Asks the perfectly legitimate question “What’s the big deal?”

Well, if you’re a programmer, the examples I’ve already shown aren’t that big a deal, but a: They’re in two axis, and b: we’re talking about industrial control here, not hobbyist stuff. What’s the difference? Plenty.

Industrial controls have not changed dramatically for many years. Yes, the processors have improved, but only at a pace that has been necessary for the industry. Cellphones are loaded with processing power, because users demand more and more. Metal removal can only take place at specific speeds within a specific horsepower range on the cutting tool, and to develop controls with more speed than is required to do that is of literally no value. Especially when the predominant issue is not speed but reliability.

When someone spends a half a million dollars on a machining center, and that is not a difficult thing to to at all, you want it to run. And run, and run, and run some more. For this reason the makers of machine tool controls are downright stodgy.

As a result of this machine tool CNC is fairly reliable. How reliable? I’m glad you asked. A Fanuc industrial robot has a published mean time between failure of 76,000 hours

Seventy. Six. Thousand. Hours. Mean. Time. Between. Failure.

That is operating at 100% of rated temperature, at 100% of rated speed, and at 100% of rated load. IN actual operation, it’s a lot more like 100,000 hours. What does that mean? Imagine if you bought a car tomorrow, and you drove it as fast as it could go, on the roughest roads imaginable, twenty four hours a day seven days a week, and did NOTHING to it other than put in gas, and at the end of 11 years, it was still humming along as sweetly as if it were brand new.

Eleven. Years.

This may seem like an exaggeration but it is not, it is actual data collected by Fanuc. Anecdotally, I have been in the industry for twenty five years now, and in that time I have installed hundreds of robots. I have also serviced them, and here is the breakdown as to why I had to service them

1: The user programmed the robot to do something stupid. The robot/machine tool did the stupid thing. It broke the robot/machine tool. 80%

2: An external device attached to the robot broke or failed or wore out. 20%

3: The robot itself wore out. 0%

Oh, I have seen robots that were worn out, most of which are now in excess of 30 years old but which in their lifetimes made hundreds of thousands if not millions of parts. Machine tools, likewise, fail, some with a more astounding regularity than others, but almost invariably because of abuse. I have at least one customer who has 40 year old NC machinery which is still running quite nicely with little or no downtime.

So: Why not use some of that processing power to make machines faster? Well, they already go as fast as is remotely practical, and the development cost of industrially hardening hugely fast controls is ludicrous, and not worth it.