Process Monitoring, Control, and Automated Analysis
DNC software automation is an important tool for improved efficiency and to minimize potential data-entry errors. We integrated our ML Send Utility into an existing corporate database, enabling CNC file transfers to be automated with a simple click of a button from within the data base interface. Once completed, the operator never had to type in any information to transfer CNC program files - a process that before was filled with potential errors. The ML Send Utility is called directly from the database and the name of the CNC file and control is passed to it on the command line. It springs to life on the local PC and transfers the file to the control. The Timken Company (Canton, OH) labeled this technology "Innovative Software enables machines to store and share information;" in an article they published in the Timken Exchange, Volume 11, Number 7, in August of 2000. The CNC communication module, which we call our ML Send Utility, can be integrated into any existing database to achieve this same level of automation.
Our Select and Send Utility was developed for a high-production CNC machine shop to streamline shop operations. The interface allows the user to easily select and order multiple CNC program files that are then transferred to the CNC machine tool in the order specified by the user. The CNC programs are sent as O0001, O0002, etc. until the entire list is transferred. The software also allows the user to quickly review setup notes for any of the CNC programs. Another feature enables the operators to review additional information from the company website by automatically launching their browser and taking them to more detailed information. The goal of the project was to simplify the entire file transfer process at the shop level and to establish a common interface at every CNC machine.
DynoLink was developed for Clark Detroit Diesel. They had to validate the performance of every diesel engine that was used to pump water through sprinkler systems in case of a fire, so each engine had to be tested and the results stored for certification purposes. The DynoLink software monitored fuel flow, horse power, temperatures, and calculated engine efficiency at various speeds throughout the test. It also protected the engine and would automatically shut it down if oil pressure dropped below a critical threshold or if the water temperature exceeded a particular threshold. All of the data was bundled and passed into a corporate database recording all of the test results for every engine that went through their facility.
Auto Analyze for drilling force measurements (torque and thrush) integrated analysis capabilities directly into the data collection system. It was used to analyze torque/thrust measurements, collected while drilling holes. It captured the values and displayed them for every hole over the life of the cutting tool. It fully automated the analysis so when the test ended, a test report was automatically prepared and completed, saving the engineer hours of analysis time. Trying to get those values manually was very tedious, so having an algorithm that could find the torque thrust measurement, adjust it for tare values, and use it to monitor actual levels was a breakthrough. This technology is very useful as well to ensure that data is always analyzed using the same method.
Ceramic Grinding Research Software was developed for the High Temperature Materials Laboratory at Oak Ridge National Labratory (ORNL). The high-speed data acquisition system was used to measure grinding horsepower, grinding forces, acoustic emission, and vibration levels. It also measured critical grinding fluid temperatures, rotational speeds, and other parameters useful to study the characteristics of ceramic grinding. The software was used at ORNL to study surface-grinding, creep-feed-grinding, cylindrical grinding, and centerless grinding. Grinding energies were correlated to strength and fatigue characteristics of ground parts. Researchers from around the country and world use this software for grinding studies. An analysis software module (ReLink) was also developed and given to Researchers once they left the lab that allowed them to replay, re-analyze, and export the collected data to other analysis packages. Hazel O'Leary (Secretary of Department of Energy, 1990) toured the lab and watched data being collected in real time.
The Vibration Analysis and Monitoring System tool set is a comprehensive set of vibration analysis tools for both time and frequency domain analysis. The tools can be configured for multiple vibration sensors and other voltage-type sensors to indicate rotational speeds and other sensor inputs. It's equipped with modal analysis capabilities and can provide frequency response measurements that can be directly imported into standard modal packages. It can also be used to collect operational deflection shapes (ODS) collected during typical runs. It supports many different types of averaging, windowing, and filter types. We were suprised tools like this weren't more readily available, but now that we've created this tool set, it's being used for maintenance and other process monitoring activites.
GEM System (Grinding Evaluation Monitor) incorporated the Auto Analyze concept mentioned above. However, it focused on analyzing grinding measurements of horsepower and orthogonal grinding forces. When metal was being removed, it could track the grinding measurements for each plunge or pass and calculate normalized parameters such as specific grinding energy and other useful metrics for evaluating grinding wheel performance and overall process efficiency. The GEM system knew precisely when it was cutting metal and when it was out-of cut (cutting air). This was used to bracket acoustic emission and vibration data as well. The horsepower sensor with the GEM hardware made it easy to interact with any grinding machine in the field, so that the measurements could be collected and analyzed, and a summary report generated only seconds after finishing the grinding process.
