Better monitoring and control systems are essential to automotive prosperity

In IBM’s Automotive 2030 — Racing toward a digital future report, 50% of automotive executives say their organizations must digitally reinvent themselves to succeed, or even survive. It’s clear that carmakers can gain improved productivity and flexibility, and shorter times to market, through digitalization. But what about improving quality assurance? Here, Jens Nannen, Digital Machining Sales Technology Manager for Europe at metal cutting leader Sandvik Coromant, explains why better monitoring and control systems are key to quality and survival for automotive manufacturers. 

Numerous major players in automotive are implementing digitalized processes to improve their production. For example, BMW has deployed an Internet of Things (IoT) platform at its plant in Bavaria, Germany, which features a wide range of digital tools and accessories that BMW’s employees can combine to create their own plug-and-play solutions. As a result, the platform has reduced the time needed to deploy new software applications by 80%, and reduced quality issues of produced parts by 5%. Meanwhile, Volkswagen has partnered with an augmented reality (AR)-based application developer to label its automotive parts, making it easier to match each part to the best tool required to machine it. This has greatly increased efficiency for Volkswagen’s service technicians.

Today’s CNC machines and lathes are more connected than ever before. Machining processes generate physical characteristics that generate measurable insights, and sensors and the IoT can be used to monitor machines’ uptime, downtime and availability. These technologies can also drill-down to specific issues, like tool and machine breakages that are among the most common causes of manufacturing downtime. It’s estimated that one minute of downtime can be extremely expensive, costing automotive manufacturers thousands of dollars per hour according to TPC.

These losses cannot be afforded when machining automotive components. Gear and drive shafts are usually made from forged steel, which is ideal for producing larger, stronger parts but also makes machining difficult. Forged materials have inconsistent depths that require different machining tolerances. They range from between 0.5 millimetres (mm) to over 1 mm, and these fluctuating cutting depths make tools more prone to breakages. 

Quality assurance through effective monitoring can also be difficult when machining forged and cast-iron parts. It can be challenging to detect tool breakages on automotive production lines — changing cutting conditions, varying allowances or unsymmetrical parts are all known to cause false alarms. Indeed, without proper machining in the workshop, unwanted deviations can cause damage to cutting tools, machine tools or the workpiece itself.

So, what’s the best solution? One answer lies in more sophisticated monitoring systems that give better control, and in IoT systems that support the vital work of manual operators on the production line.

Digital decisions

Solutions that monitor machining processes in real-time gives manufacturers more opportunity to respond to problems during machining. Process control technology uses sensors that use unique algorithms to detect and calculate tool breakages in real-time and, if there’s an issue, the system will immediately stop the feed and retract the tool. This helps manufacturers to resolve problems before downtime is caused. 

Collision and overload detection is also achieved by monitoring the machining force and vibration. The system monitors the machining force and vibrations during production runs and will stop the feed if it detects a possible overload. This enables collisions to be resolved faster, making catastrophic scenarios less likely. 

Now, let’s take the predictive maintenance concept a step further. What if it could be possible to ensure that tool paths are correct before machining starts, improving the end result and minimizing unpredicted breakages? 

To this end, CoroPlus® Tool Path software creates specific tool paths for machining methods such as PrimeTurning™ to boost productivity, tool life and process security. The software supplies programming codes and techniques to set-up proper parameters and variables for a particular application — like on an automotive production line — to secure maximum output. The software is cloud-based and can be accessed through a browser, open for collaboration and sharing within a company. The NC code generated by the software can be easily edited and exported for use in the machine — making the data easily-accessible for workers, and helps speed-up operations and planning processes. 

Production issues and interruptions on automotive production lines will never be avoided entirely. Nevertheless, digitalization will be crucial to minimizing the effects of production stoppages while overcoming the productivity, cost and downtime challenges faced by manufacturers. Fortunately, based on IBM’s findings that 50% of automotive executives say their organizations need to digitally reinvent themselves, it seems inevitable that the benefits of digital transformation will sweep across the industry. Solutions for process monitoring and control such as CoroPlus® Tool Path will be at the forefront of driving the automotive industry forward in digitalization.