CNC Choices: Hardware Versus User Interface

Some of the most powerful equipment has hard-to-use controller software. What does that mean for the buyer and operator? April 29, 2012

I had a Techno Router that was a mid-range iron and was good to cut my teeth on with a CNC. I had the opportunity to upgrade to some heavy iron and purchased a 2007 Anderson Stratus Pro.

Has Anderson upgraded the interface since 2007? The interface in comparison to the Techno interface is not even a fair fight. The Techno software backplots is easy to update, offsets and everything else as it's all GUI interface. With the Anderson I feel like I am programming an old IBM x86 with Fortran punch cards. We have an Anderson at the Voc tech school locally, and now I understand why they barely ever use it. Is it just me or am I missing something?

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor M:
It is not just you. The Andersonís (Omnitech) are nice machines, and a good piece of hardware. There is a lot about the design of these I like: the location of the electronics cabinet, durability of the machine, the integration of the tool changer and drill bank right off, touch tool, and especially the service. What the fanuc control does not do well is interface with humans. It is strictly the fanuc control software you are using. No slick easy GUI is provided, at least none I know of, and it is sorely needed on these machines in my opinion.

The last I used one was a 2002 built machine in 2006, but I do not believe they have improved it. Just finding and calling a sheet to run is tough. This control was originally developed for machine tools, and there are a lot of them out there. I really do not understand why the interface is clunky.

From contributor I:
Are you using the Fanuc BOP or SOP interface to manage your file schedule, work and tool offsets? If not, you may want to contact Anderson and see about getting that running on the machine pc. We have been using the BOP since 2003 and I have seen the SOP on earlier models. Anderson didn't use it back then, but I think they do now. I still prefer to use Fanuc over anything else, there is way more control over machine movements using good CAM software.

From contributor C:

We ordered our second Anderson and we specifically did not want the PC based Fanuc interface. I would say, once you get used to the Fanuc it's like a rock. We have a PC next to each machine and networked and use AlphaCam. It's a great setup for us. However, we rarely use Nested base features. We just store programs and run them or do custom programs for one-of projects.

From contributor M:
I do not recall if the machine I used ran BOP or SOP. I ran Alpha Cam and Cabinetware to create files. The fanuc control was capable of everything, true, but what my issue with it was doing simple things, like calling a sheet to run were difficult and time consuming.

For example, instead of treeing through "windows explorer like", or a similar interface that supported long filenames and point and click, the fanuc interface required you to tree through a "DOS like" structure to arrive at a directory and if you wanted the 57th file in a directory of 100 files, only nine filenames were accessible at a time, and you had to flip through seven screens at 10 to 15 seconds per flip to arrive at your file.

Yes you can access and change every parameter conceivable, and do anything under the sun with rock solid assurance, but understanding the system and especially calling a file was truly painful.

From contributor C:
If you need to call a file on your Fanuc, turn the selector switch to 'edit', 'program', 'Oxxxx' (Letter O and file number, leading zeros not needed), and 'arrow up'. That takes about two seconds and assumes you know the program number. I do agree that Fanuc is more DOS like that we are used to these days.

From contributor I:
To contributor M: I don't think you used either the SOP or the BOP. With either, you can add a program to the schedule using explorer to select the file, just like any other windows file on the hard drive of the PC. The files can be named anything you want, as long as there are no illegal windows characters. The file name does not need an O followed by numbers, like in the old days. There seems to be a lot of confusion on how router manufacturers set up their machines, and run the programs. With the BOP or SOP, you drip feed the program from the hard drive, not from memory. The downside is you can't run macros (at least the way mine is set up), but you can run any sub programs that exist in memory.

From contributor M:
To contributor C: See that is what I mean, it assumes you know the file name, like you would if you ran the same program 1000 times, like a machinist normally would. It also requires you tree to the directory slowly and expects you use the same directory all day, like a machinist would. I ran two files from this job, eight files from that job, and four from the next, just before a coffee break and it was painful.

Contributor I - I really do not remember BOP or SOP, it could have been either, or neither, and I seem to remember an O being involved, but it was four years ago. I do remember specifically asking the tech about other interfaces and being told no, none were available. Files were able to be drip fed using DNC or Direct Numeric Control. The interface was very powerful and capable, if you spent the time to learn it, it was just so slow, clunky, and arcane that I was very surprised there was not a simpler more intuitive interface. Maybe now there is, my info may be out of date.

From contributor I:
To contributor M: Correct. The BOP lets you schedule DNC operation. The way we have it set up here, it is not slow, we can run programs that are over a million blocks of code if we need to, never have to delete programs from memory, and easily manage the offset registry for work units and tools. I have run routers since we punched tape, so I do remember some of the bad old days. It seems that there really is no industry standard on how to manage files or router set up when using Fanuc controls.

I have checked out lots of shops over the years, and it seems that no one has identical set ups, even when the machine type and manufacturer is the same, or nearly the same. If nothing else, it keeps it interesting. Seems like just when you think you've learned enough German to have a conversation, everyone starts speaking French.

