October 19, 2022

A Q&A with Gisbert Ledvon: What’s happening in the machine tool market

We recently sat down with Gisbert Ledvon, our Director of Business Development for Machine Tools, to talk about the important things happening in the machine tool market right now. From control advancements and connectivity to emerging technologies, we cover it all in this discussion. Find out from an insider where things are heading and which opportunities may help your situation.

Question: Who are you working with on a daily basis? Who’s your customer?

Gisbert Ledvon: I primarily work with two types of customers. One would be an OEM customer and they can be from various countries around the world. We help them to do two things: to apply the latest motion technology to their equipment and train their application engineers on the new features and functions HEIDENHAIN offers on motion control and on CNC systems. We demonstrate how the latest HEIDENHAIN features on their machine tool can outperform competitors.

The other group of customers would be end users…the people who buy the equipment and make stuff you and I use on a daily basis. From a HEIDENHAIN perspective, if customers are investing in more-advanced machining applications (controls), we want to make sure that they can utilize that equipment as efficiently and as quickly as possible. We want to make that learning curve as short as possible.

Q: What are OEMs looking for? What do they come and look to you for? What are they asking for?

GL: The mechanics of machine tools are, more or less, the same for many of the builders out there. Construction materials (e.g. cast iron, polymer granite or welded design) can differentiate some, but to really stand out in a competitive machine tool market, OEMs are turning to motion control. They’re looking for ways to make sure that the machine they’ve designed is moving as fast, as accurate and as dynamic as possible.

Our OEM customers ultimately come to us because HEIDENHAIN really can offer a complete motion solution; they can get a full package to optimize their machine design to its full potential. Other CNC builders might be able to provide the control, but they cannot provide the other components: the linear scales, rotary encoders, drives motors, CNC control and touch probes for tools and workpieces.

Q: What is the end user most commonly coming to you asking for? What are they coming to you looking for?

GL: A lot of times we’re working with end users who are stepping up from a relatively simple controller to one that’s much more powerful, with more features and capabilities. Our job is to take the fear or hesitancy out of the operators and programmers, to make sure that they have an easy transition and eventually reach the fullest potential of what they can do with the control, especially when it comes to 5-axis machining.

Also, we want to get the next generation of operators in front of these machines as much as possible. We work to make sure that the next generation of operators can embrace a powerful control. The next generation of operators doesn’t just want to push buttons. That’s over. The younger generation wants to be a part of the process. They want to take the responsibility to do something right. They want to make a part on their own and our solution is really a perfect setup for that.

They can do it all with a HEIDENHAIN control; it’s very unique compared to other controls where you rely 80, 90, 100 percent on getting a perfect CAD program to run a program on your machine. We’re empowering that new generation of operators to take responsibility.

Q: How do HEIDENHAIN products help integrate machine tools into concepts like Smart Manufacturing or Industry 4.0?

GL: You have to have reliable processes to even think about these concepts. Motion control and CNC can fundamentally help with reliability. When you’re connecting machines, you want to have flexibility to put this part on that machine. Or, if you have to change the schedule, you might need to change the parts beyond that, on a different machine. The more consistent motion control you have on multiple machine tools, the better off you’re going to be.

Controls like ours are very capable of networking. That means they have the flexibility to take something from the network—a program, tool and setup data needed to cut a particular part or to speed up the process. At the same time, the control system has to be able to provide data to an ERP system or any other monitoring system. You want to make sure that your control is able to give you predictive maintenance information. The next step is to consolidate all that data into a data stream or a monitoring system for reference and improvement.

Q: Does artificial intelligence have a role in machine tools?

GL: We did this already. We didn’t call it A.I., but if you think about what we can do on the motion control side now, we can predict certain ways the machine is going to behave. For example, our AFC feature, Adaptive Feed Control.

