Bytronic's Industry 4.0 enabling toolsClick image to enlarge

The message at FABTECH 2015 was clear: automate your processes, digitize your data and integrate new technologies to remain competitive.

Amada's automated solutions: the ENSIS 3015 AJ fiber laser equipped with the ASFH compact tower laserClick image to enlargeExamples of automation were prevalent among many of the machine tool builders at the show. Amada, for example, showcased automation on every single machine in its booth to illustrate the varied levels of automation available to customers, according to Mike Guerin, COO of Amada American Inc. In a presentation entitled "Amada's Automated Blank to Bend," Amada illustrated its high level of automation with its ENSIS 3015 AJ fiber laser equipped with the company's ASFH compact tower system and two robotic bending systems, the EG 6013 AR and the HG 1003 AR.

Salvagnini introduced its FlexCell, which made its North American debut at FABTECH. The cell combines a panel bender with an automated press brake but can be extended to include cutting to optimize workflow management. Salvagnini created software, OPS-FlexCell, that provides the flexible management of production flow between the machines in a cell.

Lincoln Electric, which recently acquired Wolf Robotics, showcased technologies that integrate robotic welding and cutting systems primarily for heavy fabrication and transportation OEMs and suppliers.

Embracing a digital age

A significant development is the focus on digital manufacturing. The metal fabrication industry is following in the steps of the metal chip industry in which machine to machine communication, process data monitoring and data management are being integrated into digital online platforms.

Many companies highlighted Industry 4.0-enabling tools, among them, TRUMPF, which used FABTECH as the launch of its new spinoff startup, AXOOM, an IT services company that provides an open architecture platform allowing machines and systems from different suppliers to work together.

TRUMPF's IT spinoff AXOOMClick image to enlarge

"With AXOOM, we are thinking outside the box and are advocating a new, digital and open business platform that covers the entire value chain, regardless of the manufacturer involved," noted TRUMPF's North American CEO Peter Hoecklin, who also announced during FABTECH that the company had broken ground on a new technology centre in Chicago, off the I-90, known as "machine tool alley" that he says will showcase the company's vision for the future. "We believe in teh digital revolution that is coming to industry."

Both Bystronic and LVD Strippit unveiled new versions of their respective Industry 4.0 software suites, Bystronic's BySoft 7 and LVD Strippit's CADMAN, that integrate real time process data monitoring with ERP systems.

LVD Strippit's CADMAN software suite Cadman L machiningClick image to enlarge

In welding, ESAB launched its WeldCloud, an online data management platform that works with the company's MIG semi-automatic, roboitc and LAF/TAF sub arc welding systems. Like Bystronic and LVD's software suites, ESAB's new platform integrates with ERP systems. Among the many functions is the ability to manage welding parameters remotely, set limits and set alarms for deviations. WeldCloud uses open source messaging.

ESAB's Rebel welderClick image to enlarge

Miller showcased an expanded lineup of its "welding intelligence" solutions, which includes the company's Insight Core software that monitors, collects and transmits electronic weld data to any web-connected device and Insight Centerpoint, that provides real-time operator feedback and process control. And most recently, Miller's acquisition of IMPACT Engineering, allows customers with mixed power source fleets to implement Miller's welding intelligence solutions on non-Miller machines.

Rethinking innovation

Innovation isn't just about being different. It's about creating products and technologies that can create a difference. And in the world of metal fabrication and welding, it's about improving manufacturing performance and productivity.

A good example if Mazak Optonics' Versatile Compact Laser (VCL) Tube-100, an innovative 2D/3D 2,000 W tube laser machine that the company says is the next generation in laser technology, solid state direct diode technology. Company president Al Bohlen says direct diode technology is more efficient than fiber laser technology.

Mazak Optonic's VCL next generation solid state direct diode tube laser machineClick image to enlarge

"Direct diode goes to the next level. It's approximately 15 to 20 per cent more energy efficient than fiber laser."

The prototype machine is the first in a series of machines that will be built at Mazak Optonic's sister company (Mazak Corp) facility in Florence, KY.

Innovation can also mean repurposing existing technology to enhance a product or process. Amada Miyachi America, a sister company to Amada America, introduced an enhanced version of its laser marking system.

"We've repurposed a traditional piece of equipment through our software expertise and application knowledge to make this work."

"This" being the company's laser marking system that can also cut and weld via manipulation of the weld beam.

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