Mazak puts high-tech prowess on display, launches SmartBox

By: Sarah Webster, Manufacturing Engineering – October 28, 2015

Florence, KY – As many as 3,000 visitors were expected at Mazak Corp.’s DISCOVER 2015 fall event, where the machine tool builder showcased its growing product line as well as its new SmartBox technology – the result of a new partnership with networking leader Cisco and machine-to-machine technology provider Memex Inc.

In all, more than 30 machines and manufacturing technologies were on display, including the Integrex i-400AM, a hybrid additive-subtractive machine, and the new Mazatrol SmoothG CNC, both of which were being shown for the first time in North America.

During a media breakfast on the first day of the event, which runs from Oct. 27 through Nov. 5, Tomohisa Yamazaki, President of the Japan-based Yamazaki Mazak Corp., also announced that the US production facility would begin manufacturing the VCL-T100. That fiber laser machine is sold by Mazak Optonics, the company’s industrial laser division.

Mazak Optonics President Al Bohlen told Manufacturing Engineering that US production will help satisfy fabrication customers more quickly.

The move showcases Mazak’s commitment to its US facility, which has been in operation since 1974 and, after multiple expansions, is now 800,000 square feet spread over multiple buildings along the rolling hillside. The added production will also help Mazak rationalize that manufacturing capacity as the machine tool market in the US has been soft. Through August, US manufacturing technology orders are down 10%, according to AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology.

Mazak has distinguished itself in this market as a premium technology leader, and Mazak Corp. President Brian Papke told media that the company is “financially health and rock solid.”

Mazak and Papke were early supporters of MTConnect, an open source communications language for machines that launched in 2008. That standard, as well as competing proprietary standards, allow for the collection of data, which can then be analyzed through software, and eases the way for machines to communicate with each other, creating smart factories that are far more productive and efficient.

While AMT, the federal government and industry advocates believe these new digital technologies could vastly improve national manufacturing competitiveness, actual adoption has been slow, especially among the small and medium manufacturers which make up about 80% of the US manufacturing market.

Concerns about Internet security, the complexity of execution, and a gap in understanding about the potential benefits of a more digital manufacturing approach, are thought to be slowing adoption.

SmartBox aims to help resolve several of those concerns, especially as they relate to security and simplicity of adoption.

The SmartBox device is literally a box that mounts on the side of a machine and uses a ruggedized, high-bandwidth Cisco Industrial Ethernet (IE) 4000 switch. The box serves as a simple factory networking hub with unique computing hardware and software for an industrial environment, including an MTConnect software agent. It allows a wide range of off-the-shelf sensors to gather data and feed into the network through simple ports.

SmartBox has a special dual design to prevent any issues with unauthorized access from both directions, to or from the machines and equipment within a network. It also helps IT technicians easily manage network security.

Importantly, the SmartBox uses a fog computing model. Just like a fog is a low-hanging cloud, fogging is a selective computing structure that essentially keeps cloud computing closer to the enterprise.

Rather than send all data collected off manufacturing machines to a cloud-based service for analysis, so-called fogging reduces the amount of data being transmitted outside of an enterprise, keeping much of this computing activity on a smart networked computing device, such as the SmartBox, and selectively sharing data on a cloud.

Mazak’s SmartBox is integrated with Memex software, which transforms the collected data into dashboards that show and track Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and other metrics, such as downtime.

During a presentation to attendees, Bryce Barnes, Sr. Manager of Global Machine and Robot Segment, Internet of Things Business Unit, Cisco, said digitizing manufacturing operations is about more than getting alerts about machines on a cell phone. He said the digital movement in manufacturing will allow manufacturing to seriously optimize productivity and resource use, and, ultimately, to rethink manufacturing at large.

“It’s going to become cool again to work in manufacturing,” Barnes said. “It’s the integration of the virtual and real.”

Ben Schawe, Vice President of Manufacturing at Mazak, also showed attendees how the machine tool builder executed SmartBox in its own facility, with the Memex dashboard tools, to visualize and improve its own utilization rates. He said the factory was surprised how much low-hanging fruit was found for improvement after Mazak started collecting and seeing its performance firsthand.

AMT President Doug Woods, who attended the event, told ME that manufacturers who don’t move in this digital direction will be challenged to compete against those who do adopt. He said he was delighted to see more mainstream technology products moving into the space to help improve understanding.