Owners credit their success to an entirely new CNC being used on all machine tools and metalforming equipment; claims to obsolete G-code
Asheville, North Carolina is known as a cutting-edge art colony in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but one local metalworking job shop has recently found itself achieving unprecedented heights of "cutting" productivity, the result of a new Siemens CNC platform for which it acted as a beta test site for the last year. Results have been "off the charts," according to the owners. They cite part after part, on which output has improved by 20% or more. The shop routinely runs milled and tool steel, as well as stainless, titanium, VascoMax, all grades of aluminum, cobalt chromium, Nitinol and even composites.
HBH Enterprise, founded in 1959 by Harry Bob Henderson, is a full-service job shop, where milling and turning machines are utilized to manufacture parts for the automotive, aerospace, medical, construction equipment, textile, plastic and paper mill equipment industries. The company occupies an 82,800 square-foot facility in Asheville and is owned today by the founder's sons-in-law, partners John Lydecker and Ken Armbruce. Both are skilled machine tool specialists, with degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, respectively, earned in 1982 from the University of North Carolina, where they met the Henderson sisters, whom they subsequently married. Following 20 years of work at HBH, they became the co-owners, nearly eight years ago, following the tragic death of the founder in a hunting accident.
The shop is headed by Daniel Faciliendo, chief application engineer and lead man at HBH, where he's worked for 15 years, following a move to Asheville from his ancestral home in Ciencia, Mexico.
It was HBH Enterprise that Siemens approached in the summer of 2008, after a nationwide search for the prototypical American job shop that would become one of a select number of beta test sites for a new CNC platform. Owner John Lydecker explains, "While the details are as yet undisclosed, I can tell you we were approached by Siemens over a year ago and asked to test a new level of CNC technology on a variety of milling and turning machine tools in our shop. Not to exaggerate, I can honestly say that decision changed our view of the machine tool industry and certainly changed our company. This new platform has proven beneficial not only to our operators, but also to management, as it provides unparalleled levels of machine monitoring and production tracking." Lydecker further noted how HBH had used an older and well-accepted brand of CNC in its shop operations for many years. "Many brands have made substantial jumps in graphical user interface (GUI) over the years, but all relied on the conventional G-code model. This new CNC leaps ahead in unprecedented ways. The extremely logical yet plain language interface is designed for easy operator machine set-up and production adjustments. Instead of five steps, for example, a command sequence often requires just two steps. Plus, the control guides the operator with fully animated cutting sequences to quickly and easily visualize the tool path."
Ken Armbruce expands on the management upsides of the new control. "There are kinematic transformations that automatically maintain interpolation accuracies, regardless of the part or plane rotation. This eliminates the need for costly and time-consuming calculations that can now be made on a calculator or a CAD/CAM station. Also, from our viewpoint as owners, this CNC has terrific production management tools, such as plug-n-play Ethernet connections to create a shopwide communications network, even for a mid-sized shop such as HBH. The machines can share CAD/CAM, machine simulation, post-processor and other information seamlessly."
Armbruce went on to explain how this new Siemens CNC platform allows remote monitoring and even text messaging via SMS alerts to any mobile phone, when blanks are needed, a machine is out of tolerance or simply out of cutting fluid. Since Armbruce is the electrical engineering and programming manager at HBH, he took special interest in the new control's features that offer machine drive technology improvements beyond the micro and nano levels, due to an 80-bit computational level of accuracy, "...which is considerably beyond the current technology levels of all other CNC brands, as far as I know." He mentions this feature resulted in trackable improvements in contour control and point-to-point accuracies.
As "the man" on the floor at this dynamic job shop, Daniel Faciliendo has run many machine tools with various CNC brands onboard. "Where do I begin?" was his answer, when queried about the new CNC from Siemens. "Advanced surface alone is most impressive. The new level of algorithms in this control helped us achieve our desired part surface finishes in record time." He cited a specific example of line-by-line milling, where the CNC calculated the forward and backward path motions identically and instantly displayed them. In commenting on the impact of the control on the HBH operators, Faciliendo noted, "The control's video-like imagery goes substantially beyond the simple graphical-based programming and operating systems of the past. This helps us reduce training, accelerates set-up times and increases the machine throughput here at HBH by factors we've yet to calculate completely. I will say the performance has increased shop-wide, as operators can now see the difference between chipbreaking and stock removal when drilling or they can see the exact tracing sequence on a cornering maneuver. Mistakes are therefore eliminated before they occur and in an unbelievably short time period," he stated.
Other features of the new CNC platform impressed Faciliendo, as well, and Daniel has "seen them all," referring to his years of using other brands of control equipment. He cited the on-screen command center for simplified tool management, where an operator at HBH simply selects a familiar name for a tool (perhaps assigned to a particular job or function) and presses a single button. In addition, he noted that the CNC actually monitors the service life of each tool, switching to replacements in an automatic sequence predetermined or monitored on the fly.
Also, Faciliendo observed that the new Siemens CNC eliminates the need for shaping a blank prior to machining. A blank can be face-milled or face-turned simply by setting the relevant parameters into the set-up mode. "The operator presses a single button and the geometry is stored in the CNC tool offset memory. Really, it's that easy," he mused.
Lastly, stated Faciliendo, "the CNC accommodates steep taper contouring, for example, on an 80º plunge cut, where the cut can be made by starting with a large milling cutter and then removing residual material from the corners, using a smaller tool. Machining time can therefore be substantially reduced."
"I grew up using G-code," ends Faciliendo, "so it's like a second language to me. It wasn't until I used this new Siemens CNC platform that I realized there was really a much better, more accurate and more efficient way to set-up machines, cut parts and increase production overall on the shopfloor. The performance of our machine tools was, to be honest, often hampered by the controls, owing to the difficulty operators had when using them. Once we saw how easy it could be, we became believers."
Owner John Lydecker concludes, "We used an old CNC system here for many years and we had relatively few problems made known to us. That was probably the problem. It was simply a situation where we accepted what the machine tool builders were giving us and the ways in which our operators were being trained on them. Not knowing we could move beyond the nominal interface design and the traditional G-code protocols, we just assumed everything was as good as it could be, here at HBH. We didn't know a better option. Until now," he said with a knowing smile.
HBH Enterprise is now transitioning all its machine tools to this new Siemens CNC platform, as the result of this beta testing. Since the shop maintains its own crew of retrofit personnel, all the work will be done in-house and under strict security, according to Lydecker, who declined further comment on the timetable for this upgrade. He did note his competition would be "seeing and believing" the difference in HBH, quite soon.
For more information on this new Siemens CNC platform, interested parties may contact:
SIEMENS ENERGY & AUTOMATION
MOTION CONTROL BUSINESS
390 Kent Avenue
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Attention: John Meyer, Manager, Marketing Communications