Siemens has advanced the gear-manufacturing industry by offering innovative CNC machine designs that take the machining process to the next level.

CNC machines have been a part of making quality gears for years, but it takes an innovative company to ensure that the technology remains state of the art and the best the industry has available.

Siemens provides advanced CNC controls for machine tools used in workshops, job shops, and large-series production.

“Siemens has been involved in the gear industry for decades, supplying our high-level CNC technology so critical for the precision and multi-axis movements inherent to gear production,” said John Meyer, marketing communications manager. “Few, if any other industries, present such challenges to the machine tool builder and suppliers of power transmission components. As the vast majority of gears are found in the automotive industry, machine builders grew up in tandem with this enormous global market.”

Siemens’ focus on advancing CNC machines for gear manufacturing has been a cornerstone of the company’s gear-related endeavors for a long time, according to Meyer.

“For many years, there was a focus on single machine technology, so the CNC was programmed to do basic blanking, then milling, hobbing, and other gear-tooth generation — followed by the shaving, grinding, and honing operations during the finishing process,” he said. “Today, with integrated machine cells, powdered metal, and, now, additive gearing, the CNC is required to perform so many functions while communicating the data produced for advanced quality control.”

An example of intricate gear scudding controlled by Siemens CNC. (Courtesy: Siemens)

Digital Twin technology

As part of that innovation, Siemens has been taking automation to the next level with its digital twin technology for CNC applications, according to Meyer.

“We want to remain adaptive and bring our new technologies such as full process simulation and the digital twin to the market, enabling more high-level production of gears, with shorter time to first part and, very critical, improved machine building for the suppliers to this dynamic industry,” he said.

Creating a digital twin of a machine tool can make a major contribution toward optimizing the engineering process of the machine builder. This is because the digital twin helps them perform process steps simultaneously — steps that, in the past, had to be performed one after the other. This ability can greatly expedite the overall process.

Put simply, the engineering of the automation can begin with a digital twin before the real prototype of a machine becomes available. This not only saves an enormous amount of time, but important insights can be discovered from the virtual engineering. Those discoveries can then flow back into the mechanical design. This ability keeps investments down by avoiding costly prototypes, and, in some instances, can eliminate those prototypes completely.

New ways to manufacture gears will make the need for CNC controls to monitor and record data even more crucial. (Courtesy: Siemens)

Solving customers’ challenges

Siemens’ Digital Twin technology will be a great help when it comes to helping its customers with their many challenges to gear manufacturing, according to Meyer, but it doesn’t stop there.

“Because of the vast amount of gear materials, shapes, sizes, and tooth configurations today, it is essential our application engineers work closely with the machine builders and gear manufacturers to combine our technologies with the emerging needs in the market,” he said. “One important point is that the open architecture of the Siemens control gives the machine builder the ability to modify or create custom cycles and HMI screens.”

That close collaboration Siemens has with machine builders to bring a better machine to market — namely to the end-customer — is something the company is quite proud of, according to Meyer.

“This includes the ability for a single CNC to run a multi-function gear machine with dozens of axes to produce a near-finished part, as well as the incorporation of customized CNC hardware automation and software,” he said. “I would like to add that Siemens was recently ranked No. 1 on Fortune magazine’s list for the Most Admired Companies in the Industrial Machinery category for the eighth straight year in a row.”

Machining of large batches of gear shafts. (Courtesy: Siemens)

Keeping builders’ needs in mind

An ever-evolving gear industry means that Siemens must remain in constant touch with the machine builders and anticipate their needs, according to Meyer. To that end, Siemens has been incorporating more advanced features into its machines to further streamline the manufacturing process.

“With the introduction of real-time metrology into the process, the CNC is being used as a communication portal, so to speak, between the machine tool and the metrology unit,” he said. “Essentially, a manufactured gear is being analyzed in comparison to the CAD file in real time, with compensatory adjustments made to the cutting parameters instantly. It is the first emergence of machine learning on the road to that ‘next big thing’ in gear manufacturing, namely, AI.”

The Sinumerik control platform

A perfect example of where Siemens’ advanced machine design becomes reality is with the company’s Sinumerik CNC, which is fast becoming a global standard in the premium class of machine tool controls, according to Meyer.

The Sinumerik CNC contains high-performance hardware and intelligent control algorithms, as well as premium-class drive and motor technology that make for a highly dynamic performance and machining precision.

Furthermore, the CNC can be optimally adapted to the machine’s technology. For instance, the operating system can be supplemented and adapted, or even robots and handling systems can be integrated.

Sinumerik, as well as other advances in Siemens’ CNC technology, will be integral to the gear-manufacturing process as the company looks to the future, according to Meyer.

“Several key trends beyond what’s been mentioned already include additive manufacturing,” he said. “This is where subtractive manufacturing is being replaced by the various additive methods in the market today with the corresponding challenges to the algorithms onboard our CNC, plus the critical need to maximize machine capacity utilization, whether in a machine shop or on the factory floors at multi-national companies.”

Advanced CNC controls

New ways to manufacture gears will make the need for CNC controls to monitor and record data even more crucial, according to Meyer.

“The ability of today’s CNC control to capture data, feed it through Edge technology and into the cloud, while prioritizing it and instantly returning corrective action to the machine or work cells, will make it possible for gear manufacturers to produce more with the machines on their shop floor and anticipate future workflow,” he said. “Utilizing this data brings manufacturers all of the advantages for reducing downtime and the planning of predictive maintenance.”