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Instructor note: Are Your Class Sizes Shrinking?
More and more technical schools are finding it difficult to attract newcomers to their manufacturing-related courses. Shrinking class sizes, of course, will place your entire manufacturing program in jeopardy. No school can maintain a program if no one registers for its classes. And we know of more than one school that has eliminated its manufacturing program due to dwindling attendance.
Most technical schools and community colleges cater to industry that is within a short distance (up to fifty miles or so) from the school. And unfortunately, your manufacturing program/s may be at the mercy of the health of local industry. If local industry is thriving, your classes are probably full. But if companies in your area are struggling, so may be your manufacturing programs. While your school can probably weather a short-term lull, it will be more difficult to keep your manufacturing program together if the down-turn continues for an extended period.
Get to know the manufacturers in your area
While there are schools that serve a national employer base, most technical schools (including community colleges that have manufacturing courses) must cater first and foremost to local industry. For these schools, satisfying local industry will be of paramount importance. Its pretty simple. Those schools that serve the needs of local industry will thrive. Those that dont will eventually fail.
How well youre satisfying your local industry is pretty easy to determine. Schools that satisfy local industry will have excellent placement ratios for graduating students (usually over 90%). There will be a waiting list for companies anxious to hire the people the school graduates. This makes it relatively easy to attract new students since students will be secure in the knowledge that theyll be able to find a job after graduation.
If you're truly serving the needs of local industry, companies will be sending their employees to your classes or better yet theyll be contracting you to conduct courses on their own premises. And there is no better endorsement for a local technical school's program than having a large percentage of the manufacturers it serves sending people to the school.
Admittedly, there are other factors that contribute to the success of any manufacturing-related curriculum not the least of which is the number and status of companies in your schools area. Unfortunately, some instructors can count on one hand the number of major manufacturing companies their school serves. And, of course, the local business climate will have a lot to do with whether or not companies are interested in providing training to their employees or whether they will be hiring when your students graduate.
Whos in your area?
Technical instructors should be very well versed with the manufacturing companies in the region served by their school. Products being produced, processes being performed, and location of customers served by local companies are among the general things you should know.
You should also get to know the people in key positions. Whos the manager of Human Resources? Who manages the Manufacturing Engineering department? Who is the plant manager? While you may be hesitant to contact companies to meet and get to know these people, you may be surprised at how receptive they are once you work up the nerve to contact them. Progressive managers are always looking for ways to train their personnel.
Remember, most manufacturing companies are constantly struggling to hire and keep qualified people. Theyve probably attempted their own in-plant training programs with limited success. When an instructor from the local technical college calls to see if the school can help, most manufacturing people will jump at the opportunity to expand their training resources.
What skills are required?
Interested instructors will strive to determine what their students will be doing once they graduate and begin working in a local company. Only with this knowledge can an instructor prepare an appropriate curriculum. As you talk to key people in local manufacturing companies, find out what they require. Additionally, find out what problems they are currently having when it comes to the proficiency of their work force.
Be prepared for some criticism
People working in local companies have probably had some previous experience with your school. Maybe theyve hired some of your graduates. Maybe theyve attended some of your classes. Or maybe they know people that have. Its likely that they have some pre-conceived notions about what your school does. And it may not be all good. Be sure that the people you talk to understand that the whole point of your visit is to gain an understanding of what the company expects of employees so you can better accommodate these needs.
Dont ignore small companies
While your biggest potential for new students may come from larger companies, remember that most larger companies have a series of local suppliers (commonly called contract shops or job shops). The people working in these smaller companies often need more training than people working in larger companies especially when it comes to actually working with CNC machines. So if you can serve the needs of smaller companies, its likely that youll have no trouble doing so for larger companies. Additionally, having success with a small company in your area may be a way to get your foot in the door to the larger companies this company supplies. Dont forget people in small companies have the best contacts in larger companies.
Truly your best potential for new students comes from local industry. Get out and meet them!
Find ways to help local industry thrive
You must not consider this beyond the scope of what you can do as a technical school instructor. Think about how your school can enhance a company's chances for success. When it comes to manufacturing training, and especially courses relative to CNC, many technical schools do little more than (very) basic training. While basic CNC training is very important to your local industry, consider offering classes that are aimed at a higher level of CNC person.
