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Sheet metal processing is in the middle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, during which smart technologies are rising fast, says Markus Zimmermann, director of Trumpf’s Smart Factory

FFJ 0920 face leadSeptember 2020 - Q: How is technology advancing to meet customer needs? 

A: The availability of data and connectivity between different solutions are drivers toward optimizing the productivity of big data and artificial intelligence services. This may seem difficult to grasp at first, but it is nothing to be afraid of. While it is important for our metals customers to keep up with the latest technology and trends, our primary focus is on the value and benefits that these new technologies offer for them.

Smart technologies allow for added transparency, higher availability and increased performance reliability of the equipment on the shop floor. Innovative hardware solutions like automation and storage work [racking systems] enable an autonomous factory with maximized output, fewer operators on the floor and a safer workspace.

With newly advanced simulation technologies, it is possible to lay out a factory in a more efficient way and offer a more comprehensive factory solution instead of optimizing only one single process in the shop.

Q: What steps should customers take when implementing a smart factory?

A: Having a vision for how you want to grow your business into a smart factory is an important starting point. Discussing this vision with manufacturing experts and sharing experiences and best practices are also beneficial and necessary to begin the process.

Those discussions then enable the experts to begin creating a step-by-step plan specific to a customer’s vision. Keep in mind that it’s possible to implement a smart factory—even if you are just beginning with small steps. For example, adding a solution to monitor the uptime of a machine or adding a small storage system to handle material on the shop floor are good starts. Manufacturers can also implement a smart factory where hardware, software and service solutions are connected in an ideal setup for Autonomous Manufacturing.

Q: Please describe the role of software within a smart factory?

A: Software is an integral part of all smart factory solutions. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate these solutions in hardware and software products as they are always closely linked.

The software aspect is becoming more important because it enables system transparency and improves the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

A powerful programming system is necessary to operate a smart factory in an efficient and user-friendly way. For example, to program a complex robotic bending cell, a programming system should generate the NC code with the click of a button. With sophisticated algorithms and machine learning technologies, the system can do that job within seconds—while achieving a perfect result.

The next level is the implementation of a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) that controls and optimizes the entire factory and is directly linked to the programming system. The MES allows managers to access various ways to control material flow, including how parts travel between different workstations. By linking this with a tracking system, manufacturers never lose the position of a part or production order on the shop floor. Parts are clearly located in real time and alert users to which stage an order is in.

As technologies continue to advance, software often handles the technology’s complexity all while allowing the smart factory to operate, enabling even a novice user to carry out tasks.  FFJ

Markus Zimmermann joined Trumpf in 2009 as a development engineer and held various management positions within R&D. He oversees the Trumpf Smart Factory, which demonstrates industrially viable autonomous factory solutions, and he is responsible for automation and software products for Trumpf in North America.

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