By Kip Hanson
Few of us would expect to hear the words “chip removal” and “artificial intelligence” in the same sentence. But if you’ve spoken with DMG MORI Manufacturing USA’s executive vice president John McDonald recently, you know that AI is not only generating computer code, writing semi-beautiful sonnets, and creating deep fake political videos, but is also deciding where to aim the coolant nozzle.
“We’ve delivered our AI-supported chip disposal option on a handful of new horizontal machining centres and our customers love it,” he says.
McDonald explains that the system has a pair of camera-equipped, motorized coolant nozzles that send a stream of directed cutting fluid to flush away chip buildups within the machine enclosure. This is made possible thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), which DMG MORI has used to “teach” the software responsible for identifying metal chips against the background of sheet metal and machine components.
He’s quick to point out that the system is not as smart as ChatGPT or the other large language models currently alarming everyone from content creators to healthcare providers, nor is there a need for such intelligence. In fact, all of the “learning” was completed at DMG MORI’s factory in Japan, long before the machines were installed or even ordered, and the company intends to keep it that way.
“At least one customer was concerned about having AI learning capabilities on the shop floor, as they felt that might present some security risks,” says McDonald. “We assured them that everything the system knows—what a chip looks like, the best way to attack it, and so on—has already been determined. That said, you can train it to follow custom spray paths, and adjust things like how much chip buildup is allowed before it starts washing.”
Machine builder Okuma doesn’t have smart coolant nozzles, but it does have intelligent cutting fluid monitoring. Engineering supervisor Thanh Huynh says the Okuma Monitoring Control System (OMCS) interfaces with up to eight analog and eight digital sensors simultaneously, accepts output signals in the 4-20 milliamp range, and can be used to collect a broad range of machining data, including coolant level, flow, and concentration.
“Aside from cutting fluids, we also see shops monitoring things like hydraulic pressure and electrical cabinet temperature, or whether their chip conveyor is in position and operating,” says Huynh. “Managing these and other manufacturing variables is critical to automated machine operation, especially for shops that want to run lights out.”
Huynh notes that the sensors are widely available and easily installed by an integrator or even a tech-savvy machinist, as is configuring the software. “This is something Okuma can take care of as well, obviously, as we recently did with a large manufacturer that wanted to keep an eye on the filters for their mist collectors. We’ve also created several special functions like our Auto Coolant Refill option, a recently-engineered Chuck Position Monitoring option, and an interface for a supercritical C02 system from Fusion—I just visited a shop using that on a deep hole drilling operation and it works great.”
Striving for perfection
Daniel Brawand is the head of marketing and sales at Switzerland-based Liquidtool Systems, a spin-off of cutting fluid provider Blaser Swisslube. He’ll tell you what many machinists and maintenance people already know: coolant management is a pain in the neck, and as a result, is rarely performed correctly or in a timely manner.
“Thanks to evaporation, coolant concentration changes constantly,” says Brawand. “When it’s too high, you get foaming and skin irritation. When too low, machining performance suffers, as does corrosion protection, resulting in rust and possible machine damage.”
Liquidtool aims to change this unfortunate fact of machine shop life with a system that not only monitors coolant level, concentration, and temperature, but automatically tops off CNC machine sumps with the correct amount and ratio of cutting fluid as necessary. It also records these variables and corrective actions so that operators have complete visibility into an often-overlooked component of machining success—clean, well-maintained, and properly mixed cutting fluid.
“Cost is another big consideration,” Brawand adds. “Because Liquidtool always keeps fluids at the proper concentration, there’s much less waste. Nor does the machine sit idle while an operator checks fluids with test strips and a refractometer, and then goes over to mix up a batch of make-up fluid. But the biggest benefit is machining performance. I spoke with a customer just last week who was regularly breaking $1000 thread mills before installing our system. Since then, the problem has gone away.”
CTM is an acronym for Computer Tool Monitoring, and as Jorge Pena explains, it’s been available since the pre-Y2K days. “We first developed the Artis CTM system in the late 90s for manufacturers wishing to run lights-out,” says Pena, the product manager for Marposs Monitoring Solutions. “It’s been upgraded several times since then, and the newest version is capable of monitoring up to eight channels, which might include sensors for spindle load and vibration, axis force, tool breakage limits, and yes, cutting fluid flow.”
The latter is made possible by installing flow sensors such as the company’s FLS-2 and FLS-6 in the machine’s coolant lines. These are then connected to a module in the Artis system that interprets the signals in real time and displays the results graphically within the machine control. Based on user-definable limits, the machine can be told to alarm out or take other action if, say, there’s a pressure spike (possibly caused by a chip jam), a sudden increase in flow (indicating a broken tool) or similarly untoward events.
“As I indicated earlier, the Artis system has been in continuous use for decades, both at the OEM and end-user level,” says Pena. “It’s very popular in gundrilling applications, for example, where the tools are quite small, as well as unattended machining applications on various brands of machine tool and by large aerospace manufacturers who can’t risk scrapping a very expensive workpiece. However, it’s an excellent solution for any shop—large or small—that wants to maximize productivity and eliminate unplanned downtime.” SMT