Your aged CNC machines and legacy Distributed Numerical Control (DNC) software can work fine…until they don’t. Maybe the PC communicating to the machines starts dropping characters while transmitting the NC code, scrapping parts being machined if not caught by the operator. Or the hardware that has been in place for years fails, sending you on a painful and labor-intensive search for a fix. You’re not alone. There’s countless online machine forums in which IT, operations and engineers embark on such a mission to find the right parameters, mappings, connections or other ways to solve their problem stemming from an antiquated setup. This can often be the impetus for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), contract manufacturers and job shops to start re-evaluating their entire DNC solution.

One professional wrote about their DNC issue on a Practical Machinist forum, “I am trying to set up communication between OKUMA LB15 OSP5000 and a PC…the machine was connected to an ancient PC with old DNC software running on DOS, and it worked fine until the PC had perished.”

The Power of DNC System Integration

But a lot has changed among DNC systems over the past years that can make teams consider upgrading even before reaching a point of failure. Even more so, the integration of modern DNC with other solutions, such as Production Data Management, Manufacturing Data Collection and Touch HMI, can streamline manufacturing data across applications – something legacy DNCs typically cannot support. The benefit of such a proactive approach is often improved CNC workflow efficiency and productivity. Here’s a few recent DNC enhancements that have helped manufacturers realize these benefits by simplifying CNC program management and manufacturing data control.

  1. Wide OS and Database Support: Modern DNC solutions, like Predator DNC, have added support for Windows 2019 Server, including x64 editions, and compatibility with Microsoft SQL Server 2022 and SQL Server 2022 Express. They should also work with Windows 10 and Windows 11 to ensure seamless integration with the latest operating systems and database technologies so you can avoid security risks, elevated IT costs and industry compliance concerns with CMMC 2.0 and other requirements.
  2. Enhanced CNC Equipment Support: Manufacturers migrating to a new DNC or upgrading their current version can take advantage of new protocols for Fanuc Focas and MoriSeiki to facilitate the serial transfer of Cincinnati Press Brake and Punch Press programs, for example, through one central server.
  3. Machine Error Log Centralization: Up-to-date DNC solutions provide access to all command errors in a single machine-specific error log to easily track errors and troubleshoot issues. This consolidation of errors provides transactional visibility across shifts to allow for consistent support on the floor.
  4. Greater Security and Control: For manufacturers in particularly security-sensitive industries, like aerospace, medical and defense, upgrading to a modern DNC solution can enable you to securely access and manage the “EditLock” key switch on a machine tool through the DNC to lock and unlock CNC memory so you can effectively:
    • Control edits of G-code on machine tools
    • Eliminate physical edit keys
    • Report lock, unlock, and sending activity
    • Enable maintenance control with an override switch to disable

At the same time, automatic compression, encryption, and batch file operations features of advanced DNC solutions grant heightened security and control over CNC communication – which is critical when CNC controllers that use outdated Windows OS are left behind when connecting them to the corporate network. A well-designed, secure DNC enables such CNC to remain on the network by installing a small executable on the CNC and bypassing the domain requirements.

  1. An Intuitive User Experience: Modern DNC systems tend to have refreshed user interfaces with color schemes and toolbar buttons that offer an intuitive user experience. Other enhancements, such as improved FTP support, including passive mode and automatic file deletion, simplify the file transfer processes for manufacturers, while comprehensive online help resources give users the self-directed guidance they need to maximize productivity.

The integration potential of modern DNC to other manufacturing applications streamlines data to improve CNC workflow efficiency and productivity, which is something legacy DNCs typically cannot support.

These developments of the latest DNC software can be reason enough to upgrade your existing setup. Through the integration of a modern DNC system with other manufacturing applications under one solution, however, manufacturers can experience even more efficiency and productivity on the floor. Discuss the automation potential of your environment with manufacturing integrator Shop Floor Automations by contacting us today.

Ethernet CNC connectivity

Over the years, Windows-based CNC machines, robots, CMMs, test stands and other manufacturing equipment have proven popular, largely due to their Ethernet-based networking using the corporate network. But as Windows operating systems (OS) reach the end of their lifecycle, Microsoft technical assistance, software updates or security fixes no longer become available. The options, then, for manufacturers needing Ethernet CNC file transfers and running CNCs with Windows 2000, 2003 or older OS are limited: upgrading to a newer Windows OS can be cost prohibitive and involve a lack of support from the equipment manufacturer; or there’s no upgrade path available, thereby necessitating that the whole machine be replaced. 

