Efforts of all the "smart" machine initiatives anticipate substantial change in the future of machine controls, but substantial advances are an established industry pattern, observes GE Fanuc Automation's Paul Webster, CNC product manager. "Maintenance features started coming in as numerical control transitioned to computer numerical control. In addition to directing the tool to cut a part, the control evolved toward telling the operator what it was doing while it was doing it. Until recently, without connectivity, each machine tool remained an island.' Now connectivity and networking are being emphasized, thus facilitating data interchange in smart machine factory strategies." With the growing connectivity and maintenance focus controls are hastening the arrival of new competitive advantages for manufacturers, he adds.
Webster says the challenge for control builders lies in adapting to the evolution of standards that confront their traditional differentiation strategies. He describes two differentiation traditions, one where the competition is with all control builders and the other among machine builders that may be using different GE Fanuc controls.
One competitive strategy for controls involving the new standards might simply be early introduction, he explains. "How controls accommodate maintenance issues could also be used as a competitive tool. One caveat: Are machine tool buyers ready to focus on maintenance data analysis as well as data collection?"
Webster says one GE Fanuc control feature already collects historical maintenance data on machine tool motor windings. That type of trend information makes it easy to identify a failing motor. In addition, machine builders -- and end users -- can specify similar features at the point of purchase. Control capabilities are not fully exploited by purchasers, adds Webster. "And once installed, controls are often excluded from company networks because of the fear of viruses."