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Operator-Friendly Controls from CI

Sometime around the turn of the century, we noticed something. The existing CNC controls used on our equipment had some major limitations. Setting up programs, and the restricted naming conventions behind those programs, got frustrating in a hurry. On top of that, program memory was an issue. Our customers often asked how many programs they could store, but we knew they were limited on a CNC control.

Customers craved an easier solution that overcame some of those problems. And so, we set out to create a PC-based control that made CI machine tools easier to set up, program and repeat those programs when needed.

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“We actually brought existing CI operators from our customer-base together and asked them what they’d like the control to do,” said Todd Kirchoff, Product Manager of Vertical Motion Products. “How should it work? What makes the most sense for American operators?”

In the end, symbols with buttons were replaced by universal terms that were easy to understand. A touchscreen interface was implemented, which was truly revolutionary at the time. Plus, we incorporated the ability to leave detailed notes, useful project tips and even PDF attachments or videos to improve repeatable results.

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The perks of in-house development
“The controls are a combination of off-the-shelf components and developed in-house components,” said Greg Wilson, Director of Service. “We have our own circuit board manufacturing area, complete with soldering oven and stenciling machine, allowing us to produce the circuit boards in-house. That gives us the ability to control the process completely because we’re both the designer and the producer. Over time we’ve worked toward a modular design to promote consistency in controls across product lines.

The biggest item on the to-do list when installing a new CI machine is acclimating customers to the new control. A couple options are available for control training. First, the CI service technician gives a demo of the features on-site at the customer’s facility. If it’s a larger group that needs more in depth training, they can get 2-4 days of classroom and hands-on learning, either at their facility or at our CI headquarters in Harrison, Ohio. 

The light bulb moment.
Both Kirchoff and Wilson were at CI when the PC-based control was developed, and both knew they had something special on their hands, especially in the way of speed.

“I took two machines side-by-side and wrote a program,” Kirchoff said. “The number of keystrokes it took to write it on the new control was roughly a tenth of what it was with the old control. It was so helpful having the operators as a focus group so they could tell us how the screen should be laid out.”

“Going to a touchscreen was huge,” said Wilson. “But probably the biggest thing I noticed was the intuitive control, and we’ve tried to maintain that over the years. As we add improvements and advance features, we never lose sight of the ultimate goal of ease-of-use. Something that used to take ten minutes to program now takes two. And operators can be completely proficient in a matter of hours.”

Want to know more about CI’s proprietary PC-based control? Visit us here.