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It has recently been reported that software technology used to operate the United States’ nuclear arsenal is still kept on 5.25″ floppy disk drives. The common refrain heard is why change a system if we know it works well? Fiddling with the software that launches nuclear missiles could end up creating problems far worse than running software that is decades old.
Notably, manufacturers are using similarly outmoded technology, equivalent to the rotary phone or manual typewriter when there are obviously better technologies available. In tightly controlled industries like aerospace or pharma, companies tend to stick with what has been working rather than going through a fresh round of testing.
Computer Numerical Contorl (CNC) Machines
Some companies buy new parts but run them using old legacy systems, in the process losing the opportunity to take advantage of advanced features of new software that would save money without being expensive to implement.
As we might imagine companies with deeper pockets and a longer term vision often are the first to implement new technologies. For example, Apple computers now produces higher-quality computer components using cutting-edge Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining as it has sought to ramp up production for its popular smart phones and to improve manufacturing turnaround times.
CNC’s do the work of manufacturing complex parts through the use of software programs and machine tools. CNC is used in lathing, milling, grinding, drilling and other processes.
These processes are automated using computer aided design (CAD) data or other programming software so that parts can be manufactured quickly and accurately. CNC machines use three different types of controllers: desktop, pendant and pedestal.
Versatility Of GE PLCs & CNC Technology
PLC and CNC operated “robots” are now used in a variety of industries and applications.
Hospitals, for example, are using these robots to perform surgery, distribute medicine, manage inventory and stocks, handle hospital linens, assist in delivering food to patients and performing x-rays. These robots navigate using PLC programs and radar to help them navigate the layout of hospital hallways and patient rooms. Automated “RX-Robots” can store over 20,000 different doses of medication and keep track hundreds of millions of prescriptions. And of course, robots operate around the clock and seldom need “breaks.”
Having the experience to implement this new paradigm of operation using these new technologies is not always available in house, but putting off upgrades means less efficient cycle times and part accuracy.