Expand your offerings to include more experienced manufacturing people. Manufacturing people are always looking for ways to improve the productivity of their manufacturing processes. If you can offer courses to help them achieve this goal, you may find your new offerings to be flooded with students! So not only will you be helping local industry to thrive, you'll be gaining a whole new group of potential students. This is a win-win situation if there ever was one!
Here are a two specific examples of courses we think your local industry will find particularly interesting. Note that we offer teaching curriculums for each of them. These curriculums include instructor's materials (To The Instructor Manual and PowerPoint slide presentations) and student materials (Course manual). But don't limit your potential. Find out what your local industry needs and develop courses to cater to these needs.
Setup reduction for CNC --- You'll never meet a manufacturing person that doesn't want to minimize the amount of time it takes to get machines ready to run production. We define setup time as the time it takes from machining the last workpiece in the most recent production run to making the first good workpiece (efficiently) in the next production run. Truly, the entire time a machine is down between production runs must be considered as setup. In this course, you'll first present the principles of setup reduction. These principles can be applied to any form of production equipment. Next, you'll present specific techniques that can be applied to reduce setup time for CNC machining centers and turning centers in the approximate order setups are made. Click here to see more information about this curriculum.
Cycle time reduction for CNC --- In similar fashion, all manufacturing people want to shorten the time it takes to complete a production run. Our definition of cycle time is the entire time it takes to complete a production run divided by how many good workpieces have been produced. Anything that adds to the length of time it takes to complete a production run must be considered part of cycle time. In this course, you'll first present the principles of cycle time reduction. These principles are quite similar to those related to setup reduction, with some subtle differences. Next, you'll present specific techniques that can be applied to reduce cycle time for CNC machining centers and turning centers, including techniques related to workpiece load/unload, reducing program execution time, reducing tool maintenance time, and streamlining other tasks an operator must perform during a production run.. Click here to see more information about this curriculum.
Recruit instructors from local industry
If you haven't already, look for experienced manufacturing people in your area to teach some of your manufacturing-related courses (on a part-time basis). You yourself may be one of these people. While you will, of course, need to approve course content, this is a sure-fire way to ensure that your courses will suit the needs of local manufacturers. It is also a great way to ensure that some of your graduates will get placed. I know of more than one manufacturing person that teaches part-time for their local technical college so they can get first pick of graduating students.
Work closely with local high schools
We cannot overstress the need for a technical school to cater to local industry. This should be your first and primary concern. If you're not serving the needs of local industry, you won't be able to place your graduates - and your program/s won't be around for long. Convincing the manufacturers in your area to take advantage of your school's training facilities should be at the heart of any recruiting you do. Ideally, the majority of your student base will be coming from local industry. Only with this objective achieved, should you begin recruiting from other sources.
Assuming you can place your graduates, your program will, of course, need students. One obvious place to find them is the local high schools in your area. Look first for high schools that have vocational programs. In many regional school districts, there is one central "vo-tech" high school that provides the vocational training for the region. This kind of school commonly has a metals program in which students are introduced to metal-working. The students in this program will make excellent candidates for your manufacturing program/s.
Note that many technical high schools provide excellent basic industrial training. Indeed, you may find that these students are hired by local manufacturers right after high school - so you may be competing with the high schools in your area! This is yet another reason why you must work closely with local industry. It's likely that these entry-level employees will still need quite a bit of training in order to become proficient. Companies are probably providing some kind of (costly) on-the-job training to bring new-hires up to speed. With an understanding of what local companies need, your program/s can help bridge this gap.
While the "vo-tech" type high school may provide your best source for candidates, get to know the guidance counsellors for all of the high schools in your area. A guidance counselor cannot, of course, guide potential students to your program if they don't know it is available.
Think outside the box
Technical schools have traditionally offered certificate and degree programs that require students to take a full load of courses. If your manufacturing program is struggling, try not to stick with traditional thinking. If you haven't already, consider open-in/open-out registration that allows students to attend classes on a more flexible schedule. Incorporate more self-study and on-line courses in your curriculum. And in general, make it as easy as possible for students to participate in your offerings.
