Hexagon machine training system leverages digital twins to help shop-floor skills gaps

2 mins read

New training technology now available globally from Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division leverages the power of its digital twins to help manufacturers train machinists and metrology specialists to use valuable shop-floor equipment.

By combining hardware that realistically replicates machines with manufacturing simulation and operator’s software tools, it helps trainees gain practical experience without risking damage to expensive business-critical equipment, wasting materials, or tying up valuable production resources. 

HxGN Machine Trainer was developed by Hexagon to help companies and educational institutions attract and train the next generation of machine workers – something that is vitally important with the industry facing a skills and labour shortage.

In the US, for example, job openings are hovering near all-time highs at 800,000 with 55% of roles unfilled 1, while almost three in 10 manufacturing firms in Europe reported production constraints in the second quarter of 2022 due to a lack of workers 2.

The skills shortage is compounded by the fact that training people to use CNC machines, and similar tools, is expensive, slow and potentially dangerous. By training machine operators using an accurate and interactive physical simulator, manufacturers can onboard and upskill their staff faster and more cost effectively than ever before.  

Hexagon’s new hardware simulator bridges the manufacturing skills gap by making it easier to prepare inexperienced staff for the demands of the factory. It is versatile because a digital twin can be created for the specific machine brand, type and configuration they will use.

Once trained, workers can easily move from HxGN Machine Trainer to real machines, because the simulator is designed to be as realistic as possible – with hardware that replicates the look and feel of a real machine and a 43-inch screen that displays accurate simulations of a large variety of machine and cutting tools.

A light tower, physical CNC hand wheel and CMM joystick completes the experience by enabling trainees to respond to issues and control machine movements exactly as they would on the shop-floor. The agile training system also offers a range of digital twins for coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) to provide practical experience. 

Each trainer unit can be equipped with up to three CNC controllers — including those by Fanuc, Heidenhain, and Siemens — on a single training console. The machine trainer utilises the latest version of Hexagon’s NCSIMUL CNC simulation software to simulate 3-axis, 5-axis, and mill-turn machine tools; and I++ Simulator software to simulate complete metrology processes. 

“Crashing a machine tool because of incorrect setup is a nightmare for both the new machinist and management concerned that a piece of machinery worth millions could be permanently damaged,” said Alexander Freund, director of product management at Hexagon,

“Crashing a virtual machine tool or CMM is safer for staff and equipment and provides a realistic experience to trainees while ensuring that valuable resources remain up and running.” 

Staff training to be machine-tool operators, machinists and, ultimately, CNC programmers, can use any of the three controllers to learn how to use its associated conversational programming language. Accompanying student exercises include instruction sheets that mimic typical manufacturing workflows and job specifications.

These instructions list virtual cutting tools to be assigned to jobs and the CNC program to be loaded to the trainer unit. In addition to troubleshooting and learning how to switch between manual and automatic run modes as needed, students learn how to set machine-tool origins and tool parameters, and to determine cutting tool compensation.  

HxGN Machine Trainer is available globally now, supporting 3-5 axis CNC machine tools, mill-turn machining and CMM training, with support for up to 3 CNC controllers on a single unit. It comes with a library of machine digital twins for Hermle, DMG and Fanuc machines.

CMMs support includes the Hexagon TIGO SF, with support for other CMMs through the I++ Simulator, paired with either QUINDOS or PC DMIS metrology software. Customers can request a digital twin of any other machine.