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Have We Achieved Lights-Out Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM)?

In line with Industry 4.0, the rConnect central communications platform from GF Machining Solutions is one step closer to elimination of process downtime, improved machine performance, and fully predictive manufacturing process and product quality.

Live Remote Assistance (LRA) from GF Machining Solutions allows customer-authorized remote diagnostics and inspection assistance to be conducted by either a field technician or the manufacturer using the system via the connection of the machine in the shop to a local GF Machining Solutions diagnostics center in real time.

Because all aspects of the process are defined and controlled in the machine, wire and die sinking EDM are among the most sophisticated and proven metalworking processes. Each GF Machining Solutions LLC (Lincolnshire, IL) machine, for example, ships with hundreds of programming options that combine and balance multiple parameters to handle a vast variety of standard application scenarios.

IF the machine is maintained correctly and all process parameters and machine components operate as specified, the process is foolproof. If not, the key question is whether the problem is a service issue related to machine functions or an application issue involving the operating parameters used for a job. What appears to be a machine problem may actually be the use of improper machining parameters, or visa versa.

Because immediate assistance is essential to quickly resolving such issues, all GF Machining Solutions EDM machines manufactured since 2016 are shipped with rConnect, an internet-based central communications platform for remote machine tool analysis.

Hardware consists of sensors and associated equipment for monitoring multiple machine modules and systems; the software collects and records data. The  platform enables operators to contact GF Machining Solutions’ service and application engineering employees around the clock. Then, after gaining permission of the machine operator, GF Machining Solutions technicians can connect directly with the machine via the Internet and analyze machine functions and programming parameters. Special permissions and passwords enable technicians to remotely access and evaluate machine modules, systems and factory settings that are otherwise protected from manipulation unless a technician is physically at the machine.

The rConnect system allows GF Machining Solutions service engineers to view machine error codes collected over a selected period of time. In some cases, direct input from the company’s R&D group in Europe is possible as well.

Teleservice+: Beyond Call-in Capability

The platform is a step beyond teleconferencing software, which is useful in solving some application problems but lacks any true capability for machine function diagnosis. rConnect goes a step further.

Connectivity is via a tablet computer. The tablet’s camera allows an operator to give a GF Machining Solutions engineer a video walkaround view of machine components. If the machine loses flushing pressure, for example, the operator can use the camera to enable an offsite technician or engineer to visually examine the pump and fluid control components as if they were standing next to the machine in the shop.

Technicians can quickly identify minor problems such as a loose fitting that the shop can fix immediately. Or, when replacement parts are required, the operator shop can use the tablet to order the parts for overnight delivery and replacement with minimal production interruption. Connection via a tablet also allows the shop to view machine diagrams and maintenance manuals, and it can maintain a link to rConnect even if the machine connection is down for some reason.

For example, a GF Machining Solutions application engineer analyzed machine elements and process parameters through rConnect to discover the customer’s use of off-brand EDM wire was causing a machine’s automatic threading unit to fail. Instead of replacing an expensive threading module, the customer simply changed out the wire.

For special applications and needs, such as machining unique profiles and exotic materials or resolving difficult flushing conditions, the platform also enables application engineers to provide immediate assistance.

When a shop needs to improve cutting speeds or surface finishes, a GF Machining Solutions application engineer can monitor the application and suggest changes such as adjusting spark on/off time, wire speed, and wire tension. If a modified program is required, rConnect permits direct downloading of new process software to the machine instead of sending it to a desktop computer and then transferring it to the machine via a memory stick.

rConnect maintains a file for each service episode and shares it with the shop and GF Machining Solutions. As a result, any service technician can access the entire history, from initial contact through attempted solutions and results. The operator doesn’t have to repeat the same story and answer the same questions at every point of contact.

With rConnect installed, the end user needs only an Internet connection to participate. Interaction with GF Machining Solutions staff is provided as a free, added-value service during the time the machine is under warranty.

Ongoing Efforts to Eliminate Downtime

GF Machining Solutions rolled out the platform in Europe at the end of 2015, and in the U.S. at IMTS 2016. The company works to enable benefits such as predictive maintenance, where the machine collects and analyzes operational data, recommends maintenance actions, and warns of pending failure of specific components, effectively giving the shop a proactive maintenance plan.

Other functional upgrades are being developed in response to newer manufacturing strategies that include EDM wire diameters of 0.001-inch and smaller. Expanded automation capabilities are also receiving greater attention as manufacturers move to automated cells, where the failure of one machine creates a bottleneck by incapacitating the rest of the cell.

GF Machining Solutions has partnered with Cimforce International Ltd. (New Taipei City, Taiwan), which develops bridges between software products. The joint venture’s goal is to integrate software and hardware to merge all elements of the manufacturing process, from the shop floor to logistics and human resource management systems, so every facet of the operation contributes to the optimization of the factory as a whole.

Systems like rConnect have special appeal in industries, such as aerospace and medical part production, that are under constant pressure to record information and validate machining processes. Direct internet connectivity represents the future of the manufacturer/machine builder relationship, and the goal of platforms such as rConnect is to ensure that a manufacturer’s machine is running, cutting parts, and generating profit for the maximum amount of time available.

GF Machining Solutions also provides rConnect on milling and laser texturing- machines.


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