Your school may already offer some form of in-plant training (commonly related to what some schools call "business education services"). If you don't currently offer this kind of training, especially for classes related to basic manufacturing skills like blueprint reading and shop math, you're probably missing out on a great deal of training business.
Another potential revenue generator to consider is to hold 1- 2- or 3-day seminars on selected topics. You (obviously) have the needed classroom facilities. You have the potential attendee base of local companies. Pick a hot topic (like setup reduction, lean manufacturing, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, rapid prototyping, etc.) and prepare the needed course materials. Or contract an industry expert to make the presentation.
So you think your program isn't in trouble?
Even if your school's manufacturing program is pretty well attended, don't be too quick to think that all is well. Again, you're at the mercy of your local industry. Today's high-flying manufacturer may be tomorrow's victim of recession. Do your best to maintain contact with all of the manufacturers in your area, regardless of whether they're currently sending people to your classes.
Do you have a newsletter?
One great way stay in contact is to publish a periodical newsletter. It really doesn't take that much effort, especially if you limit the number of times you publish per year. I recommend a quarterly newsletter. Be sure to include topics of interest to manufacturing people, not just your school's class schedule (though you will want to let people know about your upcoming classes). Send your newsletter to key people in manufacturing companies (Human resources people, plant managers, engineering managers, etc.) as well as all of the high school guidance counsellors in your area.
You may, for example, pull some excerpts from your training materials (as long as you don't infringe on copyrights). It doesn't have to be long - a few pages per issue will suffice. Just get your school's name in front of local manufacturing people on a regular basis. Remind them that you're still around and ready to serve their training needs.
If your school sends out a general mailing, don't count on it to help with your manufacturing classes. For the best results, this newsletter should be written specifically for people in manufacturing, addressing topics that they'll find helpful and interesting.
On our website, we provide a CNC Tips page. If you're struggling to find content, feel free to copy and paste any of these tips into your newsletter. All we ask is that you give credit to CNC Concepts, Inc. for any material you use from our website.
School Profile: Rock Valley College in Rocford IllinoisBy Stan McCord of Rock Valley College
Rock Valley College has always had a strong link with the manufacturing community. Rockford has a long history of being a manufacturing center, and despite the loss of many of our largest employers, manufacturing will continue to be the mainstay of the Rockford area's economy.
Local industry relies upon Rock Valley College to be the source for training employees in many different areas. The Technology Division offers associate of science degree courses in Automated Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering for those wishing to pursue a Bachelor's degree. The division also offers degrees in electronics, computer technology, networking and building trades. Most of the students in our degree programs already work in the manufacturing field and are working towards internal advancement or towards a four year degree.
The Automation Skills program is designed for introducing students and employees to the CNC career. Many start with basic blueprint reading and shop math and advance through a series of classes to familiarize them with CNC lathes and machining centers. We offer setup and operation classes and G-code programming classes, utilizing CNC Concepts training materials.
Students can earn a certificate as a CNC operator after completing a series of classes for either the lathe or machining center. These classes are non-degree credit, and last just five weeks. Students receive approximately 36 hours of primarily hands-on, applications based training.
Many of our local companies encourage their new employees to take these beginning classes or require that their employees take them before posting on CNC jobs. Students can take just one course or a series of courses to complete their certification. The Automation Skills program has been very successful at bringing new students to the college.
We have just begun offering CAD for Machinists and Introduction to CAM, for those students with more shop experience who need to become familiar with more advanced programming systems.
Rock Valley College has recently become a 'Haas Technical Education Center', which will enable us to work with other community colleges and universities around the country to develop a national CNC certification program. Haas has been very generous with educational discounts on CNC equipment. We currently have three Haas machining centers and three Haas turning centers. We are discussing upgrading some of our equipment to include live tooling on our turning centers and adding a horizontal machining center.
Rock Valley also works closely with the Rockford Tooling and Machining Association's Tool and Die apprenticeship program. All third and fourth year apprentices take degree courses in Autocad, Geometric Tolerances, Tooling applications, CNC setup and operation, CNC programming and CAM programming. Some apprentices work towards their two year associates degree in manufacturing as well. They have found that completing the degree program is an added benefit to their employment portfolio.
