President, Norican Digital
The digital transformation of industry has gradually made its way from the sphere of ideas and concepts to the factory floor and into foundries. In the second instalment of our special series of interviews, we take a look at the current state of Industry 4.0 in the foundry industry, with five experts from across Norican Group offering different perspectives on digitising foundry processes. Our experts are:
He leads an expert team in developing Industry 4.0 products to support all four Norican technologies - DISA, Italpresse Gauss,
Vice President Product Portfolio Development, DISA
Since then, Nina’s devotion to product strategy and digitisation in 2018 took her to the position as Vice President, Product Portfolio Development for DISA’s foundry equipment and digital solutions.
Vice President Portfolio Development, Wheelabrator
He specialises in taking on engineering challenges - with a focus on concept engineering, product development, project management and knowledge/technology transfer with Wheelabrator teams in China and India. Since 2017, he has been based at the Center for Product Innovation in Zurich, Switzerland, developing Wheelabrator’s product portfolio to ensure it fits with industry and customer needs.
VP Product Development, StrikoWestofen
His role, which he had held since 2016, places Theodoor at the heart of trend identification, development processes and all projects for new StrikoWestofen products. Prior to working at StrikoWestofen, Theodoor held positions at AVL SCHRICK GmbH and DAF Trucks NV. He gained his doctorate in Energy Technology from the Eindhoven University of Technology.
Former President, Italpresse Gauss
This passion, coupled with his engineering background, has made him instrumental in solidifying the company’s commitment to, and reputation for, developing innovative solutions for the die casting industry – quality solutions that solve real challenges with ease and reliability.
Theodoor (StrikoWestofen): Well, it has emerged that making Industry 4.0 work in real life is not quite as easy as first thought. But the market is going in the right direction. Our customers are actively demanding Industry 4.0 solutions. Most importantly, though, people are starting to accept the cloud. Even car manufacturers who would have been absolutely adamant a couple of years ago that they would never allow the cloud into their operations are gradually coming round to it. This is essential, as the cloud is the basis for most Industry 4.0 technologies.
In short, it’s become a lot clearer what we all mean when we talk about Industry 4.0. It can’t be a plug and play affair, and it’s become very clear that equipment manufacturers can’t just do their own thing. We need standards.
Rudi (Norican Digital): We are at a really interesting junction. Interest is high and there is real drive towards investigating and understanding the benefits that 4.0 can deliver to foundries. Data is now, quite rightly, seen as a key that can unlock productivity problems in a way that simply wasn’t possible or feasible before.
The flipside is that data is also seen as a risk factor. This is especially true within European markets. The cloud is simultaneously an enabler and an obstacle.
A mechanism for digital applications to collect, monitor, mine and analyse information in real time to help bring about real business benefits - for instance giving customers with multiple sites a simple way to track and compare process efficiencies - but also a source of hesitancy due to security concerns.
Nina (DISA): Our customers, around the world, are very much used to collecting and handling data via our well-established digital Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) platform that is part of all DISA moulding machines. What we’re helping them do now is to get more and more value out of that data, by continuously optimising and developing new solutions and services that turns the data into actionable insight and value.
For the vast majority of our customers this all still happens in on-location solutions, rather than in the cloud. For some it has to do with the security concerns Rudi mentions, and for others it is simply because there is a lot of value left to be unlocked before starting to use the cloud. I’d say that’s largely where our customers are currently at – they are looking to get the basics right. Using individual data series to improve their process bit by bit, getting used to handling more data, or thinking strategically about what data to collect next. We’ve ensured that our offering is such that any customer can come to us at any point in their data-driven journey, and we’ll be able to help them take the optimal next step.
Rudi (Norican Digital): No. For one, a lot of work is happening right now around standardisation. A great deal of best-practice when it comes to data security is being ‘borrowed’ from other sectors – online banking for example.
Also, the number of practical examples of productivity and efficiency gains - projects with demonstrable ROI - will start to outweigh data security scepticism. Especially once foundries have maxed out what can be done on-premise, as Nina hinted at.
Theodoor (StrikoWestofen): Maybe to a degree. Things are moving slowly. But then, a lot of the crucial standardisation work is happening in Germany. The key standard is OPC UA, an open standard for machine communication. It’s been around for 10 years and is perfectly suited to our applications, but a lot of work had to go - and is still going - into tailoring it and making it work in specific industrial settings. That’s an area where Germany really is ahead.
