Many companies are pursuing different paths as they attempt to realise Industry 4.0. For global electrical engineering manufacturer, Phoenix Contact, the focus has been on integrating digital data about its manufacturing tools to ensure their ongoing integrity and as a step towards creating an increasingly automated manufacturing environment.
Phoenix Contact produces over 60,000 different products, including solutions for connection, interface, automation and surge protection. With so many models to produce and the continuous demand for new products, maintaining the operation and integrity of its dies is critical to its ongoing manufacturing success.
The dies are used in the production of screws, plastics and metal parts, but also in highly automated assembly machines as well as punching, bending and injection moulding tools.
Usually made from hardened steel, the dies can take months to create and are expensive to produce.
Phoenix Contact realised that by digitising information about its dies it could create a lifetime digital document on each tool. This would allow it to quickly and easily track the quality of its tools, enhance its manufacturing process, and further interlink systems as it moved towards Industry 4.0.
Consequently, all relevant information about each individual die was digitised. The data gathered included the year the tool was produced, material used to construct it, maintenance details, and so forth.
It was then incorporated into the overall manufacturing process via the internet so that staff and systems could automatically connect and communicate as well as track and monitor the dies performance, its usage, wear and tear, and to determine its availability in the manufacturing process.
Since digitising the information, the benefits for the company have been immense. Dies are now automatically scheduled for maintenance based on usage. Staff and manufacturing systems communicate, and are notified in advance of the required maintenance.
The higher-level control system accesses the maintenance schedule and sends a message to the relevant employee if a service is due. This not only assures the ongoing integrity of the die, it allows the efficient scheduling of equipment and ongoing production.
In addition, the life expectancy of the tools has increased because the dies are systematically examined and efficiently maintained. The possibility of a die missing a scheduled service has been eliminated and helped Phoenix Contact save on die production.
Digitisation has also meant that the die data is automatically combined with other digital information – project status, costs, materials, etc – to allow staff to make informed decisions, and in particular, solve urgent problems quickly.
‘By making all the relevant information about the die digitally available we are not only able to monitor each die, we can combine it with other data and make it available at the right time and in the right place for each operating step within the manufacturing process to ensure any issues are resolved quickly and our machines are always working at their optimum,’ said Dr. Sven Holsten, Head of Tool Shop Plastics, Business Unit Manufacturing Solutions, Phoenix Contact GmbH & Co. KG.
The digital data also contributes to faster tool testing of the quality of the die. Previously all necessary measurements required to test tools were acquired manually. For some complex dies, up to 2,500 test dimensions could be required. This is now a virtual process. A computer tomograph generates a real image that is overlaid with the digital twin of the tool. The pseudo colour image allows any deviations to be immediately detected. The smallest of details are now measured in the resulting image and no longer on the real product. This has helped to make the entire tool testing process much faster and efficient.
Phoenix Contact has also digitised the physical tracking of its dies to integrate its systems further and help enhance manufacturing. As the tools need to be physically transported from the warehouse to the relevant machine, Phoenix Contact fitted the gates of the factory halls with sensors.
The sensors detect which tool is being transported in which direction by means of an RFID tag. The recorded data is used to track the whereabouts of the die and is also fed into the manufacturing process. The machine can then identify the tool via the RFID tag and automatically downloads the appropriate program from the master computer so that production is ready to commence.
‘For Phoenix Contact to be able to react quickly to market changes, it must create a concatenated, scalable manufacturing system. All of the requisite workstations, assembly and process cells, assembly machines, and testing cells required in each development stage of the production process need to be linked to this system.
The digitisation of the die information is helping to make such a system a reality as we move towards Industry 4.0.