Industrial and Production Control
A Stamping Process Monitor was developed to monitor critical, 20-ton stamping presses (progressive dies) used to manufacture automotive body panels. The software can monitor six individual lines from a single PC and track the cycle time for every die hit. Line productivity and downtime "reason codes" were collected to accurately quantify overall line performance and to determine actual product cycle time averages. The system was also useful for establishing accurate measures for job setup times and other factors that influence line productivity. As you can imagine, when these lines are down, money is being lost. The systems were used to help improve overall line productivity.
The Production Needle Bearing Slicer system was developed and used vibration data obtained from accelerometers placed on the machine to monitor critical vibration levels. The vibration levels were correlated to slicing performance. The system had a teach mode that was useful for establishing the critical threshold levels for sharp tooling. When a threshold was exceeded for a specified period of time, it would alert the operator and stop the process. All of the data was logged so that they could determine expected slicer life. The primary function of the system was to protect and improve the quality of the sliced needle bearing materials, which were used in downstream products.
A Grinding Monitor system was developed to protect an expensive part. A $5 million grinding machine, located underground, in a cave, for temperature and humidity control purposes, was being used to grind a 32-foot diameter, 8-inch thick, glass lens. The estimated value of the lens was about $25 million. Intermittent problems with the machine would cause the grinding wheel to stop rotating while the lens continued to rotate beneath it, dragging the wheel across the glass surface. As you can imagine, the operators were very reluctant to press "cycle start" in fear that they would scrap the lens. We inserted an acoustic emission sensor, a power-monitoring sensor, and interfaced with some critical control voltages and were able to capture a machine tool failure that convinced the machine tool manufacturer that there really was a problem with the grinding machine. The machine was fixed and also modified so that if an error condition occurred, the wheel was immediately lifted off of the glass, protecting it.
The ACE controller is used to control autoclaves, controlling temperature, pressure, and vacuum. It can also be used for ovens as well. The control is very accurate but most importantly, the system is incredibly easy for users. They can create recipes using a very visual interface. During a run, it is possible to manually override a recipe to save a part run but the system can also automatically adjust the run to ensure that required soak times and temperatures are met. From a maintenance perspective, every valve can be manipulated through the software interface to verify correct operation. The system also interacts with a camera, storing part/load pictures to document each run. All the pertinent run data is captured and stored into a database (Microsoft Access or SQL). Run data and graphs are easily printed and historical data can be easily retrieved to validate the run. Additionally, our ViewLink software can be used to monitor each autoclave from a central command center. All run details and critical measurements, alarms, and warnings can be seen for each autoclave across the entire plant.
Master Link is used to control the quality of metal cutting fluid products in large central systems. These systems generally contain about 10,000 to 40,000 gallons of cutting fluid product that is distributed throughout the shop. The Master Link software monitors fluid concentration, ph, conductivity, and critical sump and tote levels. It's equivalent to having a skilled chemist living at your central system, 24/7, 365. The system controls the quality of the fluid products and makes all of the information available to that company through a secured website. Additionally, you can interact with the system remotely, making any add at any time. Of course, everything that happens to the sump is logged and those log files are retrieved. Controlink Systems was responsible for all of the PLC programming, for all of the sensor selections, and we developed, built, and integrated all of the control hardware on-site into the company's shop. We also have and own all the rights to this technology and are looking for a champion to help commercialize it further.
Master Retrieve & Master Analyze were created to schedule and automate the data retrieval and analysis process by interacting remotely with the Master Link PLCs.
These two pieces of software functioned together to retrieve, analyze, and post data to a secured website.
Master Retrieve is scheduling software developed to pull data from the remote PLC's that are running around the world.
The system will connect to these units by Ethernet, landline modem, or cellular modem.
It retrieves the data and manages
house cleaning by removing the log files from the PLC (FTP communications with complete error checking).
Master Analyze then processes the retrieved information, and will display and upload the results to a secured website.
The customer(s) can log onto the website and view the data from their plant at any time.
Basically, Master Retrieve communicates with the remote devices and managed all of the critical data and log files from the remote PLC systems, and Master Analyze automated the analysis.
The Hans Device System was developed to document the manufacturing process for Hans Devices which are worn by professional race car drivers to protect their necks from injury. The devices are made of carbon composite materials that must be cured using a special fixture and apparatus. Tracking the cure temperatures, press pressures, and other critical manufacturing parameters was very important. The software interacted with multiple Hans presses and automated serial number entries, the weighing of the finished components, and moved all the critical process parameters into a database for storage and later analysis. The software was designed in such a way that if the main computer went down, the data could still be retrieved from the presses. In fact, the presses could continue to run and make products and no information was ever lost. It basically made the system independent of a working computer or any type of a network connection, which was a real technological advantage.