Rudi (Norican Digital): Hype! There is so much noise around the almost limitless possibilities, that practical progress can seem unreal. Unachievable even. Hype can serve to highlight some really clever and important technological developments but it can also create distrust. Particularly in very traditional sectors such as the foundry industry.
Another issue is that Industry 4.0 has turned the world of industrial IT departments upside down. For years, decades, they have been focussed on ring-fencing systems and blocking everything from the outside world. Cloud solutions change the game. They also call for cultural shifts.
Traditionally IT teams have worked pretty much in digital siloes. That’s a big issue when you are looking to drive production improvements using data, digitisation and automation. It’s something we are seeing our customers really hone in on. I can think of one in particular that has ‘sent’ their IT department to physically sit with their production team in order to really understand the processes, requirements and therefore the opportunities that exist. This won’t be an isolated example.
Carlo (Italpresse Gauss): I agree that hype can stand in the way of getting the basics right. Our customers at Italpresse Gauss are predominantly in automotive, so preventing downtime is the overarching challenge here.
Our task, before getting into all the other fantastic things we can do with Industry 4.0 technologies, is to get our customers’ processes to the point where they are running super-stably and without interruption. That’s the necessary condition for quality – and the basis for process improvements. So it’s not really a barrier, but rather a matter of priority.
Within the challenge of preventing downtime, we are using digitisation and technology to solve issues faster and give maintenance teams better tools to keep machines running – using augmented reality, for example.
Stanislav (Wheelabrator): I’d echo Carlo’s point about process stability – it’s the very basis for further improvements, and while security may not remain an issue in the long run, currently, customers do have concerns around staying in control of their data. With products like NoriGate, we’re cloud-enabling equipment Norican-wide and customers rightly ask “Well, will you be reading my data?”. We can then explain the technical and contractual checks that are in place to prevent us from accidentally or on purpose accessing something we shouldn’t be accessing. It is good that customers raise concerns if they have them. It starts a conversation and busts myths.
In terms of other barriers, I also think that as an equipment brand providing solutions to customers, we can sometimes get distracted by the mechanical side of things – to the detriment of digital thinking. I’m sure it will be similar for my colleagues at DISA, StrikoWestofen and Italpresse Gauss. We have all been pursuing our own digital developments in the past, but having a resource like Norican Digital at our disposal really helps to keep digital innovation moving at the same pace as mechanical innovation – and enables us to start interweaving the two.
Carlo (Italpresse Gauss): For our automotive industry customers it’s mainly three things: downtime, traceability and sustainability.
Reducing unexpected downtime isn’t as easy as it sounds. The maintenance guys are the most important people in the foundry, but they can’t be an expert on every part of every machine, so we’ve been trying to use technology to make our experts and solutions an extension of the team on the ground. Using video calls, augmented reality tools and virtual trouble-shooting guides, we can empower the customer’s maintenance crew to get machines up and running faster.
We’ve also developed a supervision system for our machines that is based on SQL, so the data it gathers can be used on the shop floor as well as feed into management systems. It paves the way for using machine learning and data analytics to improve machine performance in real time. The current aim for us is providing predictive maintenance.
In terms of traceability, I know that’s something we’re all working on. The requirement to trace every single part and gather process and quality data along its journey. Connectivity is key here, across the various process steps. But it also involves basic things like laser marking and scanning. Again, the ultimate aim here is to trace a part failure or quality issue back to a variation in parameters somewhere along the production process of that part. Once you add AI and data analytics to this mix, you are then able to continuously improve quality and eliminate process flaws at every point.
Stanislav (Wheelabrator): To chip in from the Wheelabrator side, this is something where – as well as blast process data - the blast machine can deliver proxy measures that give an insight into other parts of the process. Changes in the abrasive size distribution in the operating mix, the composition of the dust in the dust collector - these things signify something that can be of use to improve the process. Like Carlo said, connectivity across machines can do a lot here, as well as a connected understanding of the process.
Nina (DISA): What this type of traceability also allows you to do is evaluate the cost per part, including energy, material and people. And that takes us neatly to sustainability. Saving resources and energy is a major driver for the use of data and technology. Our Mould Accuracy Controller (DISA MAC) is a good example. It uses in-line parameter tracking to prevent misaligned or mismatched moulds from being poured, preventing scrap and saving energy.
Theodoor (StrikoWestofen): We’re working continuously on Industry 4.0. For example, all our machines are now leaving the factory Industry-4.0-ready, in other words ready to generate the right data in the right way. Existing machines can be upgraded to deliver better data.