The IT Imperative

To protect manufacturers from security risks associated with OS lifecycle completions, IT departments have led the initiative to remove older Windows OSs from corporate domains and discontinue support, while eliminating the use of FTP or Windows shares on untrusted VLANs altogether. This movement often relegates manufacturing operations to isolate a PC from the corporate network and go back to manually loading files through portable media – which presents its own set of security risks. TechAdvisory.org reports that 25 percent of malware is spread today through USB devices. Even the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) recommends banning portable media devices from the workplace. And for manufacturers subject to CMMC 2.0, the continued use of removeable media devices may involve severe restrictions or nonacceptance altogether.

Manufacturers needing Ethernet CNC file transfers and running CNCs on older Windows operating systems have limited, cost-efficient options. 

All of this leads to a collision course of lost productivity for the shop floor and some major challenges for IT, as programmers struggle to minimize time spent physically transferring files to equipment and maintain accurate version control and IT strives to minimize risk. The good news is that there are other Ethernet CNC file transfer options available than the common scenario above.

Ethernet CNC file transfers

CNC machines running on outdated operating systems lead to a collision course of lost productivity for the shop floor, as programmers struggle to minimize time spent physically transferring files to equipment and maintain accurate version control, and some major challenges for IT as it strives to minimize risk.

Fortified Ethernet Connectivity

A modern DNC networking system, for one, allows manufacturers to still take advantage of Windows 95 and newer OS, Ethernet as well as your existing network infrastructure, all while removing them from your corporate domain and eliminating the use of FTP, unsecure USB, Windows Administrator access and more. This secure version of DNC software, like Predator Secure DNC software, still enables you to transfer your CNC programs, CNC variables, offsets, parameters, PLC registers and other production data to and from your manufacturing equipment – but adds a layer of security with automatic authentication, encryption and data compression.

Machine tools with an RS232 connection, or those with an option for it, can be connected to Predator Secure DNC to avoid connectivity risks. You’ll need knowledge of your CNC machine’s communication parameters, including baud rate, data bits, stop bits and parity settings or the network connection, such as FTP, FileShare, etc. Consult with an expert manufacturing integrator to explore any other prerequisites to connect your CNC machines through a next-generation DNC networking system.

Comparing your legacy, aging equipment – your die-hard lathe or CNC milling machine – to new machinery options is easy to do. In fact, there’s a term for it: “appeal to novelty.” Equating newness to superior quality, writes educator Academy 4SC, is a logical fallacy in which something is claimed to be better simply because it is modern. “This is because we assume that people will try to improve upon what came before them. Thus, when we hear about something that’s ‘revolutionary’ or ‘cutting edge,’ it can be tempting to think that this new product is better.”

Centralizing Control

But seasoned maintenance and operations professionals know that aging equipment can perform just as well, running the same hours per day and days per year if maintained properly. And that can translate into exceptional return on investment: one paper mill in Canada had the highest maintenance costs, but was the most profitable, reported Reliable Plant.

DNC for Manual Machines

Retrofitting your legacy equipment with the help of a DNC manufacturing integrator can keep manual machines profitable, longer.

The challenge then, can lie in centralizing control of your CNC program and legacy machines, largely due to the vast differences in communication protocols and technology. They may not have built-in networking capabilities or support for modern communications, for example. They will have different data formats and serial communication protocols. And there’s specific troubleshooting and debugging processes associated with older equipment that may require log file analysis, network traffic monitoring, diagnostic tool usage that could vary from machine to machine.

There are options, of course. An ideal Distributed Numerical Control (DNC) software, like Predator DNC, can support over 80 different equipment brands and hundreds of CNC control models to send and receive large NC programs. But software alone won’t be enough to drip feed your CNC programs, control file delivery to the proper CNC machine and monitor the activity of the file transfers to the equipment on the shop floor. There’s still the need to add additional hardware, like serial-to-Ethernet converters, to enable network connectivity.

Your Guide to DNC Manufacturing Integration

That’s where the value of a manufacturing integrator comes in. More than a reseller, a manufacturing integrator has extensive experience using protocols or networking experience that can translate between the protocols used by serial ports on legacy machines. They can provide the DNC software as well as the hardware needed to retrofit or upgrade equipment with newer control systems that interface with the DNC more easily. They have the technical support assistance and large knowledge base of resources, including documentation, FAQs and articles, for instant, on-demand access.

Essentially, a full-service manufacturing integrator has the comprehensive understanding of aging equipment, systems and their respective configurations to design an effective, industrial automation and system integration solution to keep your legacy machines adhering to current processes to keep them profitable longer. To start planning your DNC networking project with an expert DNC manufacturing integrator, contact Shop Floor Automations today.

As manufacturers across North America spend time reflecting, strategizing, planning and budgeting for the year ahead, leaders are debating how to defend against disruption and strengthen their offense. It’s a great time to ask yourself: How did my department stay on track with its goals? In what ways was my team successful? Where did we go astray, and why? Did we “make bold investments in talent, technology, and innovation?” Forbes stresses that those manufacturers who made the right decisions post-crisis can be on the road to major rewards.