If we’re machining a part and all of a sudden the thickness of the part changes, the machine will sense the chip load or the load on the spindle and feed that information back to the control. The control will recognize the situation and slow things down to avoid breaking the tool. Even though the programmer forgot to tell the machine, the control is smart enough now to look at the situation and make a real-time decision.

With the new TNC7, you can even machine an entire part to collect all the data—the movements, the spindle loads, speeds and feeds—on a particular part. That data is stored in the control and when the next part is cut, the machine will monitor all my motion and color code where things deviated from the original perfect part.

Q: What are State Monitor and Plant Monitor?

GL: There are a lot of monitoring solutions out there. And people maybe say, what does HEIDENHAIN know about software? Similar to the controls, we made this a plug-and-play solution. It’s something you can use without having a business degree, quickly analyze the stats, and see what’s going on with the machines. It’s more visibility to bottlenecks and improved productivity and don’t even have to have a HEIDENHAIN control in your shop.

If you have multiple plants across the country, across the world, now with Plant Monitor we can connect multiple State Monitor locations and organize all that in a very condensed overview. Somebody in the headquarters can make very quick decisions to move parts around, depending on where maybe logistic issues are. Plant Monitor gives you that flexibility to look at that type of macro information very quickly.

Q: Could you explain the concept of a digital twin?

GL: The digital twin has been out for a few years now. They usually help verify the tool path and that there aren’t any types of collisions using CAD data to create the toolpath. The digital twin will also help the programmer determine how to maximize the machine’s work envelope without interfering with any component mounted on the work table or within the work envelope.

We have a little bit different approach. We work with the machine tool builder, and we ask for all the information, as far as what components he’s using, how big the machine is and what the dynamics are. We basically build a digital twin in the control based exactly on the specific machine tool.

That gives us an advantage because now we know how that machine tool actually behaves based on the mass, the size, the motor, the encoder technology. So, when we do a prediction of how long it’s going to take to cut this particular part, we have a much better understanding, and we can do a much more accurate calculation.

Q: Should users standardize the machine tool or the control?

GL: People standardize on processes. They’ll buy the same machinery and equipment so that the same processes can be followed consistently. The problem with that is if you standardize on a brand in the machine tool world, you’re going to be very quickly limited to what you can do. What if the machine brand isn’t offered in 5-axis or a size that’s big enough or small enough or fast enough for new or different work?

Instead of standardizing on a brand of a machine tool, you should rather standardize on a control system on the CNC.  It gives you a lot of flexibility to move your operators around. Operators can achieve X result no matter the machine if they are trained on a standardized control. A big new order can be managed expertly, no matter the machine, thanks to consistent controls.

Standardize the whole motion system and it takes performance to a totally different level. Don’t put your time into standardizing the machine tool, standardize what’s driving the machine tool to the way that works best for you.

Q: What has you excited about the machine tool industry right now? What are you looking forward to?

GL: I’m still excited about the fact that more and more people are still discovering what can be done with machine tools. Industries will still, all of a sudden, realize something new that can be done with machine tools. And it’s often something no one would have ever imagined 10 or 20 years ago. Who would imagine that somebody would machine a bone plate for a knee or face? Who would have thought we’d machine crowns out of metal for teeth replacement? Our phones are all machined surfaces…nobody would have thought that 20 years ago when everything was made of plastic.

I’m excited about finding more things that can be machined and should be machined. Additive machining is one of those. It’s going to be much more relevant coming down the road and I think there’s an opportunity for machine tool builders in the post-processing of additive parts. The 5-axis machining technology will thrive here, even more than just in the traditional metal cutting market segments like aerospace, mold and die, medical, etc. To be able to take a part out of that additive machine, get it over to a milling machine and get it finished accurately and quickly will be invaluable.

From CNC controls to individual motion control components, HEIDENHAIN has the know-how, hardware and software to make machine tools more precise, powerful and reliable. Whether you’re a machine tool builder or end user, we can help make your machines more efficient. Learn more at HEIDENHAIN.us/industries/machine-tool/.