CESMII just named Toward Zero the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Award winner for its groundbreaking achievement in collecting smart manufacturing data from CNC machines. During an interview with Aaron Muhl, founder and president of the smart manufacturing engineering firm, I learned more about the award and the innovations that led to CESMII honoring the Toward Zero team.
Q: What is CESMII and why did it give Toward Zero this award?
CESMII is the United States’ national institute on smart manufacturing, which is supported by Manufacturing USA and the U.S. Department of Energy. Under a grant from CESMII, Toward Zero developed Apogean™, a low-cost, easy-to-install Edge solution to collect machine data for smart manufacturing, and implemented the solution at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). RPI has a Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center (SMIC) on its campus, which is an extension of CESMII to advance research, education, and innovations in advanced manufacturing, high speed computing, and other related disciplines. The award was for Toward Zero’s achievements in proving how small and mid-size manufacturing companies can use Apogean™ to quickly and affordably capture the massive amounts of data required to take advantage of smart manufacturing applications.
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Q: What does this award mean for manufacturing companies?
Manufacturers of every size want to leverage smart manufacturing applications to improve business performance, manufacturing quality, supply chain agility, and equipment reliability. Those apps aren’t effective without massive amounts of machine data. Where newer equipment is concerned, collecting machine data is often straightforward. But when you consider that manufacturing equipment, particularly CNC machines, has always been built “to last a lifetime,” it means that there are a lot of older machine tools still churning out parts and products.
Most manufacturers have at least some legacy CNC machines in their shops: older machine tools that still have a long useful lifespan. Until now, it’s been prohibitively complicated and expensive for manufacturers to collect machine data from that legacy equipment. Toward Zero proved how any size manufacturing company can reduce the cost and complexity of connecting manufacturing equipment with Apogean™ to collect machine data.
Q: How did Toward Zero and RPI show that it’s quick and inexpensive to collect CNC machine data?
Our smart manufacturing engineers collaborated with Rensselaer professors, researchers, and graduate students to implement and refine our innovative Edge solution across many types of machine tools, brands, controllers, and connection styles. During the first wave of implementation, the team fully integrated more than 15 legacy manufacturing machines with CESMII’s SM Innovation Platform (SMIP); as of today there are more than 20 different machines using Apogean™ at RPI including various makes and models of mills, lathes, waterjets, injection molding, vacuum forming, 3D printers, and laser cutters. The collaboration with RPI allowed our machine connectivity engineers to validate Apogean across countless real-world situations and environments, build an even better product and, more importantly, prove how small and medium manufacturers can collect machine data quickly and inexpensively.
Q: How did manufacturers collect machine data before this innovation?
For almost a decade, Toward Zero worked with manufacturers of all sizes to achieve the promise of smart manufacturing with system implementation and systems integration services. We spent many of those years in a lot of factories wiring up machines, running cables, installing expensive translators, and designing workarounds to get data from the machine into the systems the companies wanted to use. Large manufacturers would hire Toward Zero to send machine connectivity engineers to collect data from HAAS machines and other CNC equipment because getting the data out of machine tools is time-consuming and requires highly specialized knowledge. Aerospace, defense, and automotive companies with deep pockets can afford engagements like that. However, that kind of investment has always been out of reach for small and medium manufacturers, which drove us to invent Apogean™. It’s a low-cost, low complexity solution to collect machine and process data that’s affordable and accessible for any size manufacturing company, even small machine shops with just a few CNC machines.
Q: Why is data from CNC machines such a big deal?
Smart manufacturing apps level the playing field and make it easier for a manufacturing company to compete globally, regardless of size. There are countless ways smart manufacturing apps help manufacturers improve, and nearly all of them either require machine data or become even more powerful with machine data. If you have an older machine, or perhaps even a machine that doesn’t “speak the same language” (which data protocol) as the software you’re using, you have to exclude that machine from anything you use the smart manufacturing software for -- predictive maintenance, supply chain optimization, energy monitoring, advanced production scheduling, or other business processes. You use the smart manufacturing app for some equipment and processes, but conduct manual processes for CNC machine you can’t connect.
Q: What data can a company get from a CNC machine for smart manufacturing apps?
