Voice recognition technology is poised to become a major driver in the transformation of machine tool usage. This at least, is the prediction offered at the International Manufacturing Technology Show of 2018. Some of the leading machine tool builders in the world have already developed voice recognition technology which works with several different machine tool models.
For most of the world, voice recognition technology provides a hands-free way of carrying out control and information display functions, interacted between one operator and one machine. It also provides a means of accessing CNC information which might otherwise only be accomplished by navigating through a CNC interface, to discover information like maintenance history or machine settings.
Practical uses of voice recognition technology
These benefits are expected to help novice operators as well as skilled machinists to bring about greater efficiency and specific kinds of control, thus freeing up their time and allowing them to concentrate on more complex tasks. The next logical step for voice recognition technology will be implementing the same interface for all machine tools, regardless of control or brand.
Eventually, the human machine interface (HMI) which is voice-activated, should be able to provide access to the complete shop floor network, with predictive maintenance applications, solid connectivity for machine monitoring, process control documentation, and interfacing with ERP systems. In fact, the voice recognition technology to make all this happen is already in existence, and all that’s necessary is to find effective ways of integrating it with software applications and production equipment that controls actions on the shop floor.
Industry-standard voice-activated HMI
Global manufacturer Makino has thus far been one of the voice recognition HMI technology firms leading the charge toward development of a voice-operated assistant designed for manufacturing work. Makino calls its assistant Athena, which is intentionally very similar to Alexa, although it can do far more than play music and tell you the weather forecast. The goal for Athena is to become the industry-standard voice-activated HMI for a broad range of manufacturing production machinery.
The company hopes that its assistant will be adopted by a great many other companies for the purpose of achieving high levels of interoperability, as well as shop floor data integration. Athena is a human-machine interface which uses basic voice commands to carry out machine functions. It consists of a headset equipped with shop noise-canceling features, and software which runs on a notebook PC. Athena’s operator would use a microphone for issuing commands and asking questions, including any reasonable command or question relevant to a particular job or machine.
The big picture on voice-recognition technology
For today, Athena represents the summit of voice-recognition technology, with regard to operating machine tools. In the very near future, it is likely that an entire shop floor will be connected wirelessly, so that one operator can interact with any number of machines on the floor. Eventually, it is anticipated that several headsets will be used to accomplish a variety of different tasks within the shop, and with different employees having various levels of access to query machines or to command them, according to their job functions.
One key aspect of standardizing voice-recognition technology is how quickly and universally the Athena model could be adopted by manufacturers around the world. Early results in this regard are very encouraging, with several major manufacturers already on board, and using Athena to interact with their machine tools. That makes it much more likely that voice-recognition technology can develop at a fast pace, and provide tremendous returns for those companies which have implemented it.
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