GFE, the Society of Production Technology and Development
In order to reduce development costs GFE developed a prototype tooling that features standard electronic modules Hall sensors monitor the end positions of the hydraulic cutting drive which are communicated to a base station

‘Revolutions’ in Cutting Tool Concepts

Feb. 6, 2013
Mechatronic tool concepts All relevant data collected, available More information = fewer errors

One word, two figures, and a punctuation mark are sparking plenty of debate — similar to the buzz generated bycomputer integrated manufacturing (CIM), once upon a time. The buzz is about Industry 4.0, the new manufacturing concept with web-based networking. A critical question that follows is, “What role will cutting tools play in this concept? It was a frequent point of discussion at the 2012 Tool Conference in Schmalkalden, Germany, a gathering of insiders from the metal cutting industry.

The controversial issue of Industry 4.0 – some people already are deriding it as “CIMera 2.0” – was not on the agenda in Germany late last year, at the 10th Tool Conference in Schmalkalden, Thuringia. Nevertheless, the manufacturers and users of metal-cutting tools are not indifferent to the issue: take a closer look and you will discover some tools available now with the right stuff for Industry 4.0.

Indeed, the 200 conferees saw for themselves these advances in tooling design, both in the presentations and during a tour of the test bay and the laboratories of GFE – Gesellschaft für Fertigungstechnik und Entwicklung Schmalkalden e.V. (the Society of Production Technology and Development), which organized this symposium devoted to topics concerning high-precision tools.

For example, the experts at GFE unveiled a mechatronic tool designed for retrograde machining of large boreholes, which uses telemetry to acquire the ongoing status of the tool during metal cutting. This tool, which acquires and transmits measured data, fits in neatly with the new concept known as the “Internet of Things,” in which basically all participants communicate with each other just like on the conventional web.

“The use of mechatronic tools with integrated sensor-monitored actuators can help to downsize the amount of work required for producing retrograde counterbores on large-size machining centers,” explained GFE scientist Bernd Aschenbach,“while retaining high levels of process dependability.” 

When the tool transmits ...

In order to reduce the costs involved, GFE has developed a prototype featuring standard electronic modules. What are called Hall sensors monitor the end positions of the hydraulic cutting drive, which are communicated to a base station.

A joint-development project led by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research’ (BMBF), called Sensomikrosys, goes one step further. What’s been created here are extremely small sensors that monitor in real-time machines and tool components exposed to highly dynamic loads. These microsystems serve, for example, to measure forces acting in tools and clamping systems. For this purpose, at the Tool Conference in Schmalkalden the GFE showcased a test rig for dynamic load testing of tool clamping systems in machine spindles. Sensors of this kind can even be integrated into hand-held tools.  Here, too, the term “Tools 4.0” is definitely apposite.

“At EMO Hannover 2013, we shall be seeing plenty of interesting tool and technology solutions incorporating concepts of this kind with sensors and actuators,” commented GFE’s executive director, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Frank Barthelmä.

“The basic idea of integrating machine functionalities into the tool is not entirely new, of course,” Barthelmä continued, “but, for machining jobs like systems for energy technology or components for large-size machinery, we’ve meanwhile arrived at quite different dimensions. The EMO is also going to show that besides the innovative content of technical solutions, users are more than ever going to be asking about their cost-efficiency.”

“Assistance systems” is one of the terms of art for tooling developer Komet Group GmbH, one that managing director Dr.-Ing. Christof W. Bönsch deliberately adopted from the automotive industry. “Parking backwards is, for many people a complex task,” Bönsch said. “But, there are assistance systems for it that solve the problem.

“The idea is to arrive at assistance systems in metal-cutting applications as well, designed to make life easier for us,” he added. This is the functional effect of the familiar systems for process monitoring, which detect tool wear, for example, or improve the efficiency of the metal-cutting process with the aid of adaptive control systems.

"Fingerprinting" the process

In his view, there are even more possibilities: it would be conceivable, for instance, to create a process fingerprint, holistically covering machine dynamics, spindle behaviors, metal-cutting forces and the clamping situation, and defined as a standard process. These “fingerprints” could be used in process acceptance testing, after a production operation has been relocated, for example, or when starting up series production in the automotive industry (SOP). 

“When a gigantic plant is built in China,” Bönsch offered, “then the machines used there are ones that are running in Germany with established processes. Monitoring the system enables the fingerprint of a process to be created, and then used to implement a self-learning production process.”

Here, though, he added, the tooling industry is still in the early stages of development work.

Another issue relates to tool management, but the Komet expert is not describing the selection and procurement of tools, e.g. by an outside service provider. “What I mean by tool management is complete-coverage acquisition of all relevant data over a tool’s entire useful lifetime,” said Bönsch. “For this purpose, we have laser-printed our tools with data matrix codes, which can be read using a simple scanner.”

The code serves merely to identify the tool concerned, while the detailed information on important key figures comes from sensors, for example. Thanks to these features, an electronic system now acquires the entire “tool lifetime,” which is stored in a data cloud. This method may even go so far as to allow linking together a series of tools’ acquired process data.

“In the cloud, I can file a complete tool history, including all the relevant parameters,” claimed Christof W. Bönsch.

Learning from Google

Komet has already established a method for transferring a tool’s presetting data into the tool management system by simple scanning. But, the company (with deference to Industry 4.0) aims to achieve a much more.

The goal is a cloud with a large quantity of process and tool data, serving as a foundation for a huge knowledge database, resting on assured statistical underpinnings. Then, it will be able to provide dependable answers to questions, e.g. on tools’ behavior during operation, or the nature of any machine malfunctions. But, according to Komet, there are even more possibilities, because as larger and larger quantities of data are acquired the error rate will also fall. As evidence, Bönsch pointed to Google, whose vast data-coordinating capability is attributable to global networking and multiple users.

“Statistics play an important role in systems like Google,” said the expert. “When several billion search inquiries are received every day, then the few inquiries that don’t fit in precisely with the subject do not play any significant role.” This means that errors occurring are “statistically irrelevant.”

Analogously, a corresponding knowledge database could be created for tools, too. To quote Dr. Bönsch: “This could be an instrument enabling us to purposefully evaluate our own data.”

This entire project may yet sound like science fiction, but some of the outlines of such a network will be available for observation at EMO Hannover 2013.

Komet will not disclose too much yet, but for Bönsch one thing is certain already: “The EMO is an ideal opportunity for us to showcase for the public the first industrial implementations of these ideas. We shall be exhibiting some initial mock-ups for the issues concerned, addressing specific job profiles of our customers. The major issues being covered in this context are assistance systems for communalizing metal-cutting processes, and cloud-based tool management as an on-demand application”.

Nikolaus Fecht is journalist in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

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