Combating the crisis with bits and bytes: Digitalization in the machine tool industry and metalworking

May 07, 2020 - 11:45am

Article by AMB.

May 5, 2020 — In the midst of the corona crisis, in between restrictions on movement and contact, a key word that seems to be a universal remedy for industry and the economy is suddenly doing the rounds again: digitalization. The virologists who are constantly searching for answers surrounding the corona epidemic should be able to use the large quantity of anonymised data of mobile phones in order to better understand how the population is behaving and thus make better predictions on curbing the spread. The importance of well-known digital tools for communication and remote visualisation is increasing significantly in light of the need for isolation and physical distancing and they are being used across all economic sectors. Politicians, doctors and boardrooms are holding meetings in video conferences, schools are transferring their lessons to moving image clips and remote maintenance tools obtain the status of a "system-critical" component.

The industry has long been aware of the potential of digitalization. The hopes anThe piezo sensor provides information about the condition of the tool during the machining process and measures very low cutting forces with high resolution. Photo: Paul Horn GmbHd goals are varied, be it the faster development of more flexible machines, better reliability and smooth (remote) maintenance, better documentation, a higher degree of automation, learning effects from comparability in the swarm and self-learning capability – the list of possibilities is endless. When faced with the current challenges quite a few people wish that more progress was already made in the digitalization and expansion of the necessary networks, such as the new 5G mobile radio standard: "Industrial 5G opens the door to the extensive wireless networking of production, maintenance and logistics. High data rates, extremely reliable transmission and ultrashort latency periods will enable a significant increase in efficiency and greater flexibility in the industrial added-value", says Eckard Eberle, CEO of the Siemens Business Unit Process Automation. He is responsible for the Siemens 5G Test Center. In fact, a machine tool (still) cannot be seen here, but the road for the wireless networking of the factory of the future is clearly mapped out. Over the last few months Siemens has already been testing the 3.7 - 3.8 GHz frequency band in Nuremberg with logistics components in a real industrial environment, e.g. with Simatic controls and IO devices.

And even without 5G exciting applications for digital support for automation engineers can already be seen: In order to determine, for example, sources of errors for quality problems with free-form workpieces, Siemens uses a software that performs all neuralgic points of the process chain and checks the stations between CAD system and the tools used.

Because the sources of errors can be manifold: the output of the CAD system itself, the output of the CAM system or the post-processor, the parameter settings of the CNC and the drive controller, the mechanics of the machine, the tools, the cooling agent, and in theory even the material of the workpiece. The Analyze MyWorkpiece/Toolpath programme checks the output data of the individual system parts, like the STL file of the CAD system, the MPF file from the CAM system or the post-processor, the recording of the position values and finally, how the drive controller and the machine mechanics, as well as the tool, implemented the data. This way quality assurance of CAD/CAM data of, for example, large-format workpieces can already take place before production.

These optimisation systems in the vicinity of the machine tool will also play an important role at AMB 2020. The big hits in Stuttgart are likely to be so-called edge solutions. They offer additional computing power for the digital production support and in many cases use algorithms based on artificial intelligence in order to assist machine operators in their work. In September the focus will be on finding practical ways out of the crisis, as well as sales growth and cost savings, particularly through increased productivity and increased efficiency of systems and machines, in preparation for when the order books are filled again.

Between opportunity and challenge

With new solutions such as Edge Computing, digitalization offers diverse opportunities in the heterogeneous production environments in metalworking. But there are also numerous challenges. In order to make digitalization available across the board, it needs standards, says Markus Horn, Managing Director of Paul Horn GmbH: "The VDMA is promoting the issue within the framework of GTDE. I gladly welcome this and, as a company, we are also playing our part by making available the corresponding data", he adds. GTDE is the abbreviation for the association Graphical Tool Data Exchange-Standard Open Base e.V. and acts as a competence centre, stakeholder and service provider in the area of tool data exchange. Members and partners of the association include well-known tool manufacturers and users, software companies and the VDMA Precision Tools Association. The aim is to design the tool data exchange in a future-oriented manner through internationally recognised standards, as well as support the relevant companies in this area. The association supports the implementation for the tool data exchange and thus the standardised provision of tool data through the operation of a separate server, via which participating manufacturers can arrange to have tool data, such as tool properties, 2D and 3D graphics checked according to DIN and ISO and make the tool data available free of charge.

But Horn also clarifies: "The money is earned on the edge. Complemented, not rThe Horn network uses the OPC UA communication standard as an important global standard for Industry 4.0 in the area of coating. Photo: Paul Horn GmbHeplaced by digital means. For us as a tool manufacturer this means: If the tool does not offer the quality and precision that is required, then digitalization also does not help", he points out. At present there are a great deal of players on the market who offer digital services: software manufacturers, machine manufacturers or tool manufacturers. However, without any standards it is generally complex and expensive to realise these for the customer and they are also not flexible in use. "Digital add-on products or services should only be used where there is an actual benefit. In the future we are also focussing on the tool itself, making available the corresponding data and offering digital solutions for the applications where they will have a beneficial effect", says Horn. As AMB will again cover the entire process chain of metalworking, visitors can expect a broad range of classic technology in combination with additional digital benefits.

Sensitive sensors

One important objective where digital solutions can assist is in minimising rejects. For instance, Paul Horn GmbH together with the Kistler Group are exploring problems in machining in the form of defective materials, worn cutting materials or a tool breakage.

