Machine Tool Controls In The Future

At IMTS 2006, IW asked Okuma's Bob Tain, director of THiNC Tank, to discuss the future potential of the control.

Two years ago, at IMTS 2004, machine tool vendor Okuma America launched THiNC, a forward-looking vision of an open architecture PC control.

What will THiNC -- The Intelligent Numerical Control -- be able to do in 25 or 30 years?

  • Programming the cutter path and associated parameters (speeds, feeds, depth of cut, tool selection) will be unnecessary. THiNC will develop the optimal machining scheme based on a digital model of the part with no human intervention.
  • Fixtures will be intelligent and adaptive, allowing rapid set up with little or no intervention by humans or robots.
  • THiNC will be aware of machine capabilities -- accuracy, repeatability, feed-rate, speed, working envelope -- and determine if the part can be machined successfully to specification.
  • Machines networked in a factory will determine the best machine for a given part.
  • Humans have succeeded as a species based upon the ability to analyze sensory input to accomplish a task. So too, THiNC will use an array of sensors in conjunction with powerful computer technology to achieve a completed part to tolerance and in the best possible cycle time. Sensor technology will include but not be limited to:
  • Identifying part location;
  • Validating and adapting part geometry to the digital model;
  • In process on machine inspection (eliminating post process inspection) -- adapting if necessary;
  • Adapting process to changing conditions both ambient and machine related (real-time adaptive control);
  • Monitoring machine health and adjusting process accordingly.
See Also

IMTS Report: Advancing Factory Automation
The THiNC control will evolve to:
  • Predict failures but fail gracefully (maintain expected part tolerance and finish by sacrificing cycle time if necessary);
  • Report machine condition, spindle utilization and identify bottlenecks;
  • Connect with enterprise system to accurately track costs and scrap, and suggest and/or implement process improvements;
  • Improve performance and quality;
  • Never crash. Actually Okuma THiNC controls already have a viable and reliable collision avoidance system on board many machine models today.
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