Meet Sophia

Sophia’s vital statistics are impressive, Chris Arend, commercial director of Intermac UK, explains, and she’s a dab hand at making sure your performance is Olympic Gold standard.

Wouldn’t it be great if machines never broke down? Sadly, they do. Machines are machines, they have moving parts that wear and components that have finite lifespans. Sooner or later – probably when you could most do without it – they’ll quit, your production will be disrupted, and you’ll be left explaining to your customer why they can’t have their order on time.

For many years, machinery manufacturers have been able to provide remote diagnostics, which in many cases will get you back up and running again with limited inconvenience, but what if the problem is more serious? What if a critical component has burned out? And worse, what if the component your machine can’t run without is out of stock? That’s when you might begin to wish you’d met Sophia.

Sophia has got her finger on the pulse 24/7; she’s totally dedicated to you, and her sole purpose in life is to keep you – or more accurately your machines – up and running at absolute peak. She’ll also help you avoid the breakdowns she knows bring you such deep joy.

Although the acronym means nothing comprehensible to any native English speaker, Sophia – the brainchild of Italian machinery company Biesse Group, of which Intermac is part – is an efficient cloud-based app that operates in real time and represents a leap forward in machine monitoring, problem-predicting, and downtime prevention.

In our industry (where the culture of maintenance so often lags behind most other sectors that employ CNC technology), it’s hard to escape the benefits of being informed of impending problems before they strike. Knowing there’s a system monitoring all your Intermac machines in the background (even your older models) that will ensure the part you are about to need is already in stock and waiting for you, and having the luxury of choosing downtime that suits your production schedule in which to organise the service call, will give you peace of mind and reduced stress.

That can only be further reduced by the knowledge that Sophia will help send the right engineer with the right experience (and the right part) to do the job.

The new Sophia IoT platform offers a wide range of services for simplifying and rationalising work management process, whether it’s service or production. In today’s age of data transfer it is critical to have access to the correct data, when you need it. I have a favourite saying – ‘without data, it is just an opinion’ – and IoT is the same; it enables the transfer of data from machines, devices and sensors, creating a transparent layer of information, allowing human intervention in the decision-making process. However, the truly exciting development will be the autonomous decision-making process of the future, without the need for human interaction.

Sophia is the evolution of the Industry 4.0; it’s about connectivity of machines. We can be in contact with any machine in the world and understand its condition. We can monitor the life of an electro spindle, for example, and if it’s going to fail, we can inform the customer, then send out an engineer who has the installation specialty to do the job most efficiently. Most engineers are usually either mechanically or electrically biased, so understanding the problem means we can send the right engineer.

The software that controls the machine enables the monitoring, so it’s already in every Intermac machine and it has been for years. In 2014 we started making components with built-in diagnostics. The systems are now in place so we can see the condition of drives, electro spindles, drill boxes and many other parts of the machine.

But there’s a lot more to Sophia than ensuring you don’t suffer breakdowns. She can also help you get the most out of your machines, even tell you if you’re not using the machine in the right way, or if you’re operating outside the design parameters. Sophia will also help calculate ‘overall equipment efficiency. We know when the machine is switched on, when it’s switched off, who’s operating it, when the program has started and when it’s finished, when a breakdown has occurred and for how long, when the changeover occurred, and how long it took.

We can tell the customer the true efficiency of the machine and even what the difference is between one operator and another. Sophia makes more use of the data that’s always been available inside Intermac machines. You just need the know-how to extract the information. There’s a text file generated inside every machine, even older machines. To make use of the information and benefit from the OEE calculations, you just need to collect the data through third party software, or make an excel spreadsheet.

Another advantage for Intermac users is that by monitoring machines from all around the world, Intermac is amassing a data bank that can be used for predictive manufacture of machine components – and that’s valuable information designers can also make good use of. Collecting statistics and data on spare parts usage, the parameters of key components can be monitored and, if there are regular orders outside the set parameters, Intermac engineers know they have an issue that designers need to eradicate in the component.

There’s been substantial investment in a new spare parts system to support Sophia, and a new website is being developed that will enable Intermac customers to identify and order parts on line if they wish.

With Sophia, we’re allowing customers to become leaner. Lean advantages are a big thing for customers; what we’re seeing is a higher degree of production engineering being applied. The market is maturing and these tools are essential to make it happen. It’s taken a while to get the infrastructure in place, and the internet had to evolve and provide faster broadband speeds, but we’ve finally got there.”

Part of this article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Furniture Journal publication.