How to prepare your machining processes for Industry 4.0
Industry 4.0 is all about new technology. Here’s how to prepare your machining processes for the next industrial revolution.
Machining Processes Overview
You have probably heard that we’re entering the next “industrial revolution” – Industry 4.0. Like the three that came before it, this will be a period of disruption and monumental shift for every industry. While technology is certainly driving us forward, to ensure you are well set up to prosper in this new world, it’s important not to overlook the need to review your machining processes and operations. The technologies and platforms of this new industrial revolution will change the way you approach your machining processes.
Data will make your machining processes more precise
The biggest challenge is aspects of quality control – how do you control what you are making and ensure it is correct? Cutting tools are getting more complex and the demand for accuracy of these machine operations has been increasing. Controlling the size of the cutting tool to let’s say two micros will mean it needs to maintain 10% of the tolerance, or 0.2 microns. Setting up a batch of tools with tight tolerances is very difficult as you need to measure and compensate during production. Getting the data or measurement right really requires a twostep process. For the set up you would use a measurement tool like the Zoller to check the relief geometry and when grinding use an in-process measurement tool that can help eliminate the risk of error as it’s fully automatic. This is how technology is helping us deliver on these tight tolerances.
Measurement data can be collected using a management suite software program. This means you can understand the entire process easily and adjust and optimize your efforts. A trend may tell you the coolant system is not holding its temperature for example and this data becomes essential to again grind tools to the precise accuracies demanded today.
Benefits of machining operations that are Industry 4.0 ready
A machine tool that’s Industry 4.0-ready can markedly improve performance. Industry 4.0 automates the information flow to the machine tool in terms of what is being produced. From the machine, data is sent on what has been manufactured, it’s accuracy and detailed data on the machine tool performance.
Previously, a lot of this happened offline, in factories full of bits of paper. Now the information is available online and flows electronically to and from machines. That’s the basic underlying data flow that surrounds manufacturing.
In practical terms, consider that there are lots of sensors on the machine, for example every motor has a thermistor to measure temperature for motor overload protection. With Industry 4.0 all this sensor data can be collated and used for predictive maintenance. It takes islands of information into a more organic and detailed collection that can be easily analyzed.
Access to this data can be achieved by interfacing between individual machines and a central enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The ERP system tells the manufacturing machines that, for example, 27 of a certain part are due on a particular date. The number of processes may not be reduced, but the transparency around every step of manufacturing is instantly available and can be planned for. Factories benefit from information like:
- how well machines are performing;
- how long a batch takes to grind;
- which products are most frequently ordered;
- predictive maintenance;
- the quality of the product being produced.
Honing your machining processes will give the best return
Automated lights out machining is the way of the future, and your competitors will already be moving in that direction. In saying that, you can’t go full-forward at this. There will be incremental stages. For example, you can start with lights out with a single machine and then when you understand this process, look at adding factory wide automation. If factories aren’t going to aspire to lights out operation, they will be left behind.
Factories can use the Industry 4.0 data for different strategies depending on what they are trying to achieve. Lean manufacturing is fundamental to getting Industry 4.0 right. Start by going through the end-to-end supply chain and find bottlenecks to shorten lead time and review each process. Monitor performance and output. Use real-time data to see how your machines are working. Check that the quality of your grinding is maintained.
This might seem like a lot of effort — I have watched many businesses see the effect on their ROI quickly. Even with the cost of automation, we’re finding that the payoff is very short – literally months.
Machining in Industry 4.0 will continue to evolve
The automatic quality assurance layer is quite novel, and quite difficult. One aspect that is a significant trend is the decline in real cost of automation. It’s been quite a number of years since it was an exotic thing to have a machine tended by a robot.
Every one of these investments will have a dramatic impact on your machining processes. Machines will be self-sufficient, performing tasks without any human intervention. Future batches will set up automatically and manage tooling changes between batches. Automatically Guided Vehicles (AGVs) will deliver pallets of materials. Each working part will be controlled by a central ERP and accessible from any kind of device. Issues today that are intractable will, in time, be solved by machine learning and AI.
AI in time will have to have a dramatic impact on the manufacturing space. The overall trend is towards less labor on the shop floor. A lot of the work is making the individual machines self-sufficient.
Change is daunting, but it’s exciting, too. To remain competitive in this industry, you have to start now. Your competitors are already investing in Industry 4.0 technologies, and their businesses are better for it. It’s time to bring your machining processes into the future.
I encourage factories to get serious about investing. Advancement in quality and performance means that trying to compete with old equipment is very difficult. Your competitors are investing in new technology, so you need to be investing, too.”
About the Author
This article was written by Pat Boland, Co-Founder & Managing Director, ANCA CNC. Mr. Boland has made an invaluable contribution to the Australian manufacturing sector for over 40 years, leading a business that exports 99% of its products and is renowned by the market as being first with new technology and innovations.