Special Report How design can simplify the operation of machine tools

Author / Editor: Claudia Otto / Eric Culp

Editor Claudia Otto from our sister publication MM Maschinenmarkt looks at purpose-oriented design, which can simplify the operation of machine tools by easing the demands on users to ultimately improve processing.

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Coordinate measurement machines from the Wenzel Group use design to guide the actions of operators.
Coordinate measurement machines from the Wenzel Group use design to guide the actions of operators.
(Source: The Kaikai Company)

Machine tools today are typically characterised by their high complexity. In order to reduce this for the operator, it is important to review the set targets right at the beginning, according to Jürgen Schmid, industrial designer and CEO of Design Tech in Ammerbuch, Germany. “For whom and for what does simplification at which point bring economically relevant benefits? For the user during operation? In service? In the training process?” he asked. Schmid said the answer is clear: “Operation, ergonomy, and handling are the first and the central tasks of the designer.”

Improving usability for the customer, and ultimately the shop

In the end, it’s all about the client, Schmid said. “We want, and demand from ourselves, economically relevant benefits for our customers.” The firm has thus developed the innovation strategy design into a success. “With this tool we can produce, methodically and with clear targets, useful simplifications,” he added. Before the team at Design Tech starts a project, it observes and asks the opinion of operators.

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“In combination with a video analysis, our customers are repeatedly surprised how the workers risk their health, and sometimes even their lives, by very risky actions. This misguided behaviour can be ruled out by targeted measures taken on the machine tool,” Schmid explained. The example of the Kadia HMC 100 control panel designed by Design Tech shows that, by unification and a process-specific operator structure on the user interface, familiarisation times and operator errors can be reduced.

With a modular system of operator units, manufacturing and logistics costs are reduced substantially, according to Schmid. “To take a concrete example, a customer reduced training times by 30% using a intelligent simplification concept.” With smart solutions, it is possible to guarantee, without rebuilding or dismantling, that container and pallet dimensional tolerances are kept, and thus bring down the logistics costs. “A highly complex machine structure with high quality, precise inner technical workings is given clear structures and a quickly graspable allocation system with the aim of significantly reducing the starting threshold for users and service personnel,” Examples are said to be the super-finish machines Cenflex and Race from Supfina Grieshaber, which, according to Schmid, were praised by specialist reviewers on their introduction to the market for the ease and security with which they can be mastered. With the Makino F8/F9, a well thought-through user-oriented machine structure and cladding concept simplified and accelerated access for the user and for crane loading, the designer noted.

Communication between man and machine in focus

Intuitive operator control is the goal the designer firm The Kaikai Company, in Munich, has set for itself. Tim R. Wichmann, marketing director and executive partner, added an explanation: “Communication between man and machine is becoming an increasing priority with products of growing complexity. A transparent design guides the user and shows him where an operational intervention must take place, can take place, or is unnecessary.”

Orientation by means of an intelligent design is said to help the user clearly identify where he is working on the machine and where the process itself is taking place without long familiarisation. “As in a modern car engine, one can select the actions of the user and control autonomously. Here a shaped cover shows clearly, for example, where only oil and water can and may be added. All other options are ruled out by the design,” Wichmann said.

This can also be seen in the new Kaikai design of the coordinate measurement machines of the Wenzel Group. “In the process, the measurement and work area is shown to the user via a number of elements and details. The flap on the gear-tooth measurement machine is a fifth surface, inclined towards the user, which invites him to approach and indicates the working area,” according to Wichmann.

This is underlined by the CI cutout, an element which constantly recurs in the firm’s colour on all newly designed products of the Wenzel Group. This cutout marks the area in which the measurement takes place. Christian Jaeger, creative director and executive partner at Kaikai, explained the concept. “Independent of the size of the machine in each case, this cutout always represents the heart, the precise measurement, and thus has a dual function: it helps to imprint a recognisable characteristic, thus communicating the brand, and also provides clear orientation for the user,” explains

Efficacy of machining is dependent on the user

Complexity, however, applies not only to the machines themselves, but also to the production environment, according to Wichmann. “In order to take into account the requirements of customers around the globe and the corresponding factory regulations, the system provider MAG has adopted a flexible approach to the design of its machines and systems. With the EMO Design-Body-Kit announced for the EMO (metalworking fair in Hannover, Germany), MAG leaves room for specific requirements.”

This allows the customer to decide for or against the design option, and the design kit is open for the relevant colour regulations, automation interfaces and the like. “It is also important here to take an in-depth look at the multiple additional functions and analysis options that make a machining process more effective,” the designer explained. “This efficacy is always influenced by the user.”

In order to relieve the increasing workload on operators, and Wichmann said there is a need for new ergonomic solutions. He announced that “MAG will present a control console concept which is a response to the increased demands regarding simulation, CAM or interconnection to production and resource planning or to training software.”

In the opinion of the designer Dominic Schindler, founder of the Dominic Schindler Creations GmbH (DSC), in Lauterach, Austria, the high complexity of machine tools is often due to the fact that products are not primarily developed for the operator, but for efficiency in production or for simplification of component purchase. “Although these aspects should never be completely left out of consideration, there will be a clear move in the coming years in favour of development for the operator,” Schindler predicted. Operation will, in his view, become more logical, more intuitive and therefore simpler.

Operator codes for the all-round experience

Asked how the design can simplify concretely the operation of the machine, Schindler answered that “it is not merely a matter of making three buttons into one. Ultimately, the user must feel an all-round experience that may perhaps consist of making three buttons into four. As long as the operator is faster as a result and feels better, the goal has been achieved.” A discipline that is apparently becoming more and more important is not only to plan the hardware, but also to have intuitive use and design of software surfaces.

“We often have to smile when time is spent in making a machine by one second. Up till now, however, no one in machine construction has thought seriously about how the operator can become faster,” Schindler observed. DSC, with its Interaction Design department, suggested it that it has an answer. “This department is concerned exclusively with man-machine communication and attempts to connect the functions of the machine with the logic of man and thus to simplify,” he said.

Good design eliminates operator error

An example is the software for Fette Compacting or Bystronic. These were new developments by DSC. Schindler said it was not just a matter of colours and shapes – as most people mistakenly expect from a designer. “Attention was paid mainly to the operating sequences and the simplicity of operating the software surface. During development, it was repeatedly interesting to see that the operator never used certain functions, or that he had absolutely no idea that certain functions existed at all. This was due simply to the fact that the classical operator in our world today is no longer prepared to read through handbooks for days in order to use a very simple function,” Schindler said.

DSC therefore wishes to continue not only making the product itself an experience, but increasingly hopes to also develop software surfaces for customers for which the operator no longer needs long, drawn-out preparatory reading or familiarisation. “In future, he will be able to operate simply the software developed by us. This saves time and simplifies daily work – as with modern smartphones,” the designer explained.