Beyond this basic readiness work, we’ve done initial trials with AI that were quite promising. The challenge here is that data is currently not homogenous enough as a standard to run AI. But that standardisation is currently under development. What AI will be able to do then is optimise processes and eliminate errors. It’ll help improve uptime and efficiency. What we’ve seen with AI is that you do need the process knowledge to make it work. Otherwise it’ll just produce nonsense results.
In terms of a more specific cases of digital technologies in action - our Refill Monitor is a good example. It does what it says on the tin: it monitors the fill levels of dosing furnaces, so they can be kept at the optimum fill level at all times and thereby ensure the best dosing accuracy.
That sounds like a fairly small thing, but this is currently done by visual inspection of indicator lights on each furnace. So if you have 12 furnaces, a forklift truck driver is physically driving round the foundry to check on liquid metal fill levels and ‘topping up’ as required.
Without knowing in advance which furnace will need filling at what point, and with exactly how much liquid metal, the risk of running dry or over-filling is relatively high – both of which can result in unscheduled stoppages.
The Refill Monitor pulls that data, displays it centrally, and is used to inform re-filling schedules to make sure exactly the right levels are maintained for efficient production. It saves time, resource and is also safer.
Carlo (Italpresse Gauss): One of the things we’ve been able to do by using data from the machine supervision system is to identify time windows during each cycle where we can power down the electric motors of the hydraulics systems. It sounds like a small thing, but on a high-performance diecasting machine this can save a lot of energy. And it would be virtually impossible to do without the insight we’re getting from the machine data.
Stanislav (Wheelabrator): Blast machines are pretty violent and destructive, so our focus is always on minimising wear and tightly managing maintenance windows. The high wear also means that process parameters can slip, so condition monitoring is key for both maintenance and process stability. We use Industry 4.0 technology to monitor vibrations, abrasive condition, dust composition analysis, etc. A lot of this is already being done anyway, but offline. So finding ways of doing that online and in real-time is the challenge.
Nina (DISA): It’s also worth remembering that all of us across Norican have recognised, and have been harnessing the power of data, for some time. At DISA, for example, we’ve been delivering real time data collection for customers since the late 90s with our CIM modules monitoring and reporting on performance for optimum production process efficiency and quality.
This has provided a foundation on which we’ve been able to build – developing this principle to see where else data can add value for our customers; how we can optimise and stabilise their production based on the process data corrected. The DISA MAC I mentioned earlier is our latest example of collecting and monitoring a critical point in the process in order to optimise quality and reduce scrap, and there’s a lot more in the pipeline, especially around traceability.
Additionally, through solutions such as our Remote Monitoring Service (RMS), we now provide services where we analyse the complex process data for our customers to offer benefits such as predictive maintenance.
Theodoor (StrikoWestofen): Before the inception of Norican Digital, all four brands in the group had of course already started their own Industry 4.0 efforts. Speaking for StrikoWestofen, but it will be similar for the other brands, our approach to digital was very machine-focussed. The guys from Norican Digital look more at the connections between machines and at the whole process. They also help us innovate faster. For example, with Norican Digital we’re operating on 3-month innovation cycles, tackling an individual customer problem, find a solution, test it, get customer feedback.
Rudi (Norican Digital): What Theo described just then is what we call our cupcake model. It’s simple really. Our Norican colleagues come to us with a particular customer problem; a pain point that, if solved, could make a practical and immediate difference to their business. We work with them and the customer to innovate a solution, test it and measure the results. All within that 3-month innovation cycle. These are short, agile and results-focussed projects that if successful can solve an issue there and then and help us develop a solution that can be rolled-out to our wider customer base; if not, then nothing really is lost.
The cost of failure is very low for us and the customer. It’s a process that breaks progress down into manageable and useful ‘bite-size’ pieces.
I should add, it’s not an approach we can take sole credit for. We actually borrowed significant elements of it from Linde Gas – the company that first invented the industrial refrigeration cycle (no cold beers today without them!).
They have been awarded time and time again for their approach to innovation so we spent time talking to them, finding out what we could do etc. This was the outcome.
Nina (DISA): The advantage of that approach for us is that Industry 4.0 innovation is driven by customer challenges and powered by our knowledge of the process. It produces innovations that are highly relevant and grounded in reality.
An IoT consultant can charge a fortune to devise a framework that should support digital adoption. But they can’t look at a temperature curve drop and understand what that means; understand how that information can – using the right digital solution – drive improvement. We have that detailed knowledge of foundry machines and processes – knowledge that comes directly from the ‘foundry floor’ through DISA, Italpresse Gauss, StrikoWestofen and Wheelabrator.