The last few years have been tough, as most community colleges will agree. Rockford was hit hard with the loss of many long time employers. Many community colleges in Northern Illinois have closed their manufacturing programs. Rock Valley College is determined to remain a source for technical training and degree programs. Our goal is become the 'regional' training source for the Northern Illinois area. Our new partnership with Haas will enable us to continue growing and allow us to utilize the latest technology available. We are looking forward the changes the next few years will bring.
Instructor note: Teaching CNC with the Key Concepts approach - part four
Part four - Key concept number three: You must understand the motion types
In part one , we introduce the key concepts approach. In part two, we present the most important topics of key concept number one: Know your machine from a programmer's viewpoint. In part three, we present topics related to key concept number two: Prepare to write programs.
Here in part four, we're going to discuss topics related to the motion types available to CNC programmers. Here is a list of the general topics that we include in key concept number three:
As with every key concept, the general presentations must work for any kind of CNC machine. But specific presentations will apply only to the kind of CNC machine tool/s you are describing in your class. For example, you will only discuss those motion types that are equipped on the machine/s you are presenting.
What is interpolation?
I like to begin by describing interpolation. I point out that when only one axis is moving (say X on a bed style vertical machining center), the machine cannot help but move in a perfectly straight line. The X axis is a linear axis, and of course, when it moves by itself, it cannot help but move in a linear fashion.
Next I point out that when two or more axes are moving, in most cases, either a straight line motion or a circular motion is desired. In order to form the desired motion, the control must articulate the motion. This articulation is called interpolation.
I also like to point out just how the control interpolates motion: by breaking the motion into a series of tiny single axis motions - forming a kind of stair-step sequence from the beginning point to the end point of the motion. The next drawing shows an example:
I point out, of course, that the stair-steps in the drawing are drastically exaggerated. In reality, they are equal in size to the machine's least input increment (commonly 0.0001 inch if working in the inch mode or 0.001 millimeter if working in the Metric mode). Students will not be able to see, feel, or otherwise measure these tiny steps (without very elaborate measuring equipment).
What point on the tool is being programmed?
Don't take it for granted that students understand the location on each cutting tool that is being programmed. For machining centers, for example, I like to go through each tool type and make sure students understand the point on the tool that is being programmed.
For hole-machining tools, like drills, taps, reamers, boring bars, etc., students must understand that in X and Y, they are programming the center of the tool. This makes good sense, since hole center locations are always specified on the blueprint. If they want to program a hole that is at a location of 1.0 in X and 1.5 in Y, they must specify: X1.0 Y1.5.
But for the Z axis, point out that the location on the tool being programmed commonly requires them to compensate for some kind of lead (again, for hole machining tools). With a drill, for example, they will be programming the extreme tip of the drill. All twist drills have a lead, which is usually 118 degrees. To calculate the length of the lead, students must multiply a value of 0.3 times the drill diameter. You should also go through some examples, showing how to calculate the actual programmed depth for blind-holes and through-holes.
And again, do this for all kinds of hole machining tools: Taps always have a certain number of imperfect threads. Reamers always have a small chamfer on the end. And so on.
For milling cutters, point out that certain milling cutters, like face mills are still programmed from centerline in X and Y. And at this point in the class, programming centerline for all milling cutters may be easiest for students to understand. But I like to at least prepare students for the feature cutter radius compensation that will be discussed in detail during key concept number four. Point out that though examples shown in key concept number three (the current key concept) will show a milling cutter's centerline path, the feature cutter radius compensation will allow the programmer to program the work surface path. Cutter radius compensation will make calculating coordinates easier and allow more flexibility at the machine.
I've described all of the specific examples of the point on a tool being programmed for a machining center. If you're teaching a turning center class, of course, you must do the same for tools that can be used on turning centers. Again, don't assume students will automatically know the point on each tool that will be programmed.
Four things all motion types share in common
As always, I recommend that you discuss commonalities. When a student understands each of these points about one motion type, they will understand it for them all.
All motion types are modal - If you haven't already, discuss the meaning of modal. Be sure students understand that once a motion type is instated, it remains in effect until it is changed. They need not keep instating the motion type word (G code) in every command of a series of consecutive motions of the same type.