Non-Contact and Contact Gauging Systems
3M Project for Chip Defect Detection combined high-speed motion control with vision systems to automate the procedure for separating good product and for counting and categorizing product defects. Sheets of film about 3x1 feet were marked for quality and then cut into small, rectangular chips about 1/4x1/2 inches. The vision system examined the large cut sheet and selectively move unmarked/undamaged chips to a secondary inspection station. The chip was then re-inspected at higher magnification and if the quality was acceptable, moved to bins and counted. A unique feature of the vision system was its ability to track defects based on color makings. The color markings were made using different colored pens by quality inspection personnel prior to the sheets being cut. This system automated the painful task of manually separating chips and trying to determine, based on color, defect types and counts. We were responsible for the entire user interface and all of the motion and process control capabilities of the system. We also engineered a unique hand-shaking protocol between the primary motion and vision system, enabling them to share results and function as a cohesive unit. An entire sheet could be inspected in less than 30 minutes.
The DMS (Dynamic Measurement System) was a sophisticated system for non-contact gauging of automotive glass. Critical parameters (surface points, edge points, and pin-center locations) were measured using lasers. The incoming parts were identified using a camera system and the necessary measurement scheme was completed. The DMS quickly moved the laser (600 mm/sec) across the glass and collected the data for analysis (2 linear and 1 rotary axis). The measurements were collected and passed to a curve-fitting package and the glass was passed or failed based upon the actual cad tolerancing. The data could also be viewed in terms of in-car position. The entire inspection completed in less than a minute and the same measurements took about four hours on a CMM with a skilled operator. The DMS enabled 100% part inspection, and would pass and fail every single piece of glass. Whisker-graphs were also provided showing the tolerance band making it easy to see if a part was just in or out of tolerance. The information was used to adjust upstream processes including changes to the robot that was positioning the pins. Pass/Fail data was also sent to a down-stream robot that sorted the parts.
Shop level measurement systems have been developed for many companies. Several unique gauging systems were developed in cooperation with Kodak (Dayton, OH). These gauging systems are used daily for many different parts. The software guides the user through the entire measurement process and then Passes or Fails the part based upon part tolerances. Various probe styles and automation is used to position and hold each part during the measurement process. Each system can manage multiple parts and all of the information and user details are stored. It also manages re-calibration intervals and incorporates a "Golden Master" concept to protect expensive master gauges. The software can be configured to enforce Western Electric Rules to determine if Machine Calibration is out of Control!
FlowLink automated an entire repair center, prioritized all of the incoming orders based on the required delivery date, shipment method, and the availability and capability of repair technicians. It would release the next highest priority order into the lab to the available technician that had the capabilities for that particular repair, and it also controlled all of the Kanban levels for the top twenty percent products. It functioned like a supervisor hanging over the shop floor, and it would look down and it could see every tech, their availability, if they were here or not, if they were active or not, what they were working on, how long they had been working on it, and if they were over an average repair time. The supervisor, with that information, could watch repairs and would know if additional help was needed to complete on time. Plus, it used a large display board, somewhat like a scoreboard, and would display the number of orders that still needed to be processed that day, so everybody knew the current status throughout the day.
A Company/Shop Scheduling System was developed in co-operation with Mark Schaub of Next Level Engineering. The system enabled products to be scheduled through six different lines of the plant, based on actual run times and set up rates. The software once implemented created a production rhythm and completely eliminated the chaos that existed in the shop prior to its implementation. It streamlined the collection of actual run metrics, while maintaining the necessary flexibility to deal with the daily production realities. The entire company, from material purchasing to shipping, sales, and management, relied on and used it to manage the flow of products through the plant. It tracked all down-time and logged everything to a corporate database, where detailed queries could be ran. This technology is ideally suited for scheduling products through stamping plants and we are seeking opportunities for its implementation.
The DoseCAL software was a real achievement. It managed radioactive isotopes, automated the control of pumps, multi-valve positions, and radioactive measurement devices (ATOM Analyzer). The software was designed for the hospital to create shots that would be injected into patients for cancer diagnosis. The user interface managed all of the isotopes and it handled all of the half-life calculations to ensure that the prescribed amount of radioactivity was delivered at injection time. We created a scripting language to allow the doctor to create unique scripts to control process flow and to establish user-defined variables for calculations and decision making. It also interacted, based upon the script, with a variety of different instruments and managed valve positions (moving to a desired port clockwise or counter clockwise) for creating the shot. The scripting language gave the doctor tremendous flexibility and also made it possible for us to complete the project under budget (the number of potential shot development variations was tremendous). The orders were retrieved from the hospital database and once filled, the information was written back to the database with the RX number and other pertinent patient details. Our work inspired several other companies to further automate and commercialize the technology.