Leverage the Present for Future Success

The good news is that you don’t need to limit your action to these responses to just 2023. There are three strategic ways you can reallocate excess budget now to get a head start on your future goals and positive economic indicators, while minimizing what Deloitte refers to as “historic labor and supply challenges.”

  1. Invest in your team. What opportunities have your shop floor teams identified for efficiency gains? Are you looking to reduce the amount of NC program transfer time and effort to CNCs? Is the ongoing maintenance and changing of RS232 serial cabling consuming already-limited resources? By factoring in valuable team input into your automation strategy early and leaning on your preferred manufacturing integrator for execution, you can invigorate crews while making inroads to continuous improvement initiatives.
  2. Lock in your support and services. Workforce limitations can impede project timelines, particularly as more and more companies are turning toward automation to complement skilled labor. By securing manufacturing integration support and services prior to year end, you can rest assured that your priorities will stay the course – and faster than your competition.
  3. Map out a phased approach. If you’re looking to increase communication on the shop floor or reduce programming waste in the new year, there are tasks that can be completed prior to year end for an efficient and effective start. The piloting of a few machines or setting up of a network connection can be relatively smaller undertakings that can position your organization for success in the year to come. Robert Jackson, a manufacturing engineer at artificial lift manufacturer Flowco, decided on a phased approach to bring on Predator DNC with Shop Floor Automations. “We didn’t have a network at the time, so we chose to start with four machines for the first phase of our implementation,” explained Jackson. It took two days to set up the network wirelessly. Flowco then added 12 machines. Six months later, the company had hooked up 11 more machines to the Predator DNC network and are expecting to do the same to five more in the near future as a result of significant growth.

While next year can hold a lot of promise for companies making the right moves, Deloitte predicts that “supply chain issues including sourcing bottlenecks, global logistics backlogs, cost pressures, and cyberattacks will likely remain critical challenges in 2023.” The remaining part of 2022 can set the stage for success if planned out strategically. Contact SFA for help designing a budget to fit your strategic automation plans for 2023 today.

A collage featuring a screenshot of DNC software and an above view of a shop floor with numerous CNC machines. At the bottom is clip art of an employee on a computer with the SFA logo.

Our article on DNC software functions and benefits was published by MoldMaking Technology recently. “A company’s programs are their livelihood on the shop floor. They make the parts that keep a business going.”

The three different DNC CNC benefits discussed were remote requests, compatibility (different machines and methods to use DNC), and program revision control.

We also wanted to discuss in this blog a rumor about certain DNC MACROs for manufacturing multitasking. We recommend you read the article for more in-depth information.

Operators with older machines may have limited memory and will need to drip-feed large programs with DNC. Machinists also like using DNC for remote requests or pull mode. While drip-feeding pushes the program (downloaded from the DNC server), the program can instead be requested from the CNC machine.

While remote requests and the diversity of drip-feeding make machinists jobs easier, there is also the added stress of incorrect programs being run at machines. CNC revision control controls this problem and prevents this issue from occurring.

Some operators say they can use DNC in order to perform very basic machine monitoring. Items sent via RS232 can be observed with a specific G-code function.

While this G-code function has been discussed on various machinist forums, we highly recommend you do not rely on it for monitoring CNCs. The information the MACRO provides alone is not good enough. For example – you can feel when your leg is injured, but you won’t know if it’s a sprain or a fracture until you have professional insight.

This G-code MACRO hack will not be able to tell you in-depth when machines are down, why, for how long, what processes can be improved upon, or overall efficiency of your equipment. It also can’t send notifications via email or text when machines are down. DNC can easily be integrated with OEE monitoring software for combined productivity uses.

Ready to start the conversation about DNC software? Call (877) 611-5825 or fill out a contact form.

A close up shot of the screen of a Doosan controller, showing the G-code produced by CAD CAM software.

Photo credit to DixiePrecision on Instagram

CAD CAM software is a powerful shop floor tool. There is a long-term problem most users don’t consider. What happens to the programs that the software produces?

“CAD CAM makes these beautiful models, then it produces G-code. What’s going to happen to it?” This question was posed by a Shop Floor Automations (SFA) spokesperson on the Manufacturing Engineering podcast.

“It’s going to go onto these USB sticks. You have all of these portable media going around the shop floor, or it’s sitting on someone’s computer.”

Read more below!

Read more

A shot of the side of a metal cutting machine, showing the leftover metal chippings and debris. What is lean production? One can view it as an alternative term for lean manufacturing, but we wanted to take a deeper look.

“Lean production is centered on determining what activities or processes add value by reducing other aspects,” this Techopedia article explains.

So there is our concept: instead of focusing purely on the bad (what processes to get rid of), we choose to focus on what is working. What can we magnify in order to increase production?

