Automation In The Steel Machine Tool Industry

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The 4th Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) is driven by the rapid growth in processing, communication networks and data storage capabilities.

Industry 4.0 focusses on the intelligent, horizontal and vertical networking of people, machines, objects and ICT systems for the dynamic management of complex systems.

But what are the benefits of these systems and what is driving the 4.0 revolution?

There is a need for flexibility and flexible machines. The ability to quickly change production to react to customer demands. Multi-purpose machines, must be able to produce a range of product types on a single machine, with short changeover and set-up times.

While there is the need for transparency, all machines and company systems must be able to communicate through one network and protocol. The complete production process must be visible, in order to optimize monitoring and improving maintenance processes.

There is a need for flexible machines that can produce small batches, customized on a make to order basis and a need for maximum machine availability, early detection of faults and reduction of unexpected machine events, culminating in systems for simple fault finding and self-correction with maintenance carried out on an as required scenario based on actual machine state feedback. Spare parts are ordered and stocked according to real time information.

Resources need to be used efficiently with minimization of waste. The interface between human and machine is simple, comfortable for flexible machine control, using the latest technologies such as IPads and cell phones.

How do such requirements affect the machine builder and automation blueprint? Machines providing ease of use, flexibility and optimal efficiency will, in themselves, require more design input and use of the latest technologies.

All designs are now being produced in 3D CAD using digital software platforms. This has greatly improved accuracy as well reduction in design time. Such designs can now simulate and animate the machine function while it is possible to check the interaction between machine functions. At this level the animation is controlled by the design platform. From CAD designs as well as machine design requirements, it is possible to design the automation platform including motors, gearboxes, control logic, sensors and function. Taking both the CAD design and the automation platform, the motion, control, visualization, network and other software are developed.

The next major step with I 4.0 is combining the CAD and automation platform so that the machine animation is controlled by a simulated automation control system. The end result of combining these two platforms is called a digital twin.

The concept of a digital twin in future automation systems includes machines that are developed and designed in modules. Such modules are combined in digital format to simulate a production line. Complete simulation prior to manufacture allows for testing, improvements, checking human interface and many other benefits prior to manufacture. As actual manufacturing times and costs can then be reduced, it is also possible to train line operators on digital platforms.

Machines will have a large quantity of sensors providing direct feedback to the local network via OPC UA. This is now a universal standard protocol for such communication. For example, motors will directly transmit temperature, pressure transducers transmit pressure to name a few. All devices will transmit information.

Another change in Automation includes the digital twin operating in parallel to the actual machine. The machine has its own control system. The digital twin is given the same commands. The digital twin is also receiving all the data from sensors and installed devices and compares this data to expected data. The digital twin can then determine if corrections need to be made to the control settings of the actual machine control. Machines will then self-correct and optimise. The control system, sensors and digital twin can send data to local edge devices or the cloud.

For more information, please contact Reef Engineering & Manufacturing – Tel: 011 864-1730.

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