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02 March 2017

This month 25 years ago: March 1992

Machinery Awards, a familiar name; PC-based CNC, we’re still waiting; big export order for UK machine tool builder; the launch of a UK-developed-and-made CNC system; in-depth training update, plus more

Machinery’s production engineering awards entries are listed for voting. Among them is a firm well known to the magazine’s audience, Renishaw. The company has two entries, one for developing an automated part and tool loading system for vertical machining centres (latterly called RAMTIC and initially developed in 1989), and another for an associated technology, in-process artefact inspection to maintain accuracy during long-run production (see https://is.gd/equyuz). The former allowed 24-hour working to obtain 130 hours per week machining, the latter delivered achievable tolerances of 20 micron versus a previous 70 micron. These systems still look modern today, because so few companies mimic this approach.

Elsewhere, Machinery is still wondering why CNC units have not become more PC-based and also open to the use of third-party software for non-real-time duties. The latter, specifically program creation software, need not be supplied with the CNC, we suggest. We highlight that Anilam (later bought by Heidenhain) has just launched its PC-based 1400 model; not a mainstream control, we admit. But why such little movement in this direction, we ask.

Yet still today CNCs remain specialised hardware and software for real-time duties, with some fronted by a standard operating system that allows machine tool builders to develop a ‘personality’ for their machine and also to support connectivity. Users cannot ‘claim’ this PC side for third-party CAM software installation, for example, but there is some CNC supplier-controlled user choice available. Okuma has opened its CNC system to the world of apps to support some non-real-time tasks, available from an online library. Indeed, CNCs are increasingly mimicking smartphone user interfaces and their makers using the language of apps to describe what previously were called functions.

In news: Brighton-based machining centre maker FMT has scored overseas orders to the tune of £800,000 (£1.5+ million today); another British firm, Douglas Curtis, has launched a cylindrical grinder for fuel system part work; conversational CNC programming is more favoured in Germany than the UK, due, it is said, to the availability of more highly skilled people on the continent; Switzerland’s Mikron (now within GF Machining Solutions) is investing £20 million (almost £39 million today) in a new factory to slash lead times; a ‘Developing Engineering Business in Europe’ event, which will talk about mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances as a way forward, is highlighted; MACH 1992 organiser the Machine Tool Technologies Association (today the Manufacturing Technologies Association) is looking forward to better times after “the most devastating recession ever”; 450 exhibitors and 70,000 visitors are anticipated (MACH 2016 figures: 600+ exhibitors; 25,600+ visitors).

A big story this month is the launch of a UK-developed and made CNC unit, the Flexible Numerical Control (FNC) from Control Techniques, already a maker of servo drives for machine tools. Using advanced surface mount techniques not yet used by other CNC makers, as well as the advanced UK-developed parallel computing, so-called transputer chip, the company has ambition and looks like a contender. We publish a glowing write-up and comment. But while Control Techniques continues (as part of Emerson Industrial Automation), the FNC is long gone.

We carry a big report on training in industry, now that levy funding of training via the Engineering Industries Training Board (EITB) has finished and employer-led, commercial operations have commenced through the Engineering Training Authority. We also carry news of a report: ‘The EITB from 1964-1991; lessons to be learned’, plus other initiatives of the day. One big lesson is that training takes long-term commitment from both industry and government.

In other news this month:

  • Punch closure announced: UK’s oldest satirical magazine, in circulation since 1841
  • Unemployment is 2,647,300: 9.4% of the British workforce, highest since late 1987
  • Further and Higher Education Act: polytechnics can become new universities
    Pakistan defeats England by 22 runs to win World Cup
  • Microsoft releases Windows 3.1
  • Friedrich von Hayek, British economist (Road to Serfdom), dies at 92

This article was published in the March 2017 issue of Machinery magazine.

Will Dalrymple

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Supporting Information

Related Companies

GF Machining Solutions
HEIDENHAIN (GB) Ltd
MTA
Renishaw

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