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Digital Tools in Production

Author: Kirsten Rein

There are many ways of improving processes by digitalization. And the current situation shows how urgently needed a fundamental re-think is – ideally across the complete product lifecycle. Automation and digital applications deliver flexible availability, sustainability, price stability and personalization. This constitutes added value for producers, buyers und users.

If a machine in a production line experiences sudden failure, what counts is the cost of the downtime of the plant rather than that of the spare part. By way of simulation with the help of digital twins, a part of such unplanned standstills can be avoided. Digital twins are virtual images of plants, of production with all its steps or of performance. They allow linking virtual with physical worlds. “With a digital twin you can go through the complete production before commissioning and later make forecasts on the basis of permanent measured data,” says Stefan Denker of Dräger in Lübeck.

Predictive maintenance cuts costs

Developing digital twins requires the corresponding software systems on processors that are connected to the plants. This way they can create the data of connected twins of one line and generate sensor data for various defect conditions by simulation. Denker explains: “When you put data into existing lines, measuring sensors will show you whether pumps are operated at increased temperatures or whether this causes leakages. This probably does not trigger an alarm yet but predictive maintenance can reveal a malfunction that might entail failures.” Such predictive maintenance based on real-time data cuts costs versus unplanned repairs because they are only carried out when really needed. As one application of Industry 4.0, predictive maintenance increases productivity and prevents deterioration in performance thereby also giving customers more predictability. Other benefits may include avoided accidents with likely negative effects on people and the planet.

Eyeglasses around the clock

Digital twins can map products across their complete lifecycle, from manufacturing and use to reclamation. At Uvex in Fürth the design and production of eyeglasses, for example, have been software-assisted and automated for quite some time. Even tools and equipment are produced using computer-aided design and are therefore available as digital twins. Dr. Marco Wacker comments: “Over the past two years we have digitalized our shop floor. So we quickly learnt when and where we were losing most time. Time was often lost through rejects due to soiling, moisture or material defects as well as through color, material or model changes. We were able to find out digitally where and when these individual defects occurred and eliminate them.” The result: production is becoming more efficient and sustainable because fewer rejects are produced. The added benefit for customers is stable price levels. Last year another aspect moved center stage: “The full automation of our head band production made it possible to produce the full vision Ultrasonic style, which has been in high demand since the COVID crisis and here in Fürth we are working three shifts and also on Sundays.” So, production volumes can be changed in line with demand.

Documentation of gas measurements in 17 languages via cell phone

At Dräger, the Lübeck-based specialists for medical and security technology, automation of the production of sampling tubes for portable measuring devices led to higher product output and improved quality years ago. These sampling tubes used for detecting up to 500 harmful gases at the workplace, used to be manufactured and filled by hand. The construction principle of the tubes has remained unchanged to this very day. Most of them are scaled tubes and the length of the color change indicates the concentration of the substance to be measured. Automation has increased the quality, measurement accuracy and selectivity. Furthermore, documentation is eased for users by App-based mobile data capture. Using a mobile phone, the sampling tubes can be scanned, measurements made, data collected, and the measurement log be produced in just a few steps and in 17 languages. Collecting data on paper is a thing of the past.

Different comfort level – personalization not a problem

Shoe machinery manufacturer Desma in Achim, Germany specializes in direct soling lines and automation systems. The sole material polyurethane is directly injected and cross-links with the upper. “The material ‘anchors in’ the raised texture of the shoe’s upper – regardless of the material – thereby ensuring perfect hold,” explains Desma Managing Director Klaus Freese. The sole material encloses the upper, which opens up many possibilities for an individual sole design and specific sole properties. In various areas, each injection of material can attain differing degrees of hardness. For wearers this ensures comfort over a longer period of time, targeted energy absorption and stability. “Harder soles are more recommended for heavier-built people than for ‘lightweights’”. Besides weight every person has a personal feeling of comfort. “Theoretically, we can even produce shoes in batch size 1,” says Freese and adds: “In practice, however, we mostly do group customization. This way custom footwear with corporate logo and design can be realized for companies. Depending on the application and associated loads, one type of shoe could be produced in different versions with three shoe sole hardnesses.”

Freese has been in business for a long time. “When I started, safety shoes were either brown or black. The protective function ranked first, wear comfort and design played almost no role,” says Freese. Today, safety shoes are chic, lightweight and comfortable. “Production in Europe is only made possible and commercially viable through suitable automation. This improves the quality and the environmental balance. Automation reduces the consumption of resources and materials to a minimum, shortens transport distances, and the consistent quality makes for rugged, durable products.

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