All motion types require the end point to be programmed - Beginners seem to have trouble with this, especially during the programming of a lengthy series of motions that involve circular motions. Be sure they understand that for every motion, they must specify the end point for the motion. The tool has been brought to the start point for the motion by the previous motion command.
Only the moving axes must be programmed - If an axis is not moving in a given motion, it should not be included in the motion command. Doing so only lengthens the program and provides the possibility for making a writing or typing mistake.
All motion types can be specified in absolute and incremental mode - Remind students that you introduced absolute and incremental programming in key concept number one. Also remind them that it is almost always best to specify coordinates in the absolute mode (G90 for machining centers). Do mention that all motions can also be specified in incremental mode (G91 for machining centers) for those few times when it can be helpful to do so.
The three most common motion types
At this point, go through the important points about the three most common motion types, rapid motion, straight line motion (also called linear interpolation), and circular motion (also called circular interpolation).
Application for the motion type: For each motion type, I begin with what it is and the times when it is needed. With rapid motion, I point out that it causes the axes to move at their fastest rate. It is used for positioning. In fact, whenever the machine is not cutting, the motion should probably be done at rapid. With straight line cutting motion, I point out that it is used whenever cutting must be done along a straight line - as when drilling a hole or milling a straight (even angular) surface. I also mention that some programmers like to use straight line motion when positioning (instead of rapid) if they're worried about obstructions used close to the tool path. With circular motion, I point out that it is used whenever a circular surface must be machined. For machining centers, this includes milling a circular contour. For turning centers, this includes turning or boring a circular filet radius.
G code/s for the motion type: Within each motion type I then describe the commanding G code/s. G00 for rapid motion, G01 for straight line motion, and G02 and G03 for circular motion (G02 is clockwise, G03 is counter-clockwise). By the way, don't be too quick to assume that students understand the difference between clockwise and counter-clockwise. There are many digital clocks out there!
Other words involve with the motion type: Next, explain any other words that are required to use the motion. For straight line and circular motion, for example, point out that a feedrate must be included within the first command that uses the motion type. Explain that feedrate is modal, so it should not have be included within every consecutive command that requires the same feedrate. If you haven't already, be sure to point out how feedrate is specified for the machine/s being discussed in your class (per revolution or per minute). For circular motion, you must also explain how the size of the arc is specified. I prefer teaching the use of the R word because it is simpler. But you may also want to introduce directional vectors, I, J, and K.
Lots of examples: Be sure you show several examples that demonstrate the use of motion types. Your examples for circular motion (on machining centers) must still reflect the milling cutter's centerline path at this point. But be sure students understand that cutter radius compensation will allow them to program the work surface path (again, you'll discuss cutter radius compensation during key concept number four.
Other important motion types
While rapid, straight line, and circular motion are the three most common motion types, you may have to describe more. For machining centers, and if students will have to mill threads, you must describe helical interpolation. For turning centers with live tooling, you may have to describe polar coordinate interpolation - if students will have to be milling contours on the end of a workpiece with live tooling.
Depending upon student aptitude, you may want to minimize your presentations for complex motion types at this point. Let students get comfortable with the three basic motion types first. Save the presentations for these motion types for later in the class - possibly during key concept number six (special features of programming).
Time saver: Identify Complex Tasks And Simplify Them
This issue's time saver is a rather general suggestion - and it varies with the aptitude level of the people involved.
In value added terms, there are only two types of tasks that occur in the manufacturing environment: those that further the completion of your product and those that don't. Tasks that further the completion of your product are called value added tasks. Those that do not are called necessary support tasks.
Any improvement you make in your company should be aimed at either enhancing a value added task or minimizing or eliminating a necessary support task. In either case, task simplification should be one of your primary tactics for improving.
By "complex task", we mean a task that is causing problems - and they should be pretty simple to spot, especially with tasks that directly affect value added tasks. Scrap parts, wasted time, duplicated effort, and damaged machines are severe symptoms of complex tasks that are too complicated for your people to perform.
