Machine Tool Builder Helps Retrofit Old Industrial PCs on Legacy CNC Machines

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For four decades, Komo Machine Inc. has been building high-speed CNC routers and mill machines used in many different types of industries, from large aerospace manufacturers to single-machine Mom & Pop job shops. Even though their machine tools can cut a variety of materials, such as plastic, wood and aluminum, their machine tools used to build parts for yachts and RVs have been taking off recently due to COVID affecting consumers’ vacationing habits.

To build their machines, Komo has almost exclusively used FANUC CNC Systems, from CNCs to servos to drives. They appreciate the quality and durability of FANUC products that power their machine tools for many years.

A number of years ago, their customers began asking about upgrading their older industrial PCs running Windows 95 and 2000. Because many of their customers still run machines that are a couple of decades old, they wanted to continue to use them, but needed to upgrade their operating system.

“They weren’t allowed to network their machines running on the older operating systems,” says John Pardi, Parts and Service Sales Manager for Komo.

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Many companies wanted to take advantage of connecting their machines with their network in order to run the machines from off the shop floor as well as analyze production data to make data driven decisions. However, because Microsoft discontinued support for older operating systems, these industrial PCs were not getting the security updates they needed to keep them secure. That’s an issue when connecting machine tool data with a larger network.

“In order to secure their sensitive data, they’d have to create a whole separate network,” Pardi says. “That was too much work for many of the smaller companies that don’t have big IT budgets or resources.”

Additionally, many of their customers were increasingly having problems finding spare parts to fix broken machines. If they did find the parts needed, it might take a few weeks to get them shipped.

“For single-machine shops, that means their machine might be down for six weeks, which means they aren’t producing any product for over a month. That kind of downtime threatens their business’ existence,” he says.

Even in situations where the machines are working, an outdated PC means using antiquated forms of memory storage, such as floppy disks, which can be difficult to find.

“We had one customer that would search Ebay for old floppy disks and would buy cases of them at a time,” says Pardi. “Typically, only about half of the floppies would work.”

This wasted valuable time and money. Komo upgraded this customer’s machine with a new FANUC industrial PC that could support a flash drive to import CAD/CAM files and part programs. This upgrade not only saved their customer time and money, it also boosted their efficiency.

“Being able to write programs in the office on a PC and not program on the machine helps boost production because it keeps the machine cutting,” says Pardi.

Additionally, a more automated system helps reduce the operator’s skill-level required if loading and editing programs is no longer necessary to run the machine. A part programmer can use a PC-based programming tool, such as FANUC’s CNC Guide, to prove out programs in a virtualized environment. That reduces the risk of making a mistake and ending up damaging an expensive machine tool.

“For single-machine shops, that means their machine might be down for six weeks, which means they aren’t producing any product for over a month. That kind of downtime threatens their business’ existence.”

Komo has been retrofitting industrial PCs on machine tools for a few years now, on average, about 15 annually. However, Pardi says there are a lot more machines out there in need of upgrades, which is why FANUC is working with the industry to provide a new Panel i Replacement Program.

“We estimate about 300-350 of our machines eligible for an upgrade are still in use with outdated operating systems,” he says. “Even some that already upgraded to Windows 7 a few years ago are upgrading to Windows 10.”

The increased security of Windows 10 IoT Enterprise operating system is one reason to upgrade, but the new OS also unlocks a large number of commercial applications and allows custom software applications to be developed.

For many Komo customers, retrofitting machine tools by upgrading to new FANUC industrial PCs has helped their bottom line and peace of mind—plus, allowed them to say goodbye to floppies!

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