There are new possibilities offered by big data, 3D printing, machine learning and augmented reality in the manufacturing industry. Leveraging on these into a new way of doing business is a key factor in Industry 4.0 to gain a competitive edge, and for companies to be more profitable and scalable.
From band saws to milling machines, a new digital platform is able to connect sophisticated processing solutions for an optimal and flexible approach. Contributed by ThyssenKrupp
German steel producer thyssenkrupp has developed a new digital platform that connects machinery, allowing them to communicate with each other. Called toii, the name chosen is a double play on words—it spells IIoT backwards, the abbreviation for “Industrial Internet of Things”, and it is pronounced like the word “toy”, an indication of how the new platform makes linking heterogeneous machines to existing IT structures “child’s play”. The platform was developed in-house by company software engineers, and the platform will also be able to allow for predictive maintenance, forecasting the necessity of machine services in the future.
One Platform For Everything
The machinery belonging to the company’s business area focusses on global materials distribution and highly diverse processing services. These machines perform a wide variety of tasks, were made by various manufacturers and differ in age. The platform makes it possible to connect band saws and bending machines, mobile objects like cranes and forklifts and even complex production facilities such as slitting and cut-to-length lines and sophisticated processing solutions through milling machines and laser systems digitally in line with the Industrial Internet of Things.
Now, the machines can share data and communicate with one another and with IT systems thanks to the digital platform. Processes can be planned and coordinated optimally and flexibly – across locations, worldwide. As a further major benefit, the platform simplifies data analysis. Which product has been produced when and in what quantities? Which machine needs maintenance? What could be developing into a problem? What additional materials need to be delivered? The system answers all of these questions and many more by gathering and analysing data. The results are just a mouse click away—clearly structured and easy to understand.
“We have created an end-to-end solution that is tailored specifically to our needs. It will enable us to accelerate the automation of our production operations and make our processes much more efficient,” said Hans-Josef Hoß from the board of thyssenkrupp materials services. “We are now taking the digital transformation to the core areas of our business: our production shops, our machinery and equipment, and our materials.”
Close Teamwork Of Man & Machine
The platform has already seen use in several pilot projects. For example, at Materials Processing Europe in Mannheim, a new, highly complex cut-to-length line that cuts sheet from coil was fully connected with the platform. Work orders are transferred directly and in real time from the systems, applications and products implementation (SAP) system to the machine and controls its settings from sizes and weights to volumes. The platform also automatically retrieves the machine information required by SAP.
As a result, the status of production and the finished products can be viewed at any time. Other machines have also already been digitally connected and automated using toii, for example measuring the thickness of metal strips for effective quality control and automatic blanking. In the latter case, the platform even made it possible to fully integrate the blanking operation into a production line. In other areas, from high-bay storage to mobile construction machinery, the platform is improving efficiency as well.
The digital platform is an in-house development, highly scalable, and can integrate up to several hundred machines a year. Alongside various projects in Germany, there are already plans to deploy the system in the UK and the USA.
All data are currently hosted on a central server in Germany. But to be able to comply with all data protection law requirements, local servers will also be created in the UK and USA as part of the further roll-out.