Pat Boland, co-founder of ANCA talks about electric vehicle manufacturing, their new motor temperature control technology, and his outlook for the year. Article by Stephen Las Marias.
Founded in 1974, ANCA is one of the leading manufacturers of CNC grinding machines, motion controls, and sheet metal solutions. The company has manufacturing plants in Melbourne, Australia, and in Rayong, Thailand, as well as offices in the UK, Germany, China, India, Japan, Brazil, and the United States.
Pat Boland is the co-founder and joint managing director of ANCA. In an interview with Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News (APMEN), he talked about how their industry has changed over the past decades, trends driving the cutting tool industry, and the latest technologies in CNC machines.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MILESTONES THAT THE COMPANY HAS HAD OVER THE YEARS?
Pat Boland (PB): It’s been an interesting 45 years that ANCA has been operating, starting with some very simple four-axis machines, up to complex multi-axis machines today.
One of the key enablers for our machines is software. ANCA has pioneered several aspects of CNC tool, cutter and grinder technology, and in particular, key software features. We were the first company to integrate in-machine measurement using a probe—measuring the geometry of the cutting tool and adapting the program to regrind it.
We were the first to introduce full 3D simulation, which generates an accurate 3D model of the tool to be produced. This revolutionised the operation of machines because previously, people had to grind the part, look at it, and then make adjustments. With the simulation, it is possible to completely do that offline and be very confident of what you are going to produce in the machine.
ANCA is known for its innovation. We have our own unique form of servo motors to drive all our machines. We call them tubular linear motors—the introduction of which increased our technological capabilities significantly.
ONE OF YOUR NEW PRODUCTS, THE GCX LINEAR, IS TARGETED FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES (EV). HOW DO YOU SEE THE DEVELOPMENT IN THIS SECTOR?
PB: There are many changes in the sector, which have broad impacts in the wider industry. The pending move to EVs is one of those items. In some ways, the machine tool industry is going to be affected very significantly by the simplification of the drive train of the EV compared to internal combustion engine. That will impact us in terms of demand for cutting tools.
However, there are some aspects in EV manufacturing, such as a large number of very accurate, small gears required for the electric gear boxes where efficiency is absolutely critical. Among those are the internal gears. Traditional methods of manufacturing internal gears such as shaper cutters are relatively slow and have geometrical limitations. But an old concept, called skiving, is becoming very popular to manufacture these internal gears.
However, the difficulty with skiving is that every gear design requires a special cutter design, and for Class A, AA cutters, the accuracy of the cutters is extraordinarily tight.
The GCX is based on our TX7, but we have undertaken several developments such as improving the accuracy and efficiency of the machine for manufacturing skiving cutters. With software, we have a complete solution for the design and simulation of the skiving cutters, and the actual simulation of the skiving process.
So, the cutter can be designed, and the actual grinding path for that design can be generated. On the machine, we have redesigned several elements to really step up the accuracy. There is a new headstock, a new dressing technology, and other technologies such as an acoustic emission monitoring system. We also have motor temperature control or MTC (patent pending), which we developed for skiving gear tool grinding, where we actively measure and control the temperature of all the rotary motors in the machine—the dressing spindles, the grinding spindles, the axis turning the cutter.
I am proud of MTC – our constant temperature spindle control because from an engineering point of view, it is very simple, but it has a big impact on the performance of the machine. And it is something different, and to my knowledge, something unique. Just by changing the firmware and the drive system for the spindle, we were able to hold the temperature, and really have quite a significant impact on the actual stability and performance of the machine. I think it is a breakthrough.
TELL US MORE ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY?
PB: What we did is, when you run an electric motor, by changing the parameters, you can change the losses in the electric motor. And by changing the losses in the motor, we can regulate the temperature. You set a set point, say 27 deg C: if the temperature is 26 deg C, the machine will deliberately increase the losses in the motor to heat it up until it gets to 27 deg C. Then, if the temperature is over, the machine can reduce the losses to regulate that temperature.
As far as I know, it is unique. The spindle is a key component. When you get a temperature rise, you will get dimensional variation in the position of the wheel, the grinding wheel, or the cutting tool. Maintaining a very accurate temperature improves the basic dimensional accuracy of the machine.
WHAT ARE ITS BENEFITS?
PB: Typically, you must warm up a machine by running it through a cycle to get to a working temperature. That takes around half an hour. With this technology, heating the spindle up can reduce that half an hour to maybe 10 minutes. That’s cost saving. And then of course, while you are grinding, you reduce the dimensional variation.
This offers users improved accuracy and stability. We are talking about lights out manufacturing. Everything you can do to keep things stable in that lights out environment is a benefit. We are currently using it in some of our machines: the CPX and GCX Linear. When this technology goes through the rest of our machines, I think it will be highly popular with our customers in terms of improved dimensional stability.
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THIS YEAR?
PB: By nature, I am always a bit of a pessimist, and there is a lot happening in the world to cause worry. But the world changes so quickly. China is such a large and diversified industrial market that I think business is going to be tougher there, but nevertheless, it will still be very significant business. Meanwhile, I see ASEAN countries still have a lot of opportunities for growth.
Overall, I expect probably a continuation of the cyclical downturn—but I don’t know how long that cycle is actually going to last. However, we will continue to provide innovative solutions for our customers who may be looking to diversify in response to market trends.
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