Integrating legacy CNC machines into a smart factory

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By eeNews Europe

In the future, running a factory won’t require you to be as hands on with what you produce any more. Instead of a manual production line, you will have an integrated network of machines that is more efficient in manufacturing processes, intellectual property generation, tool design, customer responsiveness, cycle time, profitability – and the list goes on. Across your business, automated machines will take care of more of the laborious tasks before work begins. Don’t let the enormity of what you can achieve with a smart factory cause you to stick to what you have always done because it is easier. With a bit of investment to upgrade your existing technology and facilities, you can reap the benefits of automation – dare I say, it’s easy.

It is about working with a CNC grinding machine that is smarter. Of course this will need some investment, but it is also about understanding how the new infrastructure will work. The benefit for your team is that instead of needing to manufacture products with manual intervention, your team will be able to program machines ahead of time, so that they are able to do what needs to be done throughout the day. And not only will your CNC machines manage the production, but they’ll also collect and analyse data and make automatic adjustments to production in real time to improve the way you’re running. 

All your CNC grinding machine needs is to be connected
While you will be able to make use of existing CNC machines, it will require you to embrace some new technology. To work effectively with other machines and maximise the benefits of a smart factory each CNC grinding machine will need to be connected to a communication network.
Having a machine connected to a network may seem daunting, but the benefits are unparalleled. Your CNC machine becomes part of a smart, connected set of tools working together to make your work easier.
Depending on the age of your machine, you can connect machines using either WIFI (the best option-to avoid messy cabling) or a cabled LAN connection. While newer machines come WIFI enabled, older machines can be retrofitted with a WIFI adaptor and software drivers. Check with your vendor first to make sure the driver software is supported.

Exploit your niche, finesse your offering and charge accordingly

As a small company, you’re able to offer a personalised service bigger business can’t. You understand your customers’ needs. You sell the precise product they need to keep their operation running. They need you as much as you need them.
So being small can be your greatest selling point. You can adapt to the market as it changes and respond to demand. Where potential customers may be frustrated by businesses with long lead times, you have the ability to turn things around quickly and with more flexibility. Customers wanting something you don’t manufacture yet can even be an advantage. With the tools and flexibility to make it happen, you can easily expand your offerings and show them how well you understand your niche.
This kind of specialisation is hugely valuable to a business. You’re not only providing labour and materials but access to years of knowledge and refinement. It’s been shown that customers will pay more for specialised products that offer this level of added value.


Embrace automation

Most CNC machines, including those that we produce, already come equipped with comprehensive, advanced software that allows flexibility in everything from configuring setup to adaptive processes like product gauging and automatic compensations, freeing your team to work on more valuable tasks.
By creating automated systems and processes, you’ll immediately have access to more information than ever before – and this is a huge benefit for you and your customers. Your machines will be able to alert you when you’re running low on materials. They will predict maintenance that’s required to keep them operating, so you avoid lengthy and expensive disruptions.
Better still, they can become part of a wider network of machines. Integrating with other factories will reinvent your supply chain process. Suddenly, your factory can integrate with your customers and your machines can speak to one another. Is your customer running out of a product you manufacture? The machine at your end can find out and start the production process without any intervention from you.

Move forward one step at a time

Don’t worry – you don’t need to do all of this at once and there are easy ways to add automation functionality:

  • Add after-market software or hardware accessories, such as lasers to measure tools in production and make sure they’re meeting required design and tolerances. 

  • Retrofit with automation, robotic loaders mean lower costs and greater volumes. You can have a new robotic loader at a reasonable price installed into your machine to achieve the benefits of lights out or unattended machine production.

  • Enable machine connectivity on older machines through WIFI adaptor and software drivers to connect machines to each other and the wider factory.

  • Store tool files centrally with tools and wheel servers.  Maintaining a database of each tool file that a machine can use for setup and are a great place to start with software. Your factory can store a whole range of files centrally, so each machine can access what it needs to get the process going.

Planning ahead for future success

This might be brand new for your factory, and there are tricks you will need to learn. For example, did you know that if you’re moving jobs between machines, you will need to have the same version of software on each? And again this is an investment but the efficiencies will weigh out the costs in a few months – it is about knowing what will be required to make your factory smart.

If scaled manufacturing is not your background, you might need more information before you scope out your strategy. We can help you understand your specific requirements and help you understand how to incorporate them into your supply chain.
Whatever approach you take, you will need to invest in some degree of technology to keep your machines up to date and your operation functioning effectively. Without this, other companies will move ahead of you as they can produce more complex tools more efficiently.

There are many ways to bring your CNC grinding machines up to speed for your smart factory. The most important thing is that you start.

About the author:

Lucas Hale is global marketing manager at ANCA CNC Machines –


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