The next stage in the metalworking production journey is to monitor and share with other interested parties precisely what is happening in the machining process. By Adir Zonta, product manager process monitoring and machining analytics, Sandvik Coromant
To paraphrase Harvard University’s Gary King, while data is plentiful and easy to collect, the real value is in what you do with it.
Collecting data and using it to make improvements has been recognised in many industry sectors over several years as a means of adding value, and the technology is well-established in the manufacturing industry in terms of process and machining monitoring. However, it is through connectivity and being able to visualise and share that data with other users that the technology can be taken to a new level.
Sharing The Machining Process
It has been possible to monitor individual machines used in metalworking production for some time, but the next stage in this journey is to monitor and share with other interested parties precisely what is happening in the machining process. Now we can “listen” to the machine tool, collect data, interpret it, visualise what is happening—is the cutting tool wearing out, is the process too fast, too slow or deviating from what is expected—then send that data straight back to the machine. In this way, errors can not only be detected but corrected immediately and the machining process improved again and again until optimal efficiency is achieved.
Previously, a silo-based approach saw a single process monitoring system dedicated to a stand-alone machine with no connectivity and no possibility of upgrading when required. However, it is essential to connect machines, and that machining monitoring plays a vital role in interacting with the machine tool. With machines connected, updates to algorithms and software can be installed via the cloud or the company network and any upgrades can be delivered seamlessly.
With this degree of connectivity, the ability to share data, and a scalable approach to machining monitoring, manufacturers have the solution to many of their problems. Benefits include reducing unplanned downtime caused by unexpected collisions, minimising tooling and repair costs by monitoring tool overload or tool breakage, and cutting idle machine time caused by missing tools. At the same time, users can now make significant increases in productivity and achieve consistent quality of the component while being able to have more precise set-up limits for tools. These capabilities will benefit future users of cutting tools and machine tools and add value to traditional process monitoring.
Varied Technology & Different Manufacturing Systems
In order to increase productivity, security and quality via process and machining monitoring, the user must work with a wide range of technologies to monitor the many different aspects of the machining process and to connect to multiple systems. This could involve various network devices, the cloud, several kinds of software and much more. Such a high level of machining connectivity requires either total standardisation of connections—which realistically may still be a long way off—or a significant level of integration.
Whether it will ever be possible to achieve completely error-free production processes? Companies like Sandvik Coromant have been pushing the boundaries governing this field, developing systems and solutions that enable manufacturers to gain an edge through machining monitoring and effective use of data. In terms of setting and monitoring cutting tool limits or cycle limits, experience in cutting tool technology can bring extra value to the machining monitoring process, eliminating the need for users to set the limits themselves.
Key differentiating factors in the highly competitive manufacturing industry would be having the most accurate and rapid response times combined with the least number of false alarms during production.
Halting the machining process for no reason incurs huge costs and used to be all-too-commonplace in metalworking when there were no algorithms capable of interpreting the signals that a machine generated. A great deal of competence is needed in collecting signals and interpreting them within milliseconds and traditionally it is the user who has had to do this. However, while such expertise is capable of taking process monitoring to the next level, understanding what these limits are requires decades of knowledge.
Real-Time Monitoring & Sustainability
An added value of machining monitoring is the ability to utilise tools fully, which in turn increases the quality of components and shortens lead times. Another vital benefit that machining monitoring brings is that it reduces energy consumption, making it an environmentally sustainable technology while cutting costs by putting greater control in the hands of the user.
Without such a high level of control, it is easy for the user to be plagued with a wide range of disturbances in the machining process that can waste energy and resources. These can include incorrect tool offsets, incorrect work offsets or improper tool change position. Other issues might be a loosely clamped part, incorrect component orientation, improper program selection, undetected tool breakage or improper tool setting. Clearly, if one of these issues can be eliminated productivity will inevitably improve, but imagine the quantum leap in efficiency if all of these problems could be solved.
Likewise, continuous process control does away with low process security, suboptimal component quality and under-used tools. A machining monitoring system makes sure a tool is not only present, but also not broken and that a process is running within its correct parameters. The system takes corrective action if necessary, sends warning messages to avoid wear and breakage taking place, and stops the machining process if a tool breaks or is missing. This also reduces scrappage which is very important in such sectors as the aerospace industry where materials are expensive.
Armed with powerful machine level process monitoring data, users can predict and avoid collisions while improving maintenance control for extending the working life of machine tool parts. In the same way, monitoring at the component level helps to achieve consistent quality of the part produced. Likewise, tool level monitoring can deliver superior tool utilisation, better prediction of cost per component, correct tool inventory levels and markedly higher machine utilisation.
In metalworking, the days of low process security, sub-optimal component quality and under-utilised tools are on the way to being eliminated. Lack of control leads to increased costs but continuous process control through machining monitoring brings greater efficiency and, therefore, reduces costs. Also, tool level monitoring gives optimal tool utilisation, correct tool inventory levels, more accurate prediction of component costs and higher machine utilisation. With a structured approach to machining process monitoring, the aim is that machine utilisation levels can become as high as 85 percent due to the elimination of unplanned machine stops.
Like many other manufacturing processes, machining has its own major causes of instability. However, these are countered by machining process monitoring being able to “listen” to what is happening in the environment, check if everything is going as it should and correct any deviations.
By bringing instability down to an absolute minimum, machining process monitoring can be the catalyst for significant change in the manufacturing industry.
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