Using Machining Insights to Streamline Engineering

Aug. 9, 2023
An aerospace forger adopted a machine-monitoring program that offers more than process control: It has improved product set-up across multiple locations, making operations nimbler and freeing engineers to manage other tasks.

As a producer of high-performance materials and solutions for aerospace, defense, and other industrial markets, ATI looks at every angle to keep their competitive edge. When ATI’s Forged Products business unit — which machines complex aerospace components like rotating disks for jet engines — needed a machine-monitoring platform to improve productivity, they sought unique benefits beyond the norm.

ATI explored several machine-monitoring solutions to track and optimize productivity across three locations in Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Poland. During a visit to Sandvik Coromant’s training center in Mebane, N.C., for a demo of the Machining Insights machine-monitoring capabilities, ATI engineers discovered an opportunity that went beyond just maintaining uptime.

“When we saw how Sandvik Coromant was using Machining Insights in their own facility, we had ideas on how we could use it for more than just monitoring our machines for operations,” said Dino Tomasetti, machining methods and technology engineer for ATI Forged Products. “We also saw it as a tool for engineering.”

After the demo, ATI opted to transition from their existing monitoring solution, which provided limited data, to the comprehensive Machining Insights platform that they could use for a wide range of applications across their locations.

Manual data collection and unavailable machine tools

ATI operates 20 CNC machines across multiple locations and works with a range of high-performance materials – including titanium, nickel-based alloys, and other heat-resistant super alloys (HRSAs) – to create complex parts for jet engines. The abrasiveness and stresses of these specialized materials create a range of machining challenges that can lead to unwanted downtime or damaged parts. Tools wear down more quickly, so processes need to be very stable to avoid tool breakage that could damage a part. In this environment, tracking machine uptime and performance to avoid such failures is essential to keep ahead of such disruptions.

ATI first implemented a basic machine-monitoring software about 10 years ago to eliminate time-consuming and unreliable, paper-based reporting on machining times. But that solution proved to be less than perfect, as it involved a lot of manual processes, and the data wasn’t especially helpful in determining what may be causing downtime.

“We were automatically collecting uptime, but we weren’t really collecting our downtime, which is a very important piece of the puzzle,” Tomasetti said. “So, for about three hours a day, every single day, I would check each machine and collect non-running time, talking to operators to put together a picture of how the machines were performing.”

Another problem they faced, as many aerospace manufacturers do, was tool life. When you’re dealing with complicated parts and difficult materials like HRSAs, tools and inserts can wear down extremely fast. Even though ATI employed a redundant tooling strategy to avoid downtime, they were still getting no-tool-available alarms.

“When that happens, the machine stops making chips,” Tomasetti said. “And when we’re not making chips, we’re not producing parts.”

Data-driven machining

ATI turned to metal-cutting expert Sandvik Coromant for a more robust machine-monitoring solution that would eliminate the manual data collection and improve tool utilization. Sandvik Coromant’s Machining Insights software had a number of features that attracted ATI. It gave them the ability to remotely gather a broad range of data sets in real time so they could track things like loads on the motor, alarms, tool availability and more from anywhere.

Machining Insights also gave them the ability to set custom rules to automate analysis for value-added machining. For example, if ATI runs its feed rate override at less than 80 percent, they can set a rule that counts it as downtime because it doesn’t meet their standard of productivity, even though the machine is technically cutting chips. That was important to ATI, Tomasetti said, because they wanted to eliminate all the “noise” and get reliable data that wouldn’t require constant double-checking.

When ATI implemented Machining Insights, they started on a small scale: two machines to prove out the software and establish benchmarks for value-add time and non-value-add time. Once their rule parameters delivered the data they were looking for, they expanded the solution to their other machines, both new and old, across all operations, including in Poland.

“Implementation was fairly easy,” Tomasetti recalled. “Sandvik came on-site, we connected it and within a couple of hours we were collecting data. Now we’re looking at the data as a daily tool rather than something we react to weekly or monthly. We’ve learned to use it proactively, which is how we make it a robust monitoring solution.”

Doing more with Machining Insights

Since implementing Machining Insights, ATI has realized significant benefits, including unique advantages that go beyond the usual machine monitoring solution. Now their feed-rate overrides rarely drop below 100 percent, and they’ve seen a clear difference in their flow of inventory as they produce more parts more quickly. They’ve also improved tool availability by tracking tool data and reconfiguring magazines to optimize tool set-ups on each machine. That results in higher overall capacity and throughput across their entire operation.

But where Tomasetti, an engineer, has found the most unexpected value from Machining Insights is through proving-out processes to machine new parts and stabilizing processes for existing parts. Now, he’s able to develop new machining methods for new parts remotely by tracking the paths and cutting forces in real time. The data is accurate enough that he can determine on the spot what needs to change to improve the process.

This has resulted in big improvements for new product set-up. Now, what used to take a week of on-location engineering time and nearly half a dozen test parts can be accomplished in one or two days with just one or two parts. This has made ATI’s operation much nimbler, Tomasetti said, and it frees up his time to handle other engineering tasks.

Forward-thinking partnership

Part of what makes Machining Insights so successful for ATI is the level of partnership they have with Sandvik Coromant. From planning and implementation to support and R&D, Sandvik Coromant works closely with ATI to make sure they’re getting the most from their machine-monitoring solution.

“They’ve been there every step of the way,” Tomasetti said. “They’re very responsive to our requests, and we still have frequent meetings with them just to make sure everything is in working order. We’re also considering adding more data collection capabilities so we can get data right from the cutting tool.”

This would allow ATI to compare optimal cutting conditions and predict tool failures, especially with new aerospace materials for which cutting data is not yet available.

Tomasetti foresees the Machining Insights data being useful for R&D, too.

ATI was already working closely with Sandvik Coromant’s engineering team on machining R&D projects and experimental tests at the Sandvik Coromant Center in Mebane. As a production shop, it’s challenging for ATI to conduct on-site tests, so having access to a capable test facility is beneficial. And with new data on cutting interfaces pulled from Machining Insights, Tomasetti thinks they’ll be able to streamline tests and arrive at optimal cutting solutions more quickly.

“I think it has a big possibility to take us toward Industry 4.0 solutions,” Tomasetti said. “Machine monitoring is how we take technology to the next level. I’ve seen it go from paper to basic monitoring, to what we’re doing now with Sandvik Coromant. Who knows what’s next.”

Cory Carpenter is a Digital Enablement Specialist with Sandvik Coromant, in Mebane, N.C.