As 2023 winds down, it’s an ideal time to consider manufacturing trends and predictions that may affect your goals, plans and budgets for the year ahead.

Overall, there’s an expectation that interest rates will fall in the middle of 2024, fueling more consistent economic growth and acceleration by the end of the year, reports Dodge Construction Network chief economist Richard Branch in Engineering News-Record. Escalating tensions in the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine may present difficulties, however, as will continued labor issues. Alan Beaulieu, president of ITR Economics, recently told the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) that, “The good news is manufacturers will gain economic strength in this country and secure our economic wellbeing for generations to come. But for the individual manufacturer, there will be higher competition for workers in an already labor-scarce market, and that problem will persist for years. The only hope for companies to survive is to drive efficiencies by adopting automation and other advanced technologies.”

CNC Machine Operator worker productivity

Automating for Worker Productivity and Efficiency

For manufacturers feeling the continued pressures of the labor market, they’ve been heeding Beaulieu’s advice and turning toward technology to increase worker productivity while minimizing costs. There’s many examples of this occurring on the shop floor; let’s dive into three:

  1. “I’m trying to upgrade the machines in my shop to a more modern way of communicating with add-ons to keep costs low.” This manufacturer knows it can’t afford to upgrade its machines altogether. DNC software from manufacturing integrator Shop Floor Automations (SFA) was recommended by a user, sharing their experience that “all machines had their serial to WiFi and it was flawless sending from the DNC computer.” That same user leaned on SFA for machine monitoring software as well, noting that management loved knowing when night shift “truly ran great” based on progress reports from the software.
  2. Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere, says Bernard Marr in Forbes. Use cases are often described within enterprise organizations, such as Hitachi’s AI-generated training videos to ramp up new workers in maintenance and manufacturing. But that doesn’t mean small-to-mid-sized manufacturers can’t leverage this technology in 2024. CGTech’s CNC machine simulation solution VERICUT 9.1, for example, uses AI to learn from cutting while simulation occurs to automatically set up tools for optimization and then auto-optimizes NC programs after learning.
  3. From the outset, Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) compliance would seem to decrease worker productivity as the control of removable media, including PCMCIA cards and USB drives typically used to transfer CNC programs, is significantly tightened, if not prohibited altogether. But for manufacturers still relying on such media, they know the inefficiency – and costs – of uploading programs and getting routers per part. The use of one industrial DNC software network for all your CNC machines, robots, CMMs, PLCs, 3D printers and other equipment can help streamline the CNC program transfer process as well as provide revision control. It’s just in time, too, as CMMC is expected to be included in public contracts sometime in 2024.
manufacturing speed

By partnering with a manufacturing integrator, you’ll be best positioned to address enduring workforce issues at the lightning pace of the modern digital economy.

“The only hope for companies to survive is to drive efficiencies by adopting automation and other advanced technologies.”

While manufacturers look to technology to fill the labor gap and gain a competitive edge in the marketplace, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution that will be able to address enduring workforce issues at the lightning pace of the modern digital economy. Only by partnering with a manufacturing integrator that understands your existing environment – and the direction you’re headed toward – will you be best positioned to tackle the trends and predictions awaiting you in 2024. Contact SFA today to discuss your strategic initiatives of tomorrow.

PCMCIA card and card readers on aged CNC machines can, inevitably, fail. The reasons can run the gamut: excessive and prolonged exposure to heat, moisture or poor air quality, power surges, improper handling, wear and tear over time, and other factors. Add in the scarcity of viable replacements and, regardless of the cause, the malfunction of PCMCIA cards and card readers can be highly disruptive to your shop floor operations, affecting efficiency, productivity and profitability. There’s two main ways how:

  1. Delays and Downtime. Your cards store critical CNC data like essential programs, instructions and configurations to and from your machinery. If you can’t retrieve or transfer this vital data, at a minimum, you impede the ability to operate efficiently as technicians, engineers and programmers are forced to seek temporary, yet often time-consuming and less reliable, workarounds – thus increasing their workloads and postponing other tasks. You could face essential data loss as historical records and important backups are affected. More significant consequences could impose downtime costs and jeopardize meeting lead times, delivery schedules and customer satisfaction.
  2. Security, Performance and Reliability Risks. If you’re also utilizing PCMCIA cards for software updates, patches or machine maintenance, a reader failure can obstruct your ability to implement necessary improvements or fixes, potentially impacting the overall security, performance and reliability of your equipment.
CNC Programmer Transferring Files

If you can’t retrieve or transfer this vital data, at a minimum, you impede the ability to operate efficiently as programmers are forced to seek temporary, yet often time-consuming and less reliable, workarounds – thus increasing their workload and postponing other tasks.



From PCMCIA Card Failures to USB Program Transfers

A manufacturer with over 30 machines, including Makino, Matsura, Chiron, Okuma and Kitako, reported having issues loading and unloading programs with the different machine controls through their old laptop. The company brought on a rugged USB Connect unit from manufacturing integrator Shop Floor Automations (SFA) and “the problems have disappeared.” They subsequently purchased another unit for their tooling shop. But for companies changing programs more frequently, the USB Connect series may not be the best alternative option.

PCMCIA cards for CNC program transfers

DNC software, such as Predator DNC, can help manufacturers streamline the CNC program management and transfer process for consistent and efficient results, particularly when involving higher transfer rates and tens of machines. “I’m responsible for helping to design high-quality parts and manage all the planning for manufacturing,” says Flowco Manufacturing Engineer Robert Jackson. “Predator DNC gives me the ability to spend my day doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Compliancy Demands DNC Software

For highly-regulated manufacturers adhering to Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, or CMMC, DNC software often becomes a necessary option to ensure compliance and reduce cybersecurity risk associated with USB program transfers. But sorting through the best options for your shop floor begins with a consultation with a dedicated manufacturing integrator. To start exploring a modern solution to your PCMCIA card failures, contact SFA today.

