Already in the thick of future manufacturing in the machining sector, Sandvik Coromant has identified five areas where the company intends to lead development.
“Future manufacturing” seems to be the catchphrase everywhere these days. Governments all over the world are initiating programmes to ensure competitiveness through adaptation to digital transformation. In Germany the shift is called “Industry 4.0” and is supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On the other side of the Atlantic, US President Barack Obama has proposed investing in competitiveness through regional manufacturing innovation hubs that bridge the gap between research and commercialisation. Future manufacturing is also high on the agenda in such markets as China, Japan and England.
Sandvik Coromant wants to lead this development in the machining sector. A key specialist in this area, Jan Edvardsson, a market analyst in Business Development, has recently presented a report with recommendations on how to embrace future challenges and opportunities.
Five key areas have been identified with massive impact on the future of manufacturing:
- Information and communications technology
- Intelligent manufacturing
- Materials, components and machining methods
- Human competence.
Sustainability and our society as a whole face a multitude of challenges due to a growing population, an expanding middle class and emerging megacities.
“The earth’s resources are scarce,” says Edvardsson. “Future manufacturing will have to be resource-neutral eventually. What we call waste today must be seen as raw material tomorrow.”
The objective is to obtain a “circular economy”, he says, which means “a minimum use of materials, energy and water in production, and also that all products should be designed to be easily disassembled, recycled and returned to the production system”.
“New standards and laws will drive companies in this direction,” Edvardsson continues, “but branding is another strong driver. Sustainable brands are attractive for both customers and employees.”
For Sandvik Coromant, sustainability encompasses much more than recycling inserts and regrinding drills, Edvardsson explains. In future, sustainability must be part of the company culture and a natural part of the entire value chain. “Sandvik has a leading role in one EU initiative where securing a raw material supply in a sustainable way is a major objective.”
Information and communication technology (ICT) will be the key driver, making it possible to monitor and optimise production processes. In combination with sensors, ICT makes manufacturing intelligent. With the Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), the world is leaping from 32-bit to 128-bit addresses, enabling ubiquitous connectivity. This is a prerequisite for the so-called Internet of Things, where machines, devices and cars will communicate with each other and with us. In our private lives we will have all information at our fingertips about what to eat, when to work out, what medicine to take and how much sleep we need.
In the manufacturing industry there will be a similar development with intelligent sensors, cyber-physical systems and machine-to-machine as well as machine-to-device communication playing a major role in a more autonomous production process. Standardization of interfaces will be crucial in enabling connected devices to “speak the same language”. Here Sandvik Coromant has been a key player in establishing an ISO standard (ISO 13399) for communicating product data.
“ICT is a great opportunity but also a big challenge,” says Edvardsson. “We are now working devotedly with ways of understanding how we can utilize this transition at its best. Adveon, InvoMilling and SpiroGrooving are only three examples where we use existing digital technology to help our customers work smarter and save time and costs.”
Materials that are lighter, stronger and more sustainable but that are often challenging to machine, such as new high-strength metal alloys, composites and hybrids of both, are called for to meet environmental concerns. Sandvik Coromant is constantly monitoring new material trends, new material developments and research initiatives to develop new tools, machining methods and solutions that make life easier for customers.
In terms of machining methods, cryogenic cooling is a process that combines sustainability and high productivity. Sandvik Coromant uses state-of-the-art cryogenic equipment at its research centre in Västberga, Sweden, and works closely with customers to develop efficient solutions, says Edvardsson. The company is also investigating additive manufacturing methods – 3D printing – together with the Sandvik Group in the new centre in Sandviken, Sweden.
“An interesting material for the future is graphene, which earned researchers a Nobel Prize in 2010,” he says. Sandvik is sponsoring the research led by Swedish Chalmers University in Gothenburg.
New competences and talents are required to meet the digital transformation, says Edvardsson. Robots can take over a number of manual operations, but they are still poor at creative thinking, innovation and unstructured problem-solving. Flexibility, entrepreneurship and innovative thinking will be success factors for future employees.
Schools and universities have a huge task ahead to prepare new generations with these skills. There is a constant “race between education and technology”, he continues. Industry will have to be prepared. Generation Z, growing up with smartphones, tablets, the Internet, social media and computer games, will have high expectations for their future working conditions.
Sandvik Coromant has always focused on R&D, and recent years are no exception. The centre in Sandviken, inaugurated in 2014, is equipped with the latest technologies, which are expected to attract young talent and form a good base for future innovation.
“Sandvik is collaborating with several world-class universities and research centres around the world,” says Edvardsson. “The Massachusetts Institute of Technology [in the United States] is the most recent partner. This gives us access to expertise in a broad range of competence areas and also the possibility of finding and attracting future talent.
“Together with most companies in the manufacturing industry, we have an interesting journey ahead,” he continues. “I consider the digital transformation to be the most challenging part. But we are embracing the new opportunities and will find ways of bringing the best out of them to help our customers stay competitive and sustainable in the future.”