Here is a simple example. CNC operators are charged with the responsibility of measuring workpieces during the production run. They compare these measured dimensions to the tolerances specified on the blueprint. They then make a decision. If the measured dimension is well within its tolerance band, they do nothing. But if the dimension is close to the high or low limit (based upon how the tool wears), they make an offset adjustment. The amount and polarity of the adjustment must, of course, be calculated before the adjustment can be made.
This task of workpiece sizing during the production run is a necessary support task - it does not further the completion of the workpiece. But of course, if a mistake is made, it can adversely affect the performing of a value added task. The next workpiece being machined will not be within tolerance. A drastic mistake can be even worse - a cutting tool may crash into the workpiece.
This is but one of countless tasks that operators must perform. Most of these tasks are necessary support tasks, but again, mistakes will lead to problems with value added tasks. And even if mistakes are not made, it takes time to perform these tasks. Simplifying tasks an operator must perform will help them get to value added tasks quicker (reducing cycle time), it will provide them with more time to be doing other things, and/or it will reduce operator fatigue during a production run. Fresh and alert operators are less prone to make mistakes.
Your two alternatives
When faced with a complex task that is causing the kinds of problems mentioned above, you always have two alternatives.
Remember, when you're faced with a complex task that is causing problems, you've got to do something. Providing additional training and task simplification are your only two alternatives!
A few specific suggestions
Our intention is for you to be able to locate, evaluate, and simplify complex tasks in your own CNC environment. And only by studying your own methods and watching your own people will you be able to do so. But to help get you started, we offer a few common tasks that often need simplifying.
Provide the target dimension for all dimensions - We mentioned this above. Entry-level operators must often use a calculator to determine the target value (often the mean value) for tolerances they must hold. This is time-consuming and error prone - and it leads to inconsistencies among operators (first, second, and/or third shift) even during the same production run. Eliminate calculation time, the potential for mistakes, and inconsistencies among operators by providing them with a process sheet that includes all target dimensions.
Specify all tolerances as plus or minus (+/-) - By far, the easiest form of tolerance to evaluate is the plus or minus tolerance. For the dimension 3.000 +/- 0.002, everyone will know that the specified value 3.000 is the mean (and often the target) value. If design engineers don't always specify tolerances this way, use a special process drawing to do so.
Provide the high and low limits for all dimensions - For the times when operators must determine whether a value is within the tolerance band (after measuring a workpiece), provide the high and low limits (3.002 / 2.998 for the 3.000 +/- 0.002 dimension) for the example above. This makes it much easier to determine whether a measured dimension is within the tolerance band - and when it has grown or shrunk close to a limit and is in need of an adjustment. So on your process drawings, you should provide three things for each dimension: the target value, the high limit, and the low limit.
Velcro small tools close to where they are needed - Don't make your operators scrounge through tool boxes in search of small hand tools (like Allen wrenches). Keep them handy by using Velcro to stick them in position close by where they are needed. For turning centers, for example, it will be helpful to Velcro insert-changing tools to each turret station in close proximity to the insert.
Use a consistent method for mounting jaws on three-jaw chucks - This is the topic of an article in the Summer 2004 issue of The Optional Stop newsletter. Please click the link to learn more about it.
Don't take no for an answer
As stated, when you are faced with a complex task that is causing problems, you must do something about it - otherwise you'll continue having the problems caused by the task. You can't give up. Either provide the training it takes to bring the people involved to a higher level or simplify the task.
G-code primer: A Custom Macro For Thread Milling
As you know, custom macro is a very powerful programming feature that allows you to include computer programming-like commands in a G-code level program. Here's a great user created canned cycle application to help you command thread milling operations.
This custom macro assumes your machining center is equipped with helical interpolation. It also assumes, of course, that your machine is equipped with custom macro B. It machines straight threads (not tapered threads) inside a hole. It will not machine external threads. It can machine in a climb milling manner (G03, coming out of the hole) or a conventional milling manner (G02, moving into the hole).
We're assuming you're using a thread milling cutter that can machine the entire thread in one pass around the hole (see drawing). That is, the thread milling cutter cannot be the "single tooth" type cutter.
While we've included some error trapping within this custom macro, you'll want to be careful with its use - as you would with any new program. Be sure to dry run it (and use your machine's graphics capabilities if available) several times to ensure that you understand the meaning of the related input values (arguments).
