A job or production shop with a ton of orders is a great thing. It means lots of CNC machines that need to be set up for new jobs. But then your best (or maybe your only) setup guy calls in sick. What do you do now?

Wait until the experienced operator comes back? In today’s pandemic environment, that could take days or even weeks and your customers can’t or won’t wait.

Have an inexperienced operator try to set the job up? A risky move that may do nothing but fill up the scrap bin.

Especially during COVID-19, this scenario is not hard to imagine. But if you had the foresight to have Athena, the first voice-operated assistant specifically designed for manufacturing, installed on your CNC equipment, your machining operation can move ahead without a glitch. With Athena’s help, even inexperienced employees can prepare, select, setup and run jobs.

How It Works

The potential roadblocks that an inexperienced operator might encounter when setting up a new job on a machine are countless. They could set you back days, depending on the problems that arise. It’s a frustrating situation for everyone involved. But don’t worry. Athena’s got this. Just punch in the password (Athena’s data can be password-protected so you can control the level of access in the shop), put on the headset and power on the machine.

OPERATOR: “Okay Athena, open startup checklist.”

Athena will walk your operator through all the necessary steps to make sure the machine is in ready-to-go condition. Checking air pressure gauges, way-lube levels, coolant levels, the pH balance of the coolant, how to clear any resident alarms; Athena will remind you and if you need more details, walk you step by step through each item to make sure every single one is completed.

OPERATOR: “Okay Athena, open traveler for job number xxx-xxxx.”

Typically, travelers (or job jackets) are a set of paper documents that “travel” from station to station for each job. They contain parts drawings, fixture drawings, customer order details, quality control parameters, etc. The problem is, paper documents can be lost, torn or obsolete by the time they reach your station.

With Athena, all of this information can be digitized and stored for easy access right at the machine tool. Digital documents ensure you’re looking at the correct versions (they may have been revised since the last time you ran this production part). Your ERP data can be imported into Athena as well.

OPERATOR: “Okay Athena, show me the part drawing.”

Not only will Athena show you the latest part print, but you will also be able to pinch and zoom into critical features and dimensional data, much like a smart phone. Not limited to part drawings, Athena can also show you images of the set-up, work holding, tooling required, finished parts and even raw stock for reference.

Notes on how that stock gets positioned into the fixture for different operations can be provided, too. Torque wrench setting information for clamping your stock can be noted. If it’s too much for Athena to explain, a pre-recorded guidance video of the fixture setup can be made accessible to avoid operator error.

OPERATOR: “Okay Athena, show me tooling data.”

Athena can be configured to have access to all the tool data stored in the CNC, so there is a variety of information that can be called up. Athena can check to see if the proper tooling is available in the tool magazine for the part program you want to run. If you need to add tooling to your machine for the job, Athena can tell you where it is stored so you don’t have to waste time searching (“T4 is in Tool Boss J12”).

OPERATOR: “Okay Athena, walk me through spindle probe and tool pre-setter calibration.”

Part measurement utilizing a spindle probe and tool pre-setting offerings from major metrology manufacturers like Renishaw, Blum and others save a ton of time and improve quality and throughput. Athena’s ability to guide and train less experienced machinists will help them calibrate, measure and assist in assigning the correct values into tool and work offsets.

OPERATOR: “Okay Athena, warm up spindle/machine.”

If your machine has a high RPM spindle or your job requires that all axes be warmed up in order to hold tight machining tolerances, Athena has you covered. This seems like a simple command, but often there are multiple steps a machinist must take to get the machine ready to run. Athena can run through these sometimes long and repetitive sequences while your machinist is completing preparations to run the job.

OPERATOR: “Okay Athena, run CNC program.”

After confirming which CNC program to run, you can instruct Athena to run in single block mode since you’ve just set up your machine. Cycle start (some machines may require you to press manually) can be automated with verbal confirmation through Athena, with the use of a name signature and timestamp.

Those are the elements related to Job Setup. After you’ve confirmed the program through single block mode, you’re ready to run production. But the job certainly doesn’t end there. Athena is your QC Manager as well, stopping after a batch of parts are completed and reminding you that they need to be inspected. Once inspected, Athena can handle the administrative work of cataloging that data and can assist in traceability functions as well.

Athena is Standing By

Athena-equipped machine tools are capable of taking your shop to the next level – not only with the ability to assist the operator, but to facilitate a workflow from MRP to QC.

Athena can boost the performance of the entire shop by having the most experienced operator set up a job and leave tips for Athena to relay to the next operator, who may not have the same level of expertise. Best practices, settings, instructions and up-to-date job information are stored in Athena’s memory so each job setup is standardized without relying on post-it notes that can fall off the machine and easily be lost.

There are many, many more scenarios where Athena can save the day. In fact, it won’t be long before no shop would even think of beginning operations without having Athena on hand.

If you would like more information on how Athena can simplify job setups and keep your production going even when key talent is unavailable, click here to Contact Us.

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