Virtual Machine Tool

By Markus Erlmann

Are you fascinated of the simulation of a complex machine? I am. Ten years ago I started as a Product Manager for our machine tool simulation solution. During that time we emulated the machine controller and controlled the virtual machine on the computer. Using an emulated machine controller was an issue as not the full functionality of the controller was available.

This year at the EMO in Milan (Italy) Siemens presents the next step of the virtual machine tool. Together with our customer Index Werke and our colleagues from Siemens Drive Technology we developed the virtual machine which connects the virtual and physical world.

But why did we do that? The process and technological issues machine tool vendors and end users face today are several ones:

  1. Similar to a computer, a machine tool requires a program to know what to do. This is called NC-program (for numerical control program) and is also known as G-code. Once this program is finished you need to ensure, that it can run without collisions and is doing the job you expected.

  2. While switching from one job to the next one you need to setup the machine for the new work piece. This require tool changes and adjustments of the fixtures. For complex machining operations this can take a day to a day and a half during which the machine is not producing anything.

  3. Once these steps are done, how do you know that the NC program is the most optimal one? From a pilot test at one of our customers it turned out that we were able to reduce the overall production time of a part by nearly 5 percent by optimizing the tool path.

Compared to previous solution, today we are using the real SINUMERIK controller to control the 3D machine model in the simulation. This allows our customers to use 100 percent of the machine and controller functions during the simulation to validate the NC program. The simulation visualizes the material removal, checks for collisions and shows the tool path. We are even able to use the same user interface display on the virtual machine as on the real SINUMERIK controller. This means the user can interact with the virtual machine in a similar way as using menus on the real controller.

The optimization of the setup process can now be done on a personal computer instead of blocking the real machine tool. Mr. Eberhard Beck, Head of Electronic Control Systems at Index reports a reduction of 80 to 90 percent of the setup time. Being able to use the virtual machine where before the real machine would have been tied up on preparation tasks is one of the biggest savings.

The video provide more insights about the virtual machine technology, a complete one-to-one copy of a machine tool on a computer with full virtual SINUMERIK controller.

For additional information about the virtual machine tool go to the product page or have a look at the recent press release “Siemens to Showcase Joint PLM and Production Systems Solutions for Machine Tool Industry at EMO Milano 2009” which includes a statement from the ARC Advisory Group.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at