Intelligent Tooling Driving Production

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By Mike Lind

How intelligent tooling will operate in the smart factories of the future, starting today.

The Connected World and the Internet of Things

The world we live in is more connected than ever before. You may have heard the term ‘internet of things’, which generally means the internetworking of all things around us, from devices to buildings, to vehicles. We have refrigerators that can offer recipe tips based on the products within them. We can change the temperature in our homes with thermostats that can be adjusted remotely, and almost every late model vehicle has an on-board computer that provides on-demand system performance information. Smart devices are everywhere these days; even the meat smoker in your backyard can be monitored from your cell phone.

Industry 4.0: Linking the Panel Processing Industry

Today we are using cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, and cloud computing to develop the basis for the “Smart Factory”. The current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies will, sooner rather than later, become the norm in manufacturing.

In fact, there is already a huge amount of market presence in our wood products industries related to Industry 4.0. Trade shows and industry conferences are themed under the Industry 4.0 banner–most recently at Ligna in Hannover, Germany, our AWFS show in Las Vegas and the Holz-Handwerk Fair in Nuremberg, Germany. Each of these events had an inescapable Industry 4.0 presence. The smart factory is a highly focused topic for large companies who are the drivers and facilitators of the technology. And in our industry, the equipment manufacturers are putting a huge emphasis on Industry 4.0 through various platforms, touting the benefits it should provide.

We are seeing office furniture producers, kitchen cabinet giants and other market segment leaders as the early adopters of the technology. However, it is important to recognize that the smart factory, while rapidly evolving in the wood products industries, is still very much in the developmental phase. For everything to come together all the parts–including machines, software, and tools with embedded devices and readers–must work in concert together.

Managing the Data

The processes in woodworking are becoming more intricate and sophisticated. The increasing diversity of materials and surfaces (various species of wood and combinations of wood, aluminum, plastic, etc.) have very specific machining requirements. Batch size 1 production or new approaches for individualized mass production are ramping-up the need to understand what is happening in the machining environment at all times. Machines and the systems that run them are becoming more and more complex.

The probability of mistakes is more present than ever, and the impact and severity are heightened as process demands increase. Despite publishing information for proper cutting speed, feed rates and the like in catalogs, literature, and even in user guides provided with the tools, we still see evidence of improper tool use every day from customers around the world.

We are coming to the limit with the operator skill required and mind power available to manage the data in front of us and to manage it in a way that produces the desired products in an optimal and safe environment.

The Role of the Tooling Manufacturer in the Integrated System

Tool makers like Leitz are playing a role in enhancing the overall system. Through Embedded Chip Technology, RFID devices, and integrated QR codes, the tool becomes the gateway to a central database of information that improves process efficiency and reduces mistakes.

The basic results include:

  • Cataloged tool specifications and running parameters that remain with the tool always.
  • Real-time information captured during the operation of the tool and maintained as a quasi-database throughout the life of the tool.
  • Mistake-proofing of applications and programs through simulation and warning indications when a tool runs outside of design parameters.

The key concept with intelligent tooling is to make information available without the need to open the instruction manual. Every tool has a unique serial number; once you know the serial number, all the necessary information to run the tool is at hand for both man and machine.

leitz intelling tooling with QR codeRFID chips can contain a 3-D model with the exact geometry and dimension of the tool, so the machine software can simulate the machining process, ensuring safety during tool changes, and preventing crashes due to incorrect programming. Process-specific information can be kept as part of the tool data, facilitating set-up, increasing spindle up-time and decreasing the possibility of creating expensive scrap.

For this approach to be successful, an integrated system of tool, machine, measuring instruments, sharpening equipment, and data must work together. Starting with tools with chips or QR codes installed on machines, the machine then reads and utilizes the running parameters and programming information. Information is fed into computer systems or cloud computing networks. Alerts are sent to mobile devices when problems arise (e.g. machine parameters are exceeded). When the tools are removed from machines and sent for service, the event is logged into the database (location of tools can be determined). Relevant tool information (specifications, drawings, service instructions) can be accessed at the service center. When the tools have been serviced, any changes in specifications (diameter, reference points) are added to the tool database. The tool is reinstalled on the machine. Updated tool specifications are read by the software on the machine, and the cycle starts over. When the tool is serviced, key information can be synchronized with the company ERP system, including service tickets, on-hand inventory, and running status of tool life cycle with the ability to alert and send an order for new tools. And, we can monitor this entire process with an app like those that we use in our daily life.

 “Synchronizing Process Components” or something that communicates the orchestration that has to occur for the desired end result.

The tooling alone is not the driver. The process is only efficient and stable if all the parts – machine, tool, software, operator – are in accordance through proper communication. When expertly implemented, intelligent tooling offers several advantages:

  • Production quality improvements from optimized settings
  • Simplified tool set-up that is expedited due to information available on-demand
  • Process reliability because all the steps are verified and adjusted prior to running parts
  • Increased availability of resource = optimized utilization – not more, not less
  • Energy efficiency – dull tools are replaced at the right time, requiring less power consumption
  • Process know how
  • Expert system
  • “Learning-in” material and tool combinations
  • Every service and sharpening recorded as “tool history”
  • Sharpening procedure is documented and stays with the tool so that no mistakes are made in the service shop
  • Easy tracking and monitoring of tools, reducing the amount of capital employed
  • Automatic tool ordering, decreasing administration and paper

As our world rapidly changes around us, new business approaches and models are required. Owners, managers, and stakeholders need the freedom to concentrate on producing wood and wood-related products without process headaches. Intelligent tooling in the smart factory environment offers solutions that allow for a focus on the business at hand – producing doors, windows, furniture, cabinets and other products, in the most efficient way possible.