time view of data from any browser, many new charts to display information on, and an updated list of Windows Support.

4 – MTConnect & the Cloud –  More CNC machine controls, and more shop floors are embracing MTConnect. The open, royalty free factory floor communication standard is universal and embraced by shop floor factories. Industrial Machinery Digest published a piece about integrating MTConnect, along with machine monitoring, at this link.

5- Predator’s Touch HMI – A big button interface, Predator’s Touch HMI replaces bar code readers, handheld terminals and proprietary shopfloor hardware. It simplifies data collection on machine uptime and enables access to information via tablet, PC or CNC.  Buttons can transfer NC programs or launch the part drawing on the shop floor for the operator. It can also be color-coded for the convenience of individual machinists. More on Touch HMI via a Modern Machine Shop piece you can read here.

Want to become the hero of your shop floor by helping achieve better machine utilization? Call us at (877) 611-5825 or chat with us on social media. Check out any of the products mentioned in our store, or contact us for info on MTConnect & Cloud options.

Legacy SFA Blogs – Edition 3

shop floor automations

Legacy SFA Blogs – Edition 3

We know from years of experience that legacy machines are still an important part of the operations for many shop floors. In this edition, there is a heavy focus on our USB to Floppy solutions.

Back in 2010, we remember when the Floppy Drive Emulator made it’s New Product debut with Modern Machine Shop. This article states this product will “replace 3.5-inch floppy disk drives and media used to store NC programs and other CNC-related files used on the shop floor. The floppy drive replacement features a USB interface to transfer files from a PC with a USB port to virtually any CNC control with a floppy disk drive.” Read the rest of the piece here.

Fast forwarding to the Summer of 2016, Modern Machine Shop also helped introduce another new product for us – the Multi Connect. In this article, they shared that is is “compatible with a range of machine monitoring software packages including Scytec’s DataXchange and Predator’s Machine Data Collection. The device combines a PLC, Wireless, Ethernet, Serial RS232 and MTConnect. The hardware connects to a variety of equipment via built-in digital I/O, which can be overlaid on existing signals for monitoring cycle start, cycle stop, alarm and status indicators such as stack lights.”

In September of 2016 they shared our announcement of a new hire, with our brand new Marketing Coordinator.

We have been in business for close to 20 years, with many customers having been with us for over a decade. We would love to start a long term relationship with your shop floor to help increase OEE and productivity. Call (877) 611-5825 or fill out a contact form

First SFA Customer in Japan

shop floor automations

First Shop Floor Automations Japan Customer

SFA rarely takes on International customers, but we are always happy to help when we can. We are pleased to announce that we have our first customers from Japan! 

The customers who ordered from us were shipped out 2 of our USB Connect External devices, as well as 2 Pendant USB Connect devices. While we did not get to chat much with the customers on why they needed this equipment for their shop, it is possible they could share the same predicament as our first Hawaii customers.

From an earlier blog, our Hawaiian customers needed the USB Connect External to communicate with their Milltronics control. They were also using SD cards,  no longer want to deal with the 2GB restriction, and the cards were also hard to find for them, so this device suited them best.

We offer many solutions to help machinists and other workers on manufacturing shop floors communicate better with their machines. From software to the hardware solutions we mentioned earlier, our goals are to help your shop floor eliminate downtime, increase OEE and get the most utilization out of your machines. Even legacy machines still have a lot of potential just waiting to be discovered.

If you have manufacturing shop floor needs, or you have purchased from us in the past and want new solutions, contact us here. Time to renew your Support contract with us? Call to find out at (877) 611-5825.