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Connecting machines (properly) throughout tool-production processes

March 23, 2021

Technology is enabling a fully automated solution—starting with a rod and finishing with a packaged and labelled tool.

ANCA's Jan Irzyk

Now more than ever, tool manufacturers are looking to automate tool-grinding processes. The good news is that current technology can link machines of different types; manage data centrally—both on premises and in the cloud; and use this to implement strategies for continuous improvement.    

More than 70% of our customers are looking for integration and/or automation solution. The trend for accessible automation is happening across all sectors (including tool manufacturing), therefore solutions for easily adopting this into established processes are in demand.  

Solving manufacturing challenges with automation 

There are multiple reasons for the rising demand for automation solutions. From addressing skills gaps to labor costs and offering improved flexibility and quality, the benefits are significant. Manufacturers are looking to maximize asset utilization to enable their operations to be 24/7—in line with the trend for lights-out manufacturing. Increased automation reduces production costs, improves product quality and boosts productivity—meeting the desire for high and consistent quality expected from this process. Given the increased desire to measure overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), better access to data helps find those efficiencies and enable best practices. 

An interconnected solution eliminates wasteful manual handling, reduces machine downtime between batches and removes the need to have operators constantly monitoring and adjusting production machines. Thus, workers are freed from simple manual tasks and can focus on other value-adding activities. Reducing low-value, repetitive and mundane tasks leads to a more engaged workforce and occupational and health improvements. Furthermore, as skilled labor in niche manufacturing fields is becoming scarce, automation solutions can help address this gap, with no need for training.  

Improved brand image is another added benefit. Fully automated factories are increasingly perceived as highly capable of manufacturing tools of excellent, consistent quality. Perceived as progressive, smart tech solutions have a level of prestige that is valued and respected within the industry, as well as trusted with customers.  

Smart solutions consider that flexibility and agility are required to include small batch manufacturing and regrinding, as well more comprehensive services. Modular functionality is needed to adapt to each factory’s individual needs; from smaller scale, data-based options to a full setup across a series of machines. An integrated system delivers connected tool production processes—transferring tools between operations seamlessly and effortlessly. This means that scalable, gradual change is possible. Starting small and growing your integrated system as required makes it easier to take that first step toward a new approach for manufacturing.  

The opportunities created by integrated manufacturing include a faster response to market; likewise, a swift turnaround for small or large tool batches gives a competitive edge. Automated manufacturing in the long run will also reduce cost and overheads. 

 Sophisticated automation is needed to improve machine OEE and for integrated solutions to connect with discrete processes within a single production environment. An integrated system helps run various—even other brands of—machines (e.g. tool-measurement stations) with seamless transitions from one batch to the next. This reduces non-productive machine time and increases overall output. Automated in-process measurement guarantees consistent high quality with lights-out production capability.  

 A fully automated solution is the end game—start with a rod and finish with a packaged and labelled tool. As sequential processes become integrated and connected, data management is critical.  Server software acts as the brains of the system, managing data flows between the working elements of an automated system and the established IT systems resident at the manufacturer’s location, including ERP and MES. Extracted data from edge devices is stored centrally on the server, where it can be accessed and prioritized.  Implementing feedback strategies with corrective (or modifying actions via adaptive) online controls keeps optimum production running, even in a lights-out environment.  

Increasing the functionality of your system gives further access to data to help make better decisions based on facts. In addition to coordinating information and managing jobs, job preparation on the factory floor can include blanks loaded to the pallet; automatic tool/pallet transportation between processes such as grinding, measurement (compensation), laser marking and edge prep; and remote monitoring of automatic cell status. Functionality for job optimization incorporates machine-configuration suggestions, smart-job selection and tool serialization, which enables individual marking for traceability.  

The future of manufacturing is here, are you ready? 

So how do you adapt to new automated approaches for connecting machines? From a production perspective, incorporating decisions made from insights or suggestions made by your automated system will now be part of your toolkit. From a people perspective, a different skills profile of your workforce will be required, less training is needed, and quality is maintained regardless of staff turnover.  

Investing in new technology now means that you can stay competitive and not get left behind in the race toward greater integration of data and automation of processes.  

Jan Irzyk is the automation product manager with ANCA