Collaboration Network Solves Problems in Shop-Floor Integration

thomasnet, network, manufacturing, shop floor, CNCOkuma America Corp. makes lathes, machining centers, and grinders. But when a customer comes to the company with problems, the best solution isn’t always just buying more heavy metal. That’s why, in 2007, the American subsidiary of Okuma, a machine tool manufacturer based in Japan, formed Partners inTHINC, a collaboration network of 40-plus companies serving the metalcutting and manufacturing industry.

Jeff Estes, director of the Partners in THINC program at Okuma America, explained how the company uses the collaboration network to help solve customers’ problems. “Company X might come in and tell us, ‘I’m making this family of parts using such-and-such technology,” he told ThomasNet News in an interview. “‘I need to lower my cost and increase my throughput.’ We sit down and start asking questions: ‘How are you doing it now, what are your goals, what are the challenges you face?’

“We find that, often, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the aerospace or medical or energy-related business, or even just the job shop down the street,” Estes said. “The problems are very similar.”

That means that the solutions coming out of Partners in THINC often have wider implications and markets far beyond the companies that are bringing the problems to the table. “We’ll sit down with them and list their eight or 10 challenges and find that they really go across all industries,” Estes noted. “That’s what’s so amazing.”

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The Partners in THINC network provides Okuma and its customers with a pool of capabilities far beyond the machine tool builder’s own internal expertise. “At that point, we start talking with them about partners who could help, maybe some additional machine tools that could help them, or some new technologies that could meet their challenges,” Estes said. “Then we bring those partners in to talk with them one-on-one.”

At the center of Okuma’s collaboration network is the company’s THINC (THe Intelligent Numerical Control) system, a Microsoft Windows-based platform used with the company’s lathes and machining centers, which will be expanded to its grinders soon. The THINC-OSP-P300 is the current version of Okuma’s CNC control.

In 2004, Okuma began migrating its CNC control from a proprietary system to an open PCbasedarchitecture. Okuma’s rationale was that an open system would enable greater interoperability and easier customization and upgrades.

Windows architecture allows the owner to swap in new parts more easily — for example, by upgrading the processor or installing off-the-shelf memory upgrades. Using a PC-compatible motherboard allows easier integration and standard communications through Ethernet and USB ports.

According to background materials from the company, THINC enables access to “almost any application and peripheral, including factory management systems, and interfaces with bar readers, barfeeders, robots, probes, and tool setters,” as well as online documentation and Internet resources.

Okuma believes that its move to open architecture constitutes a breakthrough in CNC control. The company describes conventional CNC machine capability as “frozen in time and obsolete the day the customer takes delivery.” Conventional CNC implementation limits growth, the company asserts, whereas “an open and fluid platform allows the end user to take advantage of new capabilities as they become available from various sources, without a costly CNC control overhaul.” This more open and fluid technology approach has driven Okuma to develop the network of expertise embodied in the Partners in THINC network.

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This article was originally published on ThomasNet News Industry Market Trends  and is reprinted in its entirety with permission from Thomas Industrial Network.  For more stories like this please visit Industry Market Trends.