While new and innovative machines were in abundance at FABTECH 2014, what dominated the show floor was software and how suppliers are harnessing the power of software technology to create smarter fabricating solutions.
Robert St. Aubin, president of Bystronic Inc. stated it aptly during a press conference at FABTECH when he said “a machine is a node in the network” of emerging software technologies.
By way of example, he pointed to the company’s ByOptimizer cloud-based material optimization software. “It’s the first software that focuses on high end computing power that isn’t PC-based.” The software is just one example of several new software platforms that provide fabricators with what St. Aubin describes as “ERP-style information.”
Another example comes from MC Machinery, which debuted its remote real-time monitoring system for laser cutting processes, MC Remote 360, information accessible from desktops and mobile devices. Information is stored in a cloud and fabricators are able to monitor multiple machines at multiple sites. Diagnostics are sent automatically to MC Machinery, but to troubleshoot a problem, the customer must give permission to MC Machinery’s technical support staff to access the actual machines on shop floor. While the new software is only available for laser cutting machines, MC Machinery says it will soon be available for EDMs (the software is beta testing now) and for press brakes in 2015.
LVD Strippit’s CADMAN offline programming software is not new, but an enhance version of the software, a PC-based CAD/CAM system that operates in a Windows environment, offers automatic functions to simplify programming for punching bending and laser cutting processes. Part of the company’s solution includes its CADMAN-JOB software, another example of ERP type software that helps fabricators analyze and optimize workshop throughput.
Fiber laser technology: the next generation
Fiber laser cutting technology made a big splash several years ago and since then suppliers have jumped onto the bandwagon and introduced new fiber laser cutting technologies. At FABTECH 2013 for example, Amada and TRUMPF introduced a new generation of fiber laser cutting machines that could effectively and efficiently cut thin and thick materials such as stainless steel up to 25.4 mm (1 in.) thick.
This time around Amada has incorporated its fiber laser technology into two new innovative products: a punch/fiber laser combination machine, the LC2515 C1 AJ with a multi-purpose turret, and a fiber laser welder, the FLW 4000 M3 equipped with a patented rotating lens, allowing the laser beam to circle within a small area as it’s welding, which in turn allows fabricators to bridge larger and uneven gap sizes and still produce clean, even welds.
TRUMPF debuted its 2D fiber laser cutting machine equipped with an 8 kW TruDisk laser, a machine that Stefan Fickenscher, TRUMPF’s product manager for the TruLaser product group, calls “a universal job shop cutting machine” because of its ability to cut thin and thick materials quickly and efficiently.
Technology for faster, better welds
Two themes emerged among the innovations that debuted in welding: the need for faster and better welds, and the need for creative training for a new generation of welders. One example is ABB’s robotic TIP-TIG welding system. ABB has taken TIP-TIG, an alternative process to TIG (GTAW) welding that provides better coping with joint fit-up gaps, higher travel speeds and lower heat input requirements than traditional TIG, and integrated it with a robot to create the robotic TIP-TIG system. The system is part of a cell outfitted with Fronius CMT 4000 weld equipment allowing it to preform standard MIG and Pulsed welds, as well as cold metal transfer processes on various metals. The TIP-TIG process in the cell combines ABB’s IRB 2600ID robot and the company’s flexible IRB250A workpiece positioner. The new process received an award for the “most innovative welding process” at a recent world trade fair in Essen, Germany.
In the training area, both Lincoln Electric and Miller introduced new technologies. Lincoln Electric’s Weld Sequence software offers welders pictorial step-by-step instructions and automatically log results on each weld in the operational sequence. “We are providing welding operators with a simplified view to gain productivity and improve quality,” says Matt Albright, product manager for welding equipment at Lincoln Electric. The software includes additional monitoring and control capabilities, such as operator badge scanning confirmatin and correct consumable confirmation.
Miller Electric’s LiveArc is a reality-based welding training system designed to recruit, screen, train and manage welding trainee performance via a live welding arc. The new system offers motion-tracking technology that provides critical feedback to improve welding skills. By offering objective, quantitative feedback on key performance parameters, the system promotes trainee independence and learning, and allows users to gain the proficiency needed for skilled welding opportunities. The pre-weld simulation mode saves money for supplies (e.g., weld coupons, gas, wire) and provides a sound welding technique baseline for accelerating training when live arc welding occurs.
Robotic welding can be a complex process requiring in-depth programming. Yaskawa Motoman, in partnership with Quebec-based Robotiq, introduced a technology that simplifies welding robot teaching, Kinetiq Teaching.
“Kinetiq Teaching has been designed to leverage the knowledge of welders. It enables them to move the robot welder with their hands and intuitively program welding paths by using a dedicated user-friendly teach pendant interface. No in-depth programming knowledge is required,” says Samuel Bouchard, president of Robotiq. “It opens the door to robotic welding at small and medium manufacturers, with high mix and low volume welding, adds Glen Ford, product marketing manager for Yaskawa Motoman.