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Interview with ANCA CNC Machines CEO Chris Hegarty

EPPM spoke with ANCA CNC Machines CEO Chris Hegarty to get the latest on the benefits of Industry 4.0, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What can you tell us about the future of tool making?

The toolmaking industry has always been subject to technological change, and the next revolution is here with more and more automation coming in to meet customer demands for efficiency gains.

Our customers continue to move towards ‘lights out’ manufacturing and increased automation. At ANCA, we have skills and experience in software and automation solutions that we can leverage, matching these to customers’ needs. 

Across the industry there is a shortage of skilled labour, limits on working hours, and increasing labour costs. This together with higher demand for quality control and tolerances means customers around the globe are looking to add automation beyond in-machine; they are moving towards automating their factories.

There is an increasing market for complex and advanced geometries in cutting tools. ANCA is responding to this with our Barrel Shape Ballnose (BSB) and tool balancing options. These features along with tool simulation using CIM3D and the ability to produce small batch sizes gives increased flexibility, particularly relevant to the die and mould industry.

The market is quite dynamic and constantly changing, more quickly today than before. Certainly no one predicted the scale of the current global pandemic.  Agility to respond to market changes will become more important than ever.

How is Industry 4.0 revolutionising what is essentially one of the world’s oldest industries? 

ANCA’s Integrated Manufacturing System (AIMS), opens people’s eyes to the possibilities that can be applied to manufacturing such as incorporating RFID technology and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). It is connectivity between equipment not just monitoring and interconnectivity of the design process.

Tools for cutting and grinding aren’t the latest idea, but some current trends show we’re entering a new, particularly exciting age. Industry 4.0 – including production trends such as robotics, networked machines and analytics, is on the minds of machine tool makers. There is demand for bringing new technology into a heritage industry.

AIMS is a solution that takes the components of Industry 4.0 such as automation, integrated data and networked machines and delivers it as a real-world solution that helps cutting tool manufacturers to improve efficiency and productivity.  

Customers and cutting tool end-users are driving this level of innovation in their mission to improve quality, accuracy and put their focus on more value-adding tasks.

With which software/computer companies did ANCA collaborate in order to develop this new technology?

MIR AGV’s fleet is a vital component of the AIMS ecosystem, providing smooth, on-time transport of tools between certain production stages. The handshake between AIMS and MIR is quite advanced and unique, linking two automated processes. For example, when a machine requires a pallet or individual tool to be delivered to a certain location, the system automatically schedules appropriate mission for the AGV.

We have been working closely with Zoller for many years to ensure their measurement machine and our software easily communicate with each other to simplify and improve tool measurement, wheel measurement, form measurement and compensation processes. This partnership provides key benefits to our customers by automating and refining the tool measurement process. Zoller have a tool measurement machine, that we have been working with them on, to develop tool measurement processes that are integrated into the ANCA machine to provide compensation feedback.

Beyond software integration, ANCA is working with Zoller so our systems of physical automation work together too. Due to this, our AutoFetch component of AIMS can interact with the automation system that Zoller will provide.

For ANCA’s range of grinding machines and applications, we develop our own software in-house. Around a third of our engineering department are software – it for us an area of expertise.

What could it mean for production capacity and your customers? 

AIMS works to eliminate or reduce non-productive machine time. There are two clear examples, the first is program and tool setup from one batch to the next. Normally an operator must manually remove finished tool pallets, replace them with the next batch and set up the next program. During this time the machine is idle (non-productive). AIMS lets pallets be setup offline and their program set to an embedded RFID chip, so when the pallet is delivered to the machine it can instantly start that batch, without requiring an operator to do this task on the machine.   

The second example is wait time between batches. Upon completion of a pallet of tools, the machine will sit idle until the operator arrives to change out the pallets with the next batch of tools. Using AIMS’ AutoFetch, a machine is never left waiting for its next pallet.  It will automatically take away completed tools in their pallets and replace them with the next planned batch.

For both examples, customers who want flexible small batch production, will see significant gains.  

In what ways does AIMS contribute to environmental/sustainability practices? 

AIMS can be run for ‘lights-out production’, enabling productivity without other running costs that impact the environment such as full lighting and heating costs. Additionally, AIMS delivers greater efficiency and less machine idle-time, meaning that it is a more energy efficient solution. 

The ability to run small batch production means a reduced energy output over a production run. Precise measurement means that there is less waste, and scrap is reduced due to accurate quality control processes using AIMS.

Where can interested parties observe these solutions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

A key objective of AIMS is automating manual, low value adding tasks normally done by people. Doing this not only reduces the cost of manufacturing but can ensure continuity of production at a time when COVID has interrupted the availability of operators to run production machines.  

We were due to launch AIMS at GrindTec in Germany. However, as this was not possible due to COVID-19, we launched virtually from our headquarters in Melbourne, Australia. Interested parties were able to join a live webinar for a product demonstration and ask real-time questions. We now have this demonstration available to view on-demand and a series of videos showing the system in action.

Which other major challenges has ANCA faced during 2020? 

Like most businesses globally, there have been reductions in demand and impacts from coronavirus. This is within the context of ANCA machine tools as a cyclical business generally. With our headquarters located in Melbourne, we have had strict lockdown restrictions for the best part of the year, with many staff working from home. Despite this, we have maintained production and continued to be able to provide sales and service support to our global customers – close to 99 per cent are outside Australia.

Challenges with our supply chain have been significant, however this has been mitigated by ANCA’s global locations to service our world-wide customers. We have not only launched AIMS as a new concept for extending tool production capabilities but have launched other new software features and machines. 

ANCA further demonstrated our versatility and pivoted to manufacturing ventilator components as part of a consortium, for an Australian government stockpile to be prepared for the impacts of coronavirus. 

What separates ANCA’s CNC machinery from other players in the sector? 

ANCA is vertically integrated and a major developer of technology that we sell around the world, not just our machines but also the components developed and sold by ANCA Motion. There’s a lot of potential for our technology in the broader market.  

ANCA is responsive to customers’ needs and offers true customisation for special projects. This is something unique to ANCA as a company that uses self-developed CNC systems. Our core competitiveness also stems from our innovative and independent research and development to adapt to market changes.

By virtue of competing on a global scale we have a strong brand and are widely acknowledged by customers as delivering the most advanced and innovative solutions in our sector. We are a global company with offices in locations including the UK, Germany, China, Thailand, India, Japan, Brazil and the US, as well as a comprehensive network of representatives and agents worldwide.   

For a technology company, innovation is key. We constantly innovate to bring first-to market technologies and to offer capabilities that our competitors cannot. 

We are strong in software; it is one of the key enablers for our machines and ANCA has pioneered some key software features such as full 3D simulation for tool grinding.

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