The digitalisation of the manufacturing industry is beginning to take shape. The main objective has already been defined: The continuous digitalisation and networking of all production processes, or “digital manufacturing” for short. In recent months, experts at Walter have come significantly closer to achieving this objective.
Potential for Optimisation
“Of course, digital manufacturing is not an end in itself,” explained Holger Langhans, director of Walter Multiply. “In the discussions that we held with our customers, it always came down to the question of how digitalisation can help them to optimise manufacturing processes (and the processes associated with those), increase productivity and reduce costs.”
Since then, Mr Langhans and his team have implemented some of these opportunities in the form of software modules or applications.
To thoroughly test them and develop them further to ensure they are fit for everyday use, Walter set up two test segments: In Walter’s manufacturing environment, practical tests are running on ten machines, while a further five machines in the Technology Centre have been equipped with the new digital applications.
Sorting It Out
Florian Böpple, expert in digital manufacturing at Walter: “As things stand today, we have more than a dozen apps undergoing continuous testing. Previous results have shown that we are on the right path here: In a very practical way, they are helping to detect and unlock the potential for optimisation in the process chain, to make the processes significantly more transparent, and to visualise the potential.”
The solutions involved here address topics that, in practice, affect the everyday work of every manufacturing operation: “We are working on reducing waste when it comes to materials and tools. We are optimising interfaces in the process chain, minimising the manual tasks, and improving the interaction between machines — the machine-to-machine connection.”
One of these applications, which is already running, is used to optimise loading. The principle is simple: The user first selects the program that they want to run next on the machine. The “Loading Optimisation” app automatically compares the tools that are called up in the manufacturing program with those that are already available on the machine.
The benefits are obvious: The user can see, at a glance, which tools they should set up and which they shouldn’t; this reduces their average manual effort. And, if there is sufficient space on the machine, they can set up all of the tools that are required for the planned orders.
The “Tool Cost Drivers” app should interest production managers and controllers in particular. They are informed, at a glance, about what tools create which tool costs. This is made possible by the link between real tool usage data from the machine and the purchase prices for the tools.
The data can then be used to determine which tool has created the highest costs based on its actual usage, and therefore should be top of the priority list when it comes to optimisation. “So, in a very simple way, we are helping to ensure that the average costs per tool are kept transparent,” Mr Böpple said.
Another app called the “Batch-By-Batch Optimisation” has also been in use at Walter for some time now. It analyses the tool that is currently being used and defines any potential for optimisation by using a sophisticated algorithm.
As a result, the application displays a table with the areas that have potential for optimisation, which are possible depending on the batch and the tool. In addition, the entire potential for savings is displayed as a percentage. This information means that users are well-placed to specifically intervene and to unlock the potential for optimisation.
Many Fields Of Application
More than a dozen of these apps have been developed and used by Walter’s experts since the start of the project (at least a year ago). They are all currently being used in the pilot phase in Walter’s manufacturing.
“Our objective is to establish an application platform that covers the most important topics in the manufacturing environment,” added Mr Langhans. “We are already well on our way to achieving this objective”.
The software modules are so basic in their design that their universal benefits can be delivered to many sectors – far beyond metal cutting. According to Mr Langhans, “Manufacturing companies often have similar areas where “the screws can be tightened”, which they can use to optimise their processes and structures. Our project is therefore generating a lot of interest from many business partners.”
In the near future, several pilot customers will begin using the applications and testing them in practice. Their experiences should help the experts at Walter to further develop the software modules based on the customer-specific requirements. And, in the end, this should deliver the required results under as wide a range of conditions as possible.
Open, Modular Approach
The application platform follows an open and modular approach and, as a result, can be flexibly adapted to meet forthcoming requirements. In future, users themselves should be able to add their own applications to the platform. Not insignificant: The data that is collected and generated from this sits on the customer’s servers and not in the cloud. “The company stays in control and decides for themselves who receives what data,” added Mr Böpple.
“Generally speaking, we give our customers an extremely powerful instrument — one which is extremely easy to install and which is simple to operate via the web-based interface.” All applications are based on real-time data, which means that the source of errors, along with optimisation potential, can be very quickly identified. “Our knowledge has been incomparable when it comes to other solutions on the market.”
Walter’s new technology centre in Tübingen, Germany is where the application platform is being operated continuously, thoroughly tested and subsequently enhanced. Customers can also try out all of the applications and the platform for themselves.