Smooth Evolution of Machine Tool Control


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Many traditional turning shops are expanding their capabilities to meet other machining requirements. Multitasking machines have helped these shops to naturally transition into smaller lot sizes and highly complex parts. As our segment of the industry continues to evolve, machine tool suppliers are working to make the crossover as smooth as possible with steady advancements in machine tool controls.

A process performance technology platform is now available that spans the entire part production landscape from programming and setup, to actual metal removal operations to automation to monitoring/data collection and transfer. Called Smooth Technology, it has been developed by Mazak to expand the concept of machine tool computer numeric control (CNC) beyond what a machine’s control alone typically represents.

With manufacturing technologies continuously growing more complex, this concept is designed to incorporate those latest advancements and present them in an easy to use and understand, intuitive and dynamic platform that continues to evolve and expand.

Paired with its Smooth Technology, Mazak engineered a new CNC called Mazatrol SmoothX as well as new machine hardware and servo systems. Four times faster than its predecessors, the CNC is designed in response to customer input to address real-world issues. This development shortens machining times and enhances such operations as full simultaneous five-axis machining and complex mold machining. New functions of the control include Intelligent Pocket Milling (to maintain a constant angle of tool engagement), Seamless Corner Control (to avoid burying a cutter when entering a 90-degree corner), and Real-Time Tuning (to optimize turret indexing when tool loads are uneven).

Feature Details

Intelligent Pocket Milling engages a high-efficiency tool path when milling out part cavities. The function consistently maintains a constant angle of tool engagement and cutting loads to promote optimum machining conditions. The company says this design results in the full use of a machine tool’s power capabilities with as much as 35 percent faster machining.

The CNC’s Seamless Corner Control reduces vibrations and helps shorten part-machining cycle times through cutter path adjustments made when machining into corners. Rather than moving the cutter directly into a 90-degree corner, the function inserts a preset radial tolerance. This tolerance eliminates any dwell resulting from a rapid deceleration in the axial movement often associated with conventional corner machining. Thus, corner surfaces are smoother, the risk of cutter gouging is reduced, and cutters can feed faster.

With the Real Time Tuning function, turning machine tool turrets index more quickly to help shorten machine tool non-cut times. Whether turrets are fully loaded, partially loaded or have heavier tools on one side as opposed to the other, Real Time Tuning detects turret loads and automatically adjusts the acceleration and deceleration of the turret indexing speed to maintain an optimum balance.

The CNC also provides as many as six user control security settings. Shops can set data editing/overwriting permission for every input box on every screen per particular user. Users can access screens and view program data, but depending on their preset security level, they may be limited as to what they can and cannot change.

Programming Advantages

On the part programming side, new software functions include Quick Mazatrol, Quick EIA and View Surf. Quick Mazatrol allows for the direct importation of 3D CAD models. With that data, users can view a part model and click on a specific geometry or geometries for which they will develop a Mazatrol conversational program. The function then pulls the coordinates from the solid model to provide programming assistance.

Neil Desrosiers, applications engineer/developer at Mazak, describes Quick Mazatrol as a hybrid born from the marriage of a CAM system and conversational programming. “Shops are now able to use a solid model to obtain part geometries, but still program conversationally. This means that with Smooth Technology, users don’t have to know how to use a CAM system to work from a solid CAD model to create programs.”

Quick EIA allows users to generate any tool path prior to running the program. According to the company, the function also boosts toolpath simulation speed by as much as 99 percent. Advanced graphics technology similar to that used to generate the graphics for gaming systems facilitates fast, full five-axis 3D machining simulation and interference checking.

Once a tool path is generated, the View Surf function provides toolpath data analysis. Users can indicate that they wish to check G-code, and the function generates the whole tool path on the screen and indicates all errors. Once users zoom in and click on those specific error locations, the function automatically brings up the exact corresponding line in the actual program. The View Surf function helps to reduce the number of test cuts needed, allowing shops to complete the first part faster.

User Friendly

At the human/machine interface (HMI) level, the CNC features an entirely multi-touch home screen that, within a single page view, presents all critical data to operators. This feature enables operators to instantly jump from the home screen to any other area or section within the CNC. They can also use a fingertip to pan, rotate or zoom and otherwise manipulate a 3D part rendering of the component being machined. Or, they can flick an area of the screen to scroll through the displayed program G-code. Navigation is similar to using a smart tablet.

The control’s streamlined dashboard-type screen displays typical data output such as machine rapid speeds, horsepower, axis positioning, machining loads, estimated time of part completion and more. There are location buttons and an EIA window that displays G-code program lines. Additionally, the control provides the capability to monitor as many as five additional machines that may be together in a cell or near each other. Thus, operators responsible for multiple machines can easily track their status from one machine display to eliminate the need to physically go to each machine in the group.

By using advanced screen technology, Mazatrol SmoothX CNC consoles are the same size for all machines. In the past, control units were physically larger or smaller, depending on the number of buttons, options and features required for the machine model. The new controls have a common bank of buttons, which makes it easier for operators to go from one Mazak machine to the next. The Manual Pulse Generator (MPG) for the control is wireless, giving operators the freedom to move around and inside the machine untethered for executing manual operations, such as touch probing.

For digital manufacturing functionality, Smooth Technology supports MTConnect and includes an NC Data Library—an Ethernet interface to a library of data-accessing functions for programmers if they wish to write software to communicate with the machine via an Ethernet network. This also means machines can have an MTConnect adapter and that users can collect data from the CNC.

Mazak is also applying Smooth Technology to its Palletech Manufacturing Cell (PMC) software and will call it PMC Smooth. Additionally, the company’s Cyber Production Monitoring software will transition to what will be known as Smooth Production Center. Both of these new systems will have the same look and functionality as the Smooth Technology applied to Mazak’s machine tool CNCs.