Without more openness in the machine tool industry and in the user sectors involved, the digital Industry 4.0 concept is not going to pay off for small and mid-tier enterprises (SMEs) in particular. That is the view of Prof. Dr.-Ing. Frank Barthelmä, Executive Director and Institute Manager of the German Society for Production Technology and Development. That is why the tool expert will use the EMO Hannover 2017 event for acquiring information and recruiting co-campaigners for digital networking.
Barthelmä said: “Industry 4.0 is influencing the process chain in two ways - firstly in terms of technology and engineering, and secondly in terms of the data flowing along it. When both of these interact to optimum effect, we obtain a textbook example for Industry 4.0. This applies in regard to quality and disturbance variables, but also and increasingly to predictable parameters such as tool paths and tool lifetimes, achievable surface qualities, and for maintenance intervals for machines and lines. Ideally, users receive all important information on the entire spectrum of process related factors. What’s more, all data available can now be recorded and evaluated in real time, and control loops created, so as to upgrade the efficiency of the processes and the quality of the products involved, thanks to more transparent metal cutting.”
So, how far are intelligent tools already the state of the art?
Barthelmä: “If you remember, a bit more than ten years ago, there was an ongoing debate on whether or when a tool can be classed as intelligent. Nowadays, within the context of Industry 4.0 we are talking about intelligent holistic solutions, in which, of course, tool sensors and actuators play an important role. So when you say “state of the art”, you’re absolutely correct. Not only in terms of using increasingly miniaturised and more energy-efficient sensors or actuators in the tool itself, but also with a view to their utilisation in the overall system comprising the tool, the machine and its control system, and the application concerned.”
But how can the multiplicity of data now being acquired be evaluated to optimum effect?
“The answer to this is still in its infancy at many of our typical customers, the small and mid-tier companies. Many potential users of intelligent solutions of this kind, especially in these SMEs, are sometimes unable to assess what data they actually need in order to render their technology/IT fit for purpose, and to generate from these new production lines when needed.
“This extends to new business models that may prove necessary. Universities and large corporations are already well advanced in this respect, whereas many of the small and mid-tier companies are still in the exploratory phase. For meaningful analysis, moreover, a comprehensive data history is required, in order to correlate it with new key statistics - but what do we actually know about the technical wisdoms of our predecessors? So what we need here is even more collaboration between the academic and business communities when it comes to generating new ideas, models and above all new solutions. What I would like to see here, for instance, is more joint projects involving partners from the academic community and the industrial sector representing a highly disparate range of scientific disciplines, which elucidate these questions not least with the aid of live demonstrators, for example.
Doesn’t that also mean that new network alliances have to be formed across the boundaries of sectoral and scientific specialisms – meaning collaboration between software analysts who understand nothing about metal cutting, and metal cutting experts who usually aren’t all that familiar with big data analytics?
“Yes, but this is only going to work if the SMEs get involved at an early stage. The networks supported by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs, for instance, have proved well worthwhile in this context. For example, the GFE is currently a partner in the SME 4.0 Competence Centre of the Ilmenau University of Applied Science, and in a model factory is addressing problems encountered with data generation and data transfer in connection with metal cutting – for transfer especially in SMEs. The question involved here is this - how can I utilise a control loop in the machine so as to ensure that quality, efficiency and productivity can serve as controlling target variables?
How does analysing the metal cutting parameters make metal cutting easier – in terms of new materials, for instance?
“In the case of new materials, especially, it’s becoming progressively more important to close the loop in the control circuits with the aid of analytics. There is still quite a bit of work to be done on the path to purposeful evaluation. There is room for improvement too, in the transparency of the results. Here I would propose a pre-competition platform, accessible to manufacturers and users alike. I would like to see a data pool, so that everyone doesn’t have to keep on re-inventing the wheel. As a role model, I would cite a front-ranking tool manufacturer who at the Schmalkalden Tool Conference in November of last year promised to be more proactive than previously in terms of data disclosure. It should be noted that it’s worthwhile for a manufacturer if users learn which of his tools are best suited for efficiently machining new materials. Here too, the GFE is making its own contribution with the SME 4.0 Competence Centre.
Is there a current highlight from your work?
“ Yes. The EU’s ‘Dyna-Tool – Enhanced Efficiency in Metal-Cutting Applications’ project, supported by the German Engineering Federation’s Precision Tool Association and the research institute Forschungskuratorium Maschinenbau e.V., is tasked with investigating how vibration stable metal cutting processes can be designed using sensor technology in the tools and the tool holders. For this purpose, the GFE has within the framework of the project developed a sensor integrated tool for hard machining, which thanks to direct integration in the machine’s control enables the process to be controlled well-nigh in real time.
“The Dyna-Tool consortium has succeeded in putting more transparency into the metal cutting process, so that it can be kept within defined limits for low vibrations, but at the same time is able to exploit its performative potentials to the full. What’s more, we are currently examining the integration of high resolution metrological devices in the tool, including an interface with the control system, so as to use this to create a real time control loop. Anyone interested can learn more about this and other projects at the EMO Hannover and its forum entitled ‘Innovative Solutions for Industry 4.0’ hosted by the German Engineering Federation’s Precision Tool Association.
And what does the EMO Hannover 2017 mean for you in general, and where is your informational focus?
“I’m primarily interested in examples of best practice, not least in order to see where we still need to take action. In addition, I want to talk to other advocates of these ideas on more transparency, so as to already encourage them to practise mutual feedback or to give a presentation at a separate forum. I shall thus be attempting at the EMO Hannover, within the context of my networking activities, to gain additional co-campaigners for more openness and transparency in the sector.