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No Chips, This Time

As technologies merge and metal fabrication applications grow more complex, CNC is now becoming a powerful alternative solution to PLCs for builders and users of metal forming and “non-traditional” machine tools, such as EDM, abrasive waterjet and others.


This month, I want to specifically address those in our audience who are primarily concerned with metal forming and fabrication applications and others involved in machining technologies such as abrasive waterjet, electrical discharge machining (EDM) and more that could be classified as part of the so-called non-traditional machine tool market. I always laugh at that term non-traditional because so many of the technologies involved there are older than I am.

Siemens challenged Orange County Choppers (OCC) to build an all-electric chopper that showcases each industry that Siemens is involved with. The all-electric chopper features new and recycled materials, LED lighting by OSRAM SYLVANIA, and an on-board charger that can be plugged into any 110-volt outlet. The chopper has a range of 60 miles on a single charge, and a recharge time of 5 hours (1-2 with a charging station). It is the first all-electric bike built by OCC, and it promotes the message of sustainability and green technologies. The video takes a look at how OCC uses the AF-6080 Five-Axis Waterjet system and the Siemens SINUMERIK control to create some amazing 3D work for OCC choppers. People are still surprised that you can cut metal with water. 

Long thought to be a purely PLC world, most metal forming and fabrication machines remain ideal applications for that control technology. However, as multi-purpose machines have emerged, including models that can roll form, laser weld, saw cut and chamfer tube and pipe, for example, the CNC is finding its way into the controls scheme for the builders.

Here’s the reason: On a powerful CNC with open architecture the translation from the CAD to CAM to milling or turning is really no different than the translation to a focal length, air gap, gas pressure, gas mix, arc voltage, kerf width, power setting, aperture setting, torch height, DI water flow or complex grinding pattern, whether ID/OD, form or surface.

This commonality of the CNC platform makes it possible, in a very short time, for a machine tool programmer or operator to use the identical interface to program a non-traditional type machine. Most machine tool builders today use their own PC programming to create customized screens, which means the metal forming, laser, waterjet, EDM, ECM, plasma or ultrasonic machine builder isn’t nearly as different as you might think.

Once a program is written, the CNC has the capability to perform all the necessary calculations for executing the various machine functions in the same way as it controls the motion of a spindle, rotary table, robot or tool carousel on a traditional machine tool.

Laser engraving, axis-in-axis plasma work and full five-axis waterjet cutting are no longer even close to non-traditional machining technologies and, on such applications as these, the CNC shines brightly, providing much greater speed, accuracy and transitional motions than other control types.

Any time there are complex shapes, contouring, engraving, precision movements on the optics, multi-function metalworking and other high-speed, high accuracy motion control required on a machine, a viable and very cost-effective solution may be the same CNC servo-driven motion control protocols you see on the vast majority of chipcutting machine tools on the market today.

All of you know that I have a particular passion for the training side of the CNC world, and this column reminds me that the same upsides are available to builders, integrators, retrofitters and end users alike, in both the metal forming and non-traditional machine tool worlds.

Because the more advanced CNC models on the market today have built-in adaptability in their human-machine interface (HMI), plus a full library of tech tips and troubleshooting manuals available onboard or via internet connection, training for the machine builder, system integrator, distributor or in-house retrofit team, as well as the machine operator community, is easier and faster than ever.


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