Q&A: Automation and Connectivity with BIG DAISHOWA

Automated solutions are becoming more and more prominent in the machining industry. BIG DAISHOWA President/COO Jack Burley, Senior Product Specialist Matt Tegelman, and Research and Development Engineer Nick Jew sat down to discuss the market’s current state, its latest developments and what it might look like in the future. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

Q: Can you tell us about BIG DAISHOWA’s journey into digital and connected technologies?

Jack Burley: Twenty years ago a lot of hand tools were becoming digital—but they were very simple measuring tools. The concept was, “How do we put that type of technology into our tools?” Our first boring systems were just a readout head, but that feature was the first step of many we’d need to take for the intended future state of completely lights-out manufacturing. To achieve that, the next generation worked to get to where tools could connect to machines or controls.

Q: What would you say is the current state of automation in the industry? Are you seeing a lot of operations embracing the technology?

Matt Tegelman: Lots of shops have video screens posted at the entrance of a machining cell, showing machining time and productivity, but a lot more is being tracked and communicated between machines. 

In some cases, automated CMMs (coordinate measuring machine) measure parts and give feedback directly to the machine control. So, the machine adjusts the toolpath to keep parts in tolerance, which is communicated with little to no human intervention.

JB: If I could piggyback there—yes, we’ve cornered and corralled cells. One specific part, or families of parts, but I have yet to see the full process plan.

Q: Would you say we’re only halfway there? 

JB: Say you’re building an industrial pump that has multiple just-in-time manufactured parts, complete automation would bring everything together: Deburring, serializing, assembling, packaging, out the door as a finished product. That is going to happen some day, but there is still a long way to go in getting it all put together. I don’t see that; I see 50 separate parts sitting in a bin at the end of the night.

Q: What is BIG DAISHOWA’s philosophy around automation and its goals in developing these automated solutions?

Nick Jew: The main goal is to reduce the possibility of mistakes. Being able to make an adjustment safely and accurately. Maybe even doing it without human intervention all together. With presetters as well, having it all connected through networking makes numbers transfer safely and correctly. Also, just improving the overall usability, such as reading a digital display on a boring head, instead of vernier markings on a boring head adjustment dial.

Q: You recently debuted the EWA fully automatic boring system. Were reducing human error and increasing usability the main drivers of its development, or were there other benefits?

NJ: There’s safety. Letting the machine doors stay closed and making boring head adjustments automatically through software instead, makes it a lot safer.

Also, you can be more productive with these boring heads. You don’t have to wait for the operator to make adjustments. Uniquely, our boring head can also cut many different-sized bores with the same head. You can do full parts without needing four or five different head setups. Just one tool. That’s just a few things we’re targeting.

MT: It assists in production planning. A shop can better estimate the time that new work is going to take. And given the current workflow, they can give a good estimate of delivery time, based on the current machine flow and how they anticipate processing this new part. They can quote new work more accurately.

Q: Is there a lot of interest in automated solutions among existing customers?

JB: We did an internal survey of our customers: “Did you upgrade from analog to digital or are you new to BIG DAISHOWA products?” 78% of the people who answered said they upgraded from analog; 22% were new users. So a lot of customers said, “We were using analog. Now we’re using digital.” 

Q: Does that mean they’re getting closer to using connectivity between cells, getting closer to the full process plan?

JB: When we asked, “Do you use the Bluetooth connectivity feature, the ability for the tool to connect to an outside, such as your iPhone?” And the results were 65% no. Even though they have this feature, they don’t use it. The problem is that connectivity is generally done through an app on an employee’s personal device. There’s a lot of hesitancy to allow personal phones to be used in a shop environment. It's still a nice-to-have.

Q: But are customers getting excited about the possibilities connectivity offers?

NJ: I see that sparking interest for sure. “Oh, we can actually communicate with a boring head with our smartphone?” We're trying to adjust the skill set to be more digital because that’s how the culture is trending. Why not build that same trend into the workforce as well, making it more of a skill in technology rather than just a skill in hands-on labor?

Q: Lastly, speaking of excitement: what gets you excited about the future of automation and connectivity in this business?

JB: When do the machines start thinking for themselves, and will they remake themselves better than they used to be, and don’t need the humans behind it? That’s kind of science fiction. But I think it’s starting to get closer and closer.

NJ: Having a manufacturing engineer or a machine operator be able to not rely on technology, but have technology be their copilot. Be more efficient, be more relaxed in what they’re doing. No worries that the number they’re typing is wrong, or that some mistake could damage what they’re making.

MT: Working with those tools gives operators a higher benchmark to achieve. If you’re not the most-skilled operator on the shop floor, you’re not likely getting the chance to program and work with this type of tooling. It incentivizes them to become more advanced—and at the same time, incentivizes employers to recognize those achievements and pay accordingly. It gives them opportunities to be more than just a machine operator—and to grow from there.

Automation has a bright future within the machining industry. To learn more about that future or inquire regarding the EWA, reach out to our sales team today.

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