What Smart Manufacturing Means at Impro
Some manufacturing experts are calling it the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Others use terms like “The Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT) or “smart manufacturing”. Whatever label you put on it, it’s clear the technologies used in manufacturing are advancing rapidly.
As a leader in casting and precision machining, Impro makes sure to stay current with these trends, and to deploy the technology when it benefits our customers and our business. Here’s our take on what “smart manufacturing” means, and what it can do for us.
The fundamentals of casting and precision machining don’t change. We’re still melting, pouring and removing metal. What is happening though is increasingly described as a “digital transformation”. This relates primarily to the acquisition, sharing and use of data about what’s happening in manufacturing operations and processes.
There is however an exception to this “data-centric” view, and that’s the rise of additive manufacturing. Sometimes called “3D printing” (although there are other additive methods), this challenges the whole paradigm of casting a rough shape and then cutting away metal.
Additive is an exciting family of new technologies, but for the foreseeable future it won’t be fast enough for volume production. Our foundries and precision machine shops are extremely efficient and productive and building parts layer by layer can’t yet challenge the speed of our casting and machining equipment. (It does however enable production of shapes that can’t be made by conventional means.)
The Digital Transformation in Manufacturing
Compact and inexpensive sensors, combined with equally compact and inexpensive communications technologies, (Ethernet, Bluetooth, WiFi), can now generate and share prodigious quantities of data. Just a few years ago harvesting and making sense of these numbers was the realm of “big data” tools that analyzed and uncovered patterns and correlations. Increasingly today though, we see artificial intelligence (AI) being deployed to turn raw data into actionable information.
What does this mean in practice? First, at the machine/equipment level, it means the ability to capture data at high frequency and in real time. This data can include:
- Temperatures – of molten metal, of motors and bearings, of pumps, of cutting tools … the list is endless
- Vibration signatures – monitoring the condition of bearings, pumps, motors, spindles …
- Power consumption – indicating for example, when a lathe is actually cutting metal
- Appearance, via cameras
- Sound – air leaks, bearing problems, component wear
- Pressures – monitoring pump and compressor operation, for example
- Loads – cutting forces, robot payloads …
Putting the Data to Work
The point of collecting data is to use it to improve operations and generate a return on the investment. The applications can be grouped under the headings of:
- Asset management
- Productivity/efficiency improvement
- Quality control and improvement
- Identifying organizational/operational improvements
Asset management refers primarily to maintenance. Data helps plan and schedule servicing, overhaul and repair work, prolonging life and reducing the frequency of unplanned stoppages. Making repairs when needed also boosts productivity, improves safety and reduces part-to-part variation – a quality gain.
Further productivity gains come from monitoring machine speeds, feeds and utilization, and tying these back to other metrics like quality. In some cases it may be worth machining slower to improve quality or extend tool life, providing this saves money overall.
An emerging application for manufacturing data is in digital twins. A digital twin is a virtual model of a machine, cell or even an entire factory, typically modeled with simulation tools but connected to the “live” data being generated in real time. Simulations and digital twins are valuable for identifying constraints and exploring alternatives for scheduling, manning, layout, workflow and more.
Impro: For Your Casting and Machining Needs
Forward-thinking manufacturers are committing to a digital transformation, using data to improve productivity, quality and safety and enhance the service they provide their customers. As a leader in casting and precision machining, Impro is adopting these technologies where it provides measurable quality and service benefits to our customers.
If you need a source for metal castings, supplied as-cast or precision-machined to your exact requirements, Impro can help. Contact us and let’s talk.