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.

Predator DNC V10 Released – original article from CNC West Magazine: 

Predator DNC Software Shop Floor Automations (SFA), one of the largest independent CNC automation suppliers for Predator Software has begun implementing the latest version of Predator DNC Software v10. The new version continues to improve support for the latest CNCs, robots, PLCs and other manufacturing equipment under the latest version of Microsoft Windows. Numerous new features and improvements have been added.

The support for MicrosoftWindows 8, and Server 2012 has been completed under 32 and 64 bit operation systems while including Predator DNC Objects for Microsoft SQL for 2012 and 2014. The new version extends the support for virtual operating systems such as VMware and HyperV.

Predator DNC v10 supports the latest Fanuc Focas v3.9 device drivers. The change improved support for Fanuc controls with new options to eliminate spaces in filenames, automatically rename to an O number and force uppercase files. The new drivers enable support forWindows functional account providing specific permissions to access target folders to help secure CNCs from network.

Additional diagnostic tools have been created to allow users to support a machine specific error log without enabling multiple commands and individual logs. A single log created to trace all activity and shared to multiple users for confirmation of transfers and historical archiving. Shop Floor Automations reports the benefits of upgrading the Predator Software to the latest version allow for future compatibility between enhanced wireless and wired serial devices used for CNC communication and machine monitoring applications. The Predator Editor Lock provides software control over a CNC machines “Write Protect” key to lock and unlock the CNC’s memory.

Shop Floor Automations: NETWORK ANY CNC CONTROL

lan to cnc La Mesa, CA – March 16, 2015 – Shop Floor Automations (SFA), one of the largest independent CNC Automation Suppliers for the CNC Machine Tool Industry has enhanced the LAN Connect product to add Ethernet to any CNC machine.

The LAN Connect device acts as an interface between commercially available SD flash memory and any CNC control with an available RS232 port. Machine tool files can be sent from CNC memory to the LAN Connect device, SD memory to CNC memory or drip-fed (DNC) from the SD memory.  Flexible CNC communication firmware is built into the unit allowing connection to just about any machine tool control.

The LAN Connect device contains all the necessary hardware to integrate a universal display onto a CNC machine tool pendant. The controller is DIN rail mountable inside the pendant or can be reverse mounted on the display.  A two (2)GB SD card is included and be upgraded by the end user to any size or brand desired to support larger NC programs/storage capacity. Read more below.

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DNC Software DNC Software features compared

Predator DNC software and Ascendant eXtremeDNC software are two great tools for CNC networking of different CNCs, punch press, waterjets and other industrial equipment. They are each used to manage different types of programs. Ascendant eXtrmeDNC was the first DNC open architecture application for the 32-bit Windows operating system. It was first introduced in 1993, upgraded in 2010 to make it compatible with modern operating systems, and adapted to Ethernet, wired, and wireless hardware. It was developed for Windows NT 3.5 but with the modifications, it could be applied to some modern operating systems other than a Windows based OS. It works best in a Windows 7 or Server 2008 operating systems.

However, the introduction of Predator DNC software revolutionized the CNC and DNC world. This is because of the enormous multitasking functions that can be performed on it. It has more capacity to upload, download, and drip-feed. Just like the Ascendant eXtremeDNC Software, Predator DNC Software has wireless and Ethernet support. Predator DNC also uses a “object-oriented” tool library to build on functionality as the user desires. The solution also allows for a full upgrade path to other modules, such as machine monitoring, product data management, and tool rib management. While eXtremeDNC has connection ports that could serve 1023 communication networks at a time, Predator DNC Software has 4096 connection and it can be used with 4096 machines simultaneously. This gives it more networking capacity.

extremednc Still, eXtremeDNC software is a useful tool, it serves different purposes for its users. It is a smart architecture compliance server which supports transmission and effective maintenance of files. If a server failure occurs or there is a loss of server networking file transmissions are not disrupted.

EXtremeDNC does not require a lot of setup and configuration. Out of the box, the product comes with several CNC templates ready to communicate to the machine tool The software enhances functions such as email notifications, it facilitates the auto tag, and renames standardization. It also enables control and easy integration of third party software. Another great aspect to eXtremeDNC Is the client/server functionality that provides true, real-time feedback as to the status of transfer. The licensing is flexible as well to purchase only the ports needed and floats without any additional modules. Read more below.

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MoldMaking Technology magazine

We had an extensive article posted in MoldMaking Technology magazine. Learn how to increase the productivity of your shop. Check out the article.

A shop floor focuses on several aspects of automation when working with CNC machines, and software is one tool that can help manage the automation process. When investing in software, consider the entire problem you are attempting to solve.

A key factor in your software purchase should be integration. Many software vendors provide only one piece of a software solution, which makes it difficult to integrate with other software programs being used by the shop. By being able to purchase only what you need or what you are ready to integrate from a single provider, you gain tools that work together as a seamless package.

Scheduling also plays a critical role in optimizing automation. Job scheduling software should deliver and communicate in real time the orders that need to be manufactured, as well as track labor, material, and delays. Whiteboards and spreadsheets do not provide real-time data, so look for a solution that utilizes what-if scenarios, is designed for ease of use and receives buy-in from the operators using the product. Read more below.

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