From contributor C:
We have 1000's of programs in our shop. We manufacture products on a JIT schedule with a two week lead time including finish and boxing. So we get a lot of different programs in before coffee break also. You just need an index on paper or a data base on the PC next to our CNC and you can find the number of your program in a second.

From contributor D:
I read through the posts on the Fanuc with a great deal on interest. I can only make the following comments.

1. The control architecture for the Anderson machines is a dual CPU. One CPU for the Fanuc and Control system and one for a fiber optic link to the PC.

2. Anderson has some custom GUI interfaces for specific industries that use a VB interface directly to the PC, but they normally industry or application specific (Solid Surface, etc.)

3. Anderson is considered an industrial level machine and many large scale Anderson customers use a direct bar code interface on their Anderson machine. These files are pulled in many cases from corporate data bases over the internet and the Fanuc interface is used for simple tasks. The GUI is not a significant part of the process. This is becoming true even in the smaller shops.

4. I find the Fanuc GUI easy to use and have operated all levels of CNC machines from PC interfaces to fully automated systems. GUI's are a bit subjective, however do not make the mistake of considering the Fanuc Control out of date. The Fanuc control and movement algorithms are the best in the industry. It can be easily coupled to the new automated label and automatic feed CNC machines. My suggestion is to carefully describe your application to Anderson and determine the correct interface. This would include:

BOP Basic Operating Package
Machine to Screen
Database driven

From contributor J:
I have been an Applications engineer for the past ten years for Diversified Equipment and Supply. I do not claim and will not claim to know everything there is about CNC Router. We have sold many brands, for the past six years we have sold and integrated Anderson CNC and Omnitech routers. I have always installed and trained the customers in the use of the Fanuc BOP, as it allows for a windows based environment. I can generally have someone trained in less than a day of navigating through the BOP windows. I also use and integrate the DNC or DOMP scheduler, this a Fanuc option that is included with most of the machine s we sell, however Anderson does not turn that feature on at the factory. The DNC scheduler allows the user to load multiple programs in a matter of seconds, not minutes.

I have also developed many bar codes as an application for the Anderson Machines. My Job as a application engineer is to make running the machine as easy for the end user as I can. I look at from an operations stand point not a technical stand point, this why my customers are usually low maintenance once the system is in and in operation.

From contributor I:
That is the missing piece. With Anderson, the BOP option is not purchased by the factory, and thus not available on their stock machines. I would consider that unacceptable, but it sounds like Contributor D has alternate GUI's available if I read his post correctly. Either way, the easier it is to write code to the machine, pull it up, and execute the program, the easier and more efficient the end user is.

From the original questioner:
I didn't expect so much spirited discussion on this issue. In the end I understand why the system is the way it is, and the machine is rock solid. I am using MasterCam Router Pro, so I am not programming on the machine. The ability to backplot new programs is an important missing capability, it helps avoid impacts or mistakes.

Contributor D - in the end it is not fair to say for an industrial level machine it has to be tedious to use. I have worked with PLCís, many types of robots, oddform insertion machines, and HAAS milling machines, million dollar Fuji SMT lines and CNC's. I've had difficulty working through the interface. Imagine someone who is not as technically savvy.

The reality is that most of all of the above products interface software is continually improved to be more intuitive and easy to use for the operator. As a company owner this is an important part of the purchasing decision process. It affects the installation and operator investment cost. In addition it leaves you weak if the operator makes a job change. It also lengthens new product development cycles.

We are in the midst of a quiet revolution in CNC usage. With companies like Shopbot, Techno, Camaster and even the Rockler Shark making it so available to the common woodworker it gets easier and easier to use these machines. In fact I know of at least three set designers in CA that make sets for shows like Stargate that are using multiple Shopbots. A smart owner would replace these with a larger, faster more capable CNC, but why if the transition is hard?

The reason Anderson should listen to this, is that is in two-three years I will probably want another CNC and CR Onsrud's interface is a lot cleaner for a very similar machine (another discussion in itself). Why would I choose the interface that is less intuitive and harder to learn?

From contributor D:
We have been using the Syntech control on the Omnitech/Anderson machines both in the US and Worldwide. It is Windows and Windows CE based. It has nice backploting features and is pretty easy to use. We have not given up on easy to use.

From the original questioner:
To contributor D: When was this change made? Are older systems upgradable?

From the original questioner:
Three years ago overseas, the last year and a half in the US. There are about 600 units in the field.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor T:
I have used an Omnitech since 2007 with the Fanuc controller. I have always pulled programs off a thumb drive using DNC. The thumb drive is put in a book with all of the sheets being machined. It is taken to the CNC, plugged in, and then you are off to the races. This is very simple and we program screen to machine with Cabinet Vision/BobCAD/CAM/Vetric. It is a very dependable machine. The only thing I would have added would be a bar code scanner as all of our programs are printed with a bar code. Then the code so you would scan the code and the program would be loaded.