The experts for dynamic measurement technology record pressure, force, torquEdge Computing in the vicinity of the machine is unobtrusive, like this Edge Device from Siemens. Photo: Siemens AGe and acceleration and working closely with the engineers of Horn have developed a solution for the real-time tool monitoring of micro-turning. The Piezo Tool System (PTS) is made up of a force sensor, which is inserted in the turning tool and provides information about the condition of the tool during the machining process. The extremely small piezo sensor measures very low cutting forces with high resolution. The system is suitable for use in turning applications, especially in the micro-range. Alternative measuring methods, such as monitoring the drive power of the main spindle motor, are not very productive here owing to the small deviations. A measurement of the structure-borne noise also does not provide any constant satisfactory results for small workpieces. Visual monitoring is also ruled out due to the use of cooling lubricants, as well as the high rotation speeds during the machining process. The new solution does not require any intervention in the CNC systems and its application is machine-independent. As a result, the PTS production costs are reduced and the production capacities are increased.

Short routes to the customer

The machine manufacturers also address cost awareness and efficiency. "The need for digital products is accompanied by the strong focus of our customers on efficient processes. Digital-based solutions, among others, help to improve the organisation structure of our customers. Shorter fault elimination periods are just as much of an issue as a higher availability of the machine", says the Managing Director of Burkhardt and Weber, Olaf Furtmeier. The advantage of a medium-sized company is having short routes, tackling development projects in agile teams in order to bring as many views as possible into the development process. "However, it is essential to seek assistance from qualified partners. Only this way can we guarantee that a full range of know-how is implemented in products in order to produce a final product that actually offers added value and thus is also purchased by our customers", adds Furtmeier.

Smooth communication between the individual production elements is also the Katja Tiltscher, Training Manager at TRUMPF. Photo: TRUMPF Groupbasis of digitalization and Industry 4.0 at Zoller when it comes to the setting, measurement and management of tools. Today there are many reliable and quick routes specially for the data transmission path from the adjustment tool to the machine. Actual tool data is prepared in a user-friendly manner for the respective machine control and transferred directly by the adjustment and measurement device to the CNC system. The software converts the measurement values into a control-related format specific to the machine and outputs them. The software contains a library of over 230 standard output formats for various machines. AMB 2020 is also the right platform for these issues and for discussing possible modifications to special customer requirements, which are possible at any time at Zoller.

Knowledge transfer and training

The reason that digitalization caught on relatively late in the machine tool industApprentices and trainees learn how digital solutions improve production in the TRUMPF training centre. Photo: TRUMPF Groupry and in metalworking compared to other industries lies not only in the costs or the effort of the implementation, but it requires new ways of thinking and approaches from the employees across the board. AMB exhibitor Trumpf demonstrated how important the topic of knowledge transfer and training is in order to tackle digitalization from scratch at the start of the current training year: In order to adapt to the digital change, Trumpf relies on networking and trains their junior staff for the first time through an "Industry 4.0 Trainer". The programme coordinates all digital content of the various training fields and supports the apprentices, trainees and dual students. "digitalization will become a fundamental component of training in our company. Anyone studying IT or completing a training course in the area must understand what the mechanical engineer does. At the same time, the mechanical engineer must know which software is needed for the particular machine. This is growing together, also with business management, which must include, for example, sheet metal parts and software for the machine calculation", says Katja Tiltscher, Training Manager at Trumpf. A new component in the accompanying programme of AMB 2020 is the Trend Lounge, which will offer every AMB visitors a forum for the transfer of knowledge and the exchange of ideas and opinions with experts at no extra cost. Various focus topics, such as Additive Manufacturing, Lightweight Construction and, of course, Digitisation, will be on the agenda over the five days of the forum.

Related Glossary Terms

  • bandsaw blade ( band)

    bandsaw blade ( band)

    Endless band, normally with serrated teeth, that serves as the cutting tool for cutoff or contour band machines.

  • computer numerical control ( CNC)

    computer numerical control ( CNC)

    Microprocessor-based controller dedicated to a machine tool that permits the creation or modification of parts. Programmed numerical control activates the machine’s servos and spindle drives and controls the various machining operations. See DNC, direct numerical control; NC, numerical control.

  • computer-aided design ( CAD)

    computer-aided design ( CAD)

    Product-design functions performed with the help of computers and special software.

  • computer-aided manufacturing ( CAM)

    computer-aided manufacturing ( CAM)

    Use of computers to control machining and manufacturing processes.

  • metalworking


    Any manufacturing process in which metal is processed or machined such that the workpiece is given a new shape. Broadly defined, the term includes processes such as design and layout, heat-treating, material handling and inspection.

  • quality assurance ( quality control)

    quality assurance ( quality control)

    Terms denoting a formal program for monitoring product quality. The denotations are the same, but QC typically connotes a more traditional postmachining inspection system, while QA implies a more comprehensive approach, with emphasis on “total quality,” broad quality principles, statistical process control and other statistical methods.

  • turning


    Workpiece is held in a chuck, mounted on a face plate or secured between centers and rotated while a cutting tool, normally a single-point tool, is fed into it along its periphery or across its end or face. Takes the form of straight turning (cutting along the periphery of the workpiece); taper turning (creating a taper); step turning (turning different-size diameters on the same work); chamfering (beveling an edge or shoulder); facing (cutting on an end); turning threads (usually external but can be internal); roughing (high-volume metal removal); and finishing (final light cuts). Performed on lathes, turning centers, chucking machines, automatic screw machines and similar machines.


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