Every pilot, from beginners on their initial hop up to astronauts on the launch pad, knows that following a pre-flight checklist is an essential first step for a successful flight. Rather than trusting their memory, they depend on detailed checklists to lead them through the process. Ideally, each item is read out loud by a co-pilot and verbally confirmed by the pilot in command. This back-and-forth communication ensures that the checklist is completed successfully and the craft will take off efficiently and safely.

Now, thanks to Athena, machinists have a co-pilot they can depend on to give them that same level of confidence. Jay Requarth, Vice President of Technical Development at Athena, explained how this is possible. “Athena is the first voice-operated assistant specifically designed for manufacturing. This revolutionary technology lets operators interact with machine tools, regardless of brand, using simple voice commands.”

Houston, We Have No Problems
Here’s a sample of how operators can work with Athena. The operator starts by asking her to provide a startup checklist. Athena displays the list on the monitor or display. She then reads the checklist one line at a time. The operator checks the machine for that item and audibly responds, “Check” to have Athena move down the list.

For example:

Athena: “Check load station.”
Operator: “Check.”
Athena: “Check air pressure gauges for green.”
Operator: “Check.”
Athena: “Check coolant level.”
Operator: “Check.”

Plus, the operator is not tethered to the control or display; he can move around the machine while working through the checklist. This back-and-forth continues to the end of the checklist. If the operator prefers a visual checklist, Athena can display it on the monitor or display and remain silent while the operator reads through the list.

Types of Checklists Available
Currently, the most common checklists Athena helps with are startups, setups and maintenance. It is important to note that these checklists are not generic, broad-stroke prompts. “Each checklist is tailored, not only to a specific type of machine (lathe, VMC, etc.), but the particular brand as well,” Requarth said.

All checklists can be customized and tailored by the machine tool builder, and some can be adjusted by the end user. You can even add media in the form of PDFs, videos and voice messages for when a unique one-time direction is required.

Let’s look at some specific checklist examples.

Machine Startup
From the moment you walk up to your machine at the beginning of the shift, Athena can help with the process of getting it ready for its first operation. This involves walking through fluid levels, starting warm up cycles so that the machine is thermally stable and listening to messages from the previous operator regarding situations that may have occurred during the last production shift that could be helpful to you.

Job Setup
If you run jobs that require complex part setups, you’ll want Athena in your corner. For example, she can display embedded media attachments that show step-by-step instructions on how to prepare a fixture or orient a raw casting into a fixture for machining. With Athena as their partner, less experienced operators can step up and pitch in when needed (sick colleague, rush order, etc.). This eliminates downtime and keeps production schedules on time as well as providing education for the fill-in worker.

Machine Maintenance
It’s great if you have a maintenance crew on call right in your shop. If not, routine maintenance is often overlooked and can be the cause of machine failure and repair. Having Athena notify operators of preventative maintenance timeframes and guide them through a checklist periodically can impact the uptime and longevity of the machine tool.

Machine Recovery
Do you know what to do if the chip augers or chip conveyor get jammed while in operation? Athena can provide a checklist that instructs you where to look to isolate the problem and give guidance on recovery procedures so you can continue operations instead of making a service call. This can be applied to any recovery function your machine may have built in. Tool changer, pallet changer, etc.

Sky’s the Limit
Machine tool manufacturers can program other types of checklists based on their end users’ requirements. These can be complex to allow veteran machinists to maximize ROI by leveraging the complex features that come with today’s machine tools, or they can be simple to help novices become productive faster.

“Our programmers are constantly working with machine tool manufacturers on new projects,” Requarth said. Checklists under development include workflow ability, yes/no variations which will flow to a new set of items depending on the responses given by the operator, and end user single tool kits. Also in development is a program that will allow Athena to alert a supervisor if a step in a checklist is skipped.

So, why fly solo when you can have Athena by your side guiding you through both simple startups and complex setups? If you have any questions, you can ask her yourself. Just visit Contact Us on our website.

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