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Not every path leads to the cloud

Source:International Metalworking News for Asia Release Date:2024-05-13 210
MetalworkingMetal Cutting Machine Tools Machine Tools
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Expectations for the digitalisation of production processes are high, also in grinding technology.


By: Cornelia Gewiehs, Rotenburg (Wümme)


Expectations for the digitalisation of production processes are high, also in grinding technology. Since the physical limits of the precision of grinding machines and tools seem to have almost been reached, process optimisation and networking in the IoT (Internet of Things) are expected to open up new development potential.


Science and industry are expressing a common will to cooperate and network. However, trust and control over one's own data are likely to play a decisive role in greater acceptance, especially in medium-sized companies.


Process data is an asset. "Awareness of this has increased enormously in recent years," confirms Alexej Voigt, head of the electrical engineering department at the grinding machine manufacturer Danobat-Overbeck, Herborn. He was one of the speakers at the most recent grinding conference in Stuttgart-Fellbach at the end of January, where he discussed the potential of machine data analysis for grinding process optimisation and also outlined the methodology of data acquisition and analysis in digital motor spindles.


Data collection made easy

For Alexej Voigt, the use of smart components that provide data for real-time monitoring is the key element for further optimising the performance, efficiency and reliability of machines. "They also provide the basis for advanced analytics and predictive maintenance in the form of digital services," says the expert. But he is also aware of the concerns that smaller companies in particular have when it comes to controlling their own data or possible cyberattacks. Voigt believes that machine manufacturers have a duty to provide information, to communicate experiences from previous lighthouse projects and to design a modular offer that is suitable for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). "Trust can be established above all through high security standards, defined interfaces and certified products," he is convinced and emphasizes: "Our goal is to simplify our customers' access to data-driven production technologies without the need for an extensive team of engineers to develop application-specific stand-alone solutions."


In fact, more and more plant manufacturers are already equipping their machines with extensive sensor technology and monitoring systems ex works, according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology (IPK) in Berlin. The first considerations for digitalisation should always be directed towards the machine equipment and the question of what process data the production machine provides on its own. According to IPK, in addition to built-in sensors, control systems, machine performance data or process parameters and settings can also serve as sources of information.


The benefits that can be derived from the data can be seen by looking at the digital solutions that grinding machine manufacturers already offer. Initially, it is always a matter of setting up a closed data room (private cloud, intranet) that is limited to the respective company. In order to ensure that new grinding machines as well as existing machines, machines from different manufacturers or even robots can communicate with each other and exchange data in the factory, open, standardised interfaces based on OPC UA are used.


Building your own IoT

One of the umati partners and exhibitors at the GrindingHub is Kapp Niles, Coburg, a specialist in machines for the fine machining of gears and profiles. André Wetz, Project Manager Digital Transformation, explains how a digital modular system can be structured. It is based on a standardised hardware package consisting of sensors and an industrial PC with firewall and OPC UA server. To this end, customers can choose the desired software solutions, such as condition monitoring of the linear and rotary axes to determine their wear, or component-specific monitoring and evaluation of grinding and dressing processes in real time to reduce scrap rates.


Another digital solution is a closed-loop system that enables the seamless integration of processing and measuring machines. "In order to measure ground workpieces, employee intervention is no longer necessary," explains André Wetz. The system ensures that data from the processing machine is transmitted directly to the measuring machine. The measurement report is returned to the machine via GDE (exchange format for gear data), which then makes the necessary corrections independently.


André Wetz emphasizes that all solutions run on the machine and in the customer's own network. "In this way, concerns about a possible loss of data sovereignty or imminent cyberattacks can be dispelled for the time being," he emphasizes. As a result, it is up to the customers to decide how they want to optimise further or what benefits they might want to derive from exchanging data with external parties, such as the machine manufacturer or partners in the value chain. At Kapp Niles, according to Wetz, it is currently mainly companies from the automotive and supplier industries that are reaping efficiency gains from digital networking. As an application example, he mentions intelligent process monitoring for low-noise gears, which can be used to identify noise-conspicuous components during machining and reduce the return rate. "This results in an efficient way to meet the quality requirements of e-mobility," says Wetz. At the same time, however, the examples made it clear that networking also promises the greatest added value beyond company boundaries.


Deliver value through secure cloud applications

The development of secure, cross-site cloud architectures is therefore the primary scientific and political interest, as publicly funded research projects have shown. This includes the development of a Gaia-X-compliant edge cloud system architecture, as the subject of the Escom (Edge Services for Components) research project. Danobat-Overbeck is also involved in this through its cooperation with the Institute for Production Management, Technology and Machine Tools (PTW) at TU Darmstadt.


When it comes to a certain distrust of cloud solutions, companies often do not differ significantly from private individuals. Not knowing what happens to one's own data or where it is stored at all dampens the euphoria for promising technologies. Edge computing is about processing and storing data where it's collected. Only significantly reduced and selected data volumes are transported "by invitation" to external IT instances or to the cloud via a defined interface. "On the one hand, this system increases security, and on the other hand, edge computing enables high data transmission rates, real-time capability and data sovereignty," explains Alexej Voigt. Users retain control over which data leaves the network and which does not.


In a recent commentary, Prof. Matthias Weigold, head of PTW at TU Darmstadt, emphasised the special role of Escom for the development of Gaia-X applications in the manufacturing industry. Gaia-X is a European collaborative project that aims to facilitate the exchange of data along the value chain, while ensuring the digital sovereignty of data owners and the interoperability of different platforms. According to Weigold, who is also a member of the WGP (Scientific Society for Production Engineering), the association of leading professors in production sciences, Escom provides important, tangible elements for Gaia-X applications in the manufacturing industry. The research project thus makes an important contribution to the understanding of the added value and novel product-service models.


Gaia-X as a beacon of hope

Gaia-X is also explicitly aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises. Among other things, the SME Digital Network formulates three decisive advantages for SMEs resulting from a European cloud: On the one hand, a server located in Europe is subject to European law. In addition, companies would be able to meet European security standards via a European cloud data infrastructure and have their performance and compliance promises confirmed by independent third parties. And thirdly, Gaia-X creates a European offer for GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)-compliant data exchange.


It remains to be seen to what extent Gaia-X can increase trust in a cloud infrastructure. Meanwhile, Alexej Voigt from Danobat-Overbeck is confident that attitudes towards data-driven production technologies can change very quickly, and in his opinion, sustainability could possibly become the biggest driver. After all, digitalisation also makes the energy consumption of a production facility transparent and makes it possible to benchmark different production processes. "This could be an important step in calculating the product carbon footprint across all life cycles," says Voigt, "and thus make a decisive contribution to promoting more sustainable production methods."

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