The first part of the equation is always your talent on the shop floor. Without people at the equipment doing the work, nothing happens. So how can we help?

“In lean-production systems, a manufacturer’s employees are organized in teams,” this Economist article explains. The article goes on to explain how the team structure works.

“These tasks are less narrowly specialized than those demanded of the worker in a mass-production system,” they describe. “This variety enables the worker to escape from the soul-destroying repetition of the pure assembly line.”

What kind of teams can you form on the shop floor to help with productivity? We suggest taking on these projects with Shop Floor Automations’ help towards the overall goal of lean production:

  1. Lights Out Manufacturing – This will require a specialized team to evaluate where there are snags in the process in order to do 24/7 machining. Especially if you have team members who work different shifts, this helps them to compare data and see what is happening.
  2. CNC Revision Management – Assign a team to investigate if programs are floating around the shop floor that needs to be better controlled. This team will help make sure old revisions aren’t running at machines.
  3. Going Paperless – Have a team designated to help the shop floor go paperless. Take on a system of real-time dashboards versus spreadsheets or whiteboards. This team can even help the front office out for a real sense of teamwork.

For solutions that will help with these team goals, contact SFA. Call (877) 611-5825 or fill out a contact form today.

A machine operator turns the knob on a CNC controller. Lean manufacturing is a hot topic these days. It’s more than a buzzword, though. It’s becoming a necessity.

“Lean manufacturing is a system of techniques and activities for running a manufacturing or service operation.” This quotes comes from Lean Enterprise: A Synergistic Approach to Minimizing Waste from ASQ Quality Press.

Basically, do you want to eliminate any activities from your production that do not add value or contribute to waste? Then you want lean manufacturing procedures in place.

Question is, how can you achieve this goal?

The first step is making the jobs of those on the shop floor easier. “Complex processes typically have a lot of waste, so simplifying a process will reduce waste, improving efficiency,” states this piece on the subject of lean manufacturing from The University of Washington. Keep reading below! 

Read more

Shop Floor Automations Newsletter The following is an archived copy of our Fall 2018 newsletter.

Decisions to make for Q4

Fall has begun, and before you know it, Winter will be here. Then, surprise, it’s suddenly Q1. Where did all that time go?!

Take a moment to think if you have any of the following issues on your shop floor:

    • CNC communication failures?
    • Old revisions running on machines, with programs floating all over the shop floor?
    • Still using a CNC floppy drive instead of USB?
    • Old cabling causing too much of a hassle?

Check out DNC software combined with shop floor hardware from Shop Floor Automations. These investments are more affordable than you would assume, and the ROI is exceptional!

If excessive downtime is a concern, scroll to the bottom of this newsletter for information about running a machine monitoring trial!

Want even more info on DNC and hardware? Check out articles about our solutions in publications such as Modern Machine Shop, Moldmaking Technology, CNC West, MFG News & more –

What is your OEE?

If you do not know your true rate of utilization, how can you truly be on the path to improved productivity?

Ask us about a machine monitoring trial! It’s affordable, flexible and illuminating on how productive your equipment really is.

Request info on a DataXchange Machine Monitoring trial

Call (877) 611-5825 for more info! 

Link to original newsletter 

A machinist working with a CNC machine without having to leave his station thanks to CNC Remote Request. As American manufacturing grows, efficient machining is key. SFA is often asked about secure and quick CNC to PC communication. Here, we take a look at CNC remote request procedures.

Otherwise known as a CNC remote call, remote request operations provide the following benefits:

  • Keeping operators at machines allows for better productivity
  • Eliminates walking back forth from PC to CNC
  • Machinists can send, receive & drip-feed programs at machines
  • They have directory listings of CNC programs via every machine tool

Remote requests take place through DNC software. It often comes with additional features, including remote error messages, remote auto name, and the ability to send notifications to higher-ups. These messages usually target maintenance, quality or programming issues.

A followup question we get in relation to this subject is this: Can these secure, remote transfers only be done via a serial machine?

DNC software can be used wired and wirelessly. If wired is the route customers want to go, we always recommend cabling specifically made for shop floor environments for effective RS232 communications. The bottom line is that remote calls do not take place at exclusively serial-based machines.

For older Windows-based machines wishing to achieve successful PC to CNC transfers, we recommend a feature called Secure DNC. This allows secure file transfers to CNC machines through firewalls. For example, you can send directly to the hard drive of the machine without interfering with the network.

Secure DNC is great for shops with heightened security measures. It is especially useful for shop floors that still utilize older Windows operating systems because they currently can’t afford to upgrade machine tools.

A great alternative to DNC software for small shops is USB Connect hardware. Devices store programs at machines via a USB thumb drive. It is worth noting, however, that hardware will not have the same plentiful features that software does.

Want more info on PC to CNC program transfer solutions? Call (877) 611-5825 or fill out our contact form