Here is a drawing that shows the arguments to be included in the call statement:
And here is an example calling program:
Again, this is a user created canned cycle application, so you treat it much like any canned cycle. Notice how, in lines N075 through N095, we're calling up the tool, getting the spindle started, and moving into an approach position (instating tool length compensation along the way) - just like you'd do before you command any canned cycle.
Line N100 is the command that calls the custom macro. Notice all the input variables (arguments). Be sure to include a decimal point for each one.
While the drawing and example program may be self-explanatory, let me make a few points.
Now, here's the custom macro:
Parameter preference: Setting Up For RS-232c Communications
Parameters control countless things about the way your CNC machine tools behave. In each Parameter preference segment, we will expose parameters that have an important impact on how your machines run. But first, a disclaimer. Parameters vary from one Fanuc control model to another - as do the actual functions they control. Always check in your Fanuc Operators manual and/or Maintenance manual to confirm the parameter number and settings we show. Never blindly change a parameter! If there is any doubt about what the parameter does, contact your machine tool builder to learn more.
All current model Fanuc controls allow programs (and other data, like offsets and parameters) to be transferred to and from any RS-232c speaking device. These devices include desktop computers, laptop computers, portable floppy drives, and even hand-held computers and PDAs. But before communications can occur, several RS-232c protocol parameters must be set properly - on the machine control and on the RS-232c speaking device.
In this article, we're only going to be looking at Fanuc's parameters related to RS-232c communications. Unfortunately, the method of setting up the communicating device will vary from one device to another. So you're on your own to work with the documentation that comes with the device (or software). At least you'll know what you're looking for.
And again, there will be variations even within the various Fanuc controls relative to specific parameter numbers. We'll be showing one example control (the 15 series [15T or 15M]).
Setting page parameters
As the name implies, these are parameters that you set on the SETTING display screen page. You can do so by simply selecting the manual data input (MDI) mode - you don't have to turn on the parameter write enable function. These function names are pretty much the same for all Fanuc control models.
TV CHECK - Must be turned off (commonly done by setting the value to zero). There is no corresponding parameter for most RS-232c speaking devices.
PUNCH CODE - Must be set to ISO (commonly done by setting the value to one). The corresponding parameter for the RS-232c speaking device is parity, which must be set to even parity.
INPUT DEVICE - With this setting, Fanuc allows you to specify which of (possibly) several devices you are trying to communicate with. It points at a set of parameters that specify the protocol for transmissions coming into the control. Most people need to communicate with but one device (there is only on connector attached to the machine anyway), so you simply have to know which set of protocol parameters you are pointing to. We recommend setting this value to two (2), for input device two. A value of one is usually the tape reader. There is no corresponding parameter for most RS-232c speaking devices.
OUTPUT DEVICE - In similar fashion, Fanuc allows you to specify which of several devices you are communicating with. It points to a set of parameters that specify the protocol for transmissions going out of the control. Again, we recommend that you set this value to two (2), for output device number two. There is no corresponding parameter for most RS-232c speaking devices.
Actual parameters that must be set
These are true parameters. You must turn on the parameter write enable (pwe) function to set them (in the manual data input mode). Again, Fanuc varies when it comes to specific parameter numbers from model to model. We'll specify the actual parameter number for a 15 series control. Note that the name abbreviation remains pretty consistent from one model to another, so you should be able to confirm that you've found the correct parameter.
End of line delimiter (abbreviation: NCR) - For a 15 series control, this is bit 3 of parameter number 100. If set to a value of 0, the control will output a line feed and two carriage returns at the end of each command. If set to a value of 1, it will output only a carriage return. We recommend starting with a value of zero (lf, cr, cr). Depending upon the settings available on your RS-232c speaking device, you may not have much choice. You may notice a blank line between commands of programs sent out from the control. If you do, try setting this parameter to a value of zero (cr only). Again, some RS-232c speaking devices do not have a corresponding parameter setting. But look for one named end-of-line delimiter.
Leader (abbreviation: NFD) - For a 15 series control, this is bit number 7 of parameter 121 (output device 2). Set this parameter to a value of zero (no leader). There is no corresponding parameter for most RS-232c speaking devices.