CNC machine data spans machine identifiers, machine status, job status, maintenance and alarms, and power. Within those categories of data, there can be many data points. Just a few include:
(The data points above do not fully represent Apogean™ capabilities. Explore Apogean™ machine compatibility and available data.)
Q: Does it matter which smart manufacturing app or system the company has?
It doesn't matter what your company uses today. Apogean is a plug-and-play smart manufacturing data collection solution with onboard software to convert data from your CNC machines to almost any protocol needed for OEE, manufacturing analytics, MES, or other smart manufacturing application.
More importantly, because Apogean can receive data from nearly any CNC machine, and can translate that data to the protocols used by smart manufacturing apps, it opens the door for manufacturers to explore and try new apps without replacing Apogean or changing their strategy to collect machine data.
Q: Will it work with all their machines?
Yes, but it might not make sense to put Apogean on every machine. It really depends on how critical the asset is in the manufacturing processes and what ROI the company would achieve by collecting smart manufacturing data from it. This innovation shifts the goalpoast dramatically: CNC machines that were left out of the smart manufacturing initiative can now be included, and companies that couldn't previously afford to collect machine data can now leverage smart manufacturing to compete.
Q: Now that Toward Zero has won the CESMII award for collecting smart manufacturing data, what’s next?
The journey to develop and launch Apogean™ has been exciting and it put us front and center of smart manufacturing intiatives for companies in nearly every sector of manufacturing: automotive, aerospace and defense, metals and metal parts, consumer goods, medical device, and so many others. We continue to collaborate with RPI and the companies that have implemented Apogean™ to collect machine data for OEE, MES, and typical smart manufacturing apps.
We've shifted Apogean™ to an enhancement release cadence and have expanded our focus to research and define new use cases to leverage CNC machine data. One that we’re particularly excited about is energy monitoring, which could have a big impact on profit margins, given the skyrocketing cost of energy. We already have manufacturers eager to adopt the new use cases as we release them, so our systems engineering and integration team is expanding to keep pace.
Q: What’s the first step for a manufacturer to collect smart manufacturing data with Apogean?
Apogean™ by Toward Zero is a subscription-based solution, so it’s easy for manufacturers try on a small scale, then expand. Usually, the facility will pick two or three CNC machines, hook them up, and see the data flowing into their system. It does require some machine downtime, but it’s usually minimal -- often just one to three hours total. From there, the manufacturing company usually asks us how fast they can get more Apogean™.
ABOUT RENSSELAER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE (RPI) AND THE CESMII SMIC LOCATED AT RPI
This SMIC, located at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is a highly visible, credible, high value, regional extension of CESMII. The SMIC is an independent organization with strong industry engagement and core competencies related to advanced manufacturing, composites and modeling, high speed computing and scientific computation, and computational innovations. The SMIC provides CESMII with a national reach across these competencies.
Located in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s George M. Low Center for Industrial Innovation the Manufacturing Innovation and Learning Lab (MILL) is a School of Engineering forward-looking manufacturing learning environment for undergraduate and graduate education. Leveraging the instructor expertise, industrial partnerships, and industry-grade equipment students can bridge engineering theory to application and master manufacturing processes and systems. In the MILL, students undergo the same design, process engineering, technical documentation, and systems deployment methods used by industrial research and industry engineering and manufacturing development teams.
Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. RPI encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,600 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. RPI faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, RPI remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.
CESMII is the United States’ national institute on Smart Manufacturing, driving cultural and technological transformation and secure industrial technologies as national imperatives. By enabling frictionless movement of information – raw and contextualized data – between real-time Operations and the people and systems that create value in and across Manufacturing organizations, CESMII is ensuring the power of information and innovation is at the fingertips of everyone who touches manufacturing.
Founded in 2016, in partnership with Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), CESMII is the third institute funded by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office. The Institute is accelerating Smart Manufacturing (SM) adoption through the integration of advanced sensors, data (ingestion – contextualization – modeling – analytics), platforms and controls to radically impact manufacturing performance, through measurable improvements in areas such as: quality, throughput, costs/profitability, safety, asset reliability and energy productivity. CESMII’s program and administrative home is with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). www.CESMII.org
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