Stop bits (abbreviation: SB2) - For a 15 series control, this is bit number 0 (zero) of parameter 121 (output device 2). Set this parameter to 1 (for two stop bits). There will be a corresponding parameter on the RS-232c speaking device, which must also be set for two stop bits.
Word length - Though Fanuc does not have a parameter setting for word length, most RS-232c speaking devices do. Set to a word length of 7 bits to communicate with Fanuc controls.
Device type (abbreviation: none) - For a Fanuc 15 series control, this is parameter number 122 (output device 2). Set this parameter to a value of 4 (for RS-232c communications). There is no corresponding parameter for most RS-232c speaking devices.
Baud rate (abbreviation: none) - This is the transfer rate for transmissions. The higher the baud rate, the faster the transmission. For a 15 series control, this is parameter number 123 (output device 2). For this control model, it is a code number from one through twelve. Common settings include 6: 300 baud, 7: 600 baud, 9: 2400 baud, 10: 4800 baud, and 11: 9600 baud. There will be a corresponding parameter for the RS-232c speaking device, and it must be set to match the baud rate setting of the control.
Manager's corner: Do You Have A Lead Person?
If your company (or department within your company) has several CNC machine tools, it's likely that machines are regularly down while setup people and operators perform relatively simple tasks. Consider, for example, the gathering of components needed in preparation to make a setup - or the gathering of inserts and other perishable items needed during a production run.
While these are extremely important tasks, they do not require the skill level of a CNC setup person or operator. Additionally, one person can perform these tasks for several machine tools. Your CNC machines are probably sitting idle while these tasks are being performed - if setup people and operators are performing them. Having someone else perform them will reduce downtime.
Gathering components can be an off-line non-productive task. That is, it is a task that can be done in preparation for a future job - while the machine is currently in production. But in order to move this task off line, it's likely that someone other than your setup people and operators must perform it (assuming your setup people and operators are busy).
And gathering components is but one task that setup people and operators commonly perform that doesn't require a high degree of skill. Truly, any task you see a setup person or operator performing while the machine is down probably falls into this category.
The more machines you have in your department or company, the more you can benefit by having another person performing these tasks. The goal is to allow your setup people and operators to do what they do best - and more importantly - to keep your machines running for as great a percentage of time as possible.
One way to accomplish these goals is to employ a special person (we're calling a lead person) to assist setup people and operators - again - minimizing the leg work the setup people and operators must do. In many companies, this can be the person that is scheduling work for the various CNC machine tools. Since this person schedules the jobs coming to each machine, they will have a good understanding of what will be needed for each job (and/or they can work from setup and production run documentation to find out).
Depending upon lot sizes and cycle times, one lead person can usually handle several machine tools - along with the other responsibilities they may have. If you already employ this kind of lead person and they're too busy to support machines as we're suggesting, then consider having a lesser skilled person do the gathering (commonly called a CNC helper). When you consider how much expensive machine time can be lost while setup people and operators perform simple tasks, this should be pretty easy to justify!
Safety tip: Keep A Finger Ready To Press Feed Hold!
This is a pretty simple tip, and very easy to implement. And we can almost guarantee that it will save a crash some day. Whenever you press the cycle start button, get in the habit of having a finger ready to press the feed hold button. Feed hold, of course, will instantly stop the machine's axis motion. This button is usually in close proximity to the cycle start button, so you may even be able to use one hand for both buttons (a forefinger for cycle start and a thumb for feed hold).
You know that there are many switches that have to be properly set in order for the machine to behave as you expect it to. You may be doing a dry run, and wanting to take control of the machine's motion during approach movements. If everything isn't perfect, you may be expecting the machine to "crawl up" to the workpiece, but when you press the cycle start button, it takes off at rapid! Without a finger ready to press the feed hold button, you first have to find it. By the time you do, it may be too late.
Keeping a finger ready to press the feed hold button is especially important when you are in doubt about what the machine is going to do. Maybe you've just completed a setup and you're ready to run the program for the first time. Maybe you're rerunning a tool. Maybe you've been away from the machine for a break or lunch. Or maybe you're starting your shift. We urge you to always have a finger ready to press the feed hold button whenever you press the cycle start button - you never know when it will help you avoid a nasty surprise.