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Trumpf lists 7 key benefits emanating from tech in its just-built smart factory

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing
Tobias Reuther, director of Trumpf’s new smart factory near Chicago, demonstrates how smart glasses deliver videos, for example, that explain in detail how to fix a problem on the shop floor. (Photo by Brett Brune)

HOFFMAN ESTATES, IL—The smart factory Trumpf built in this Chicago suburb, in the works since early 2014 and open to the public since September, is just a few months away from running full steam ahead: Smart Manufacturing recently asked its director, Tobias Reuther, to identify the seven key benefits of a smart factory. Three of the benefits involve technology that the German machine tool and laser systems manufacturer is set to bring to market next year. The other four emanate from technology already in use.

A first for the sheet-metal market in North America, the $30 million smart factory, which is nestled in with offices for DMG Mori and Big Kaiser, recognizes that “controls and mechanics are pretty much maxed out,” he said. “Now that I have all of these very good, nicely built, and efficient machines, how do I get more out of them? I get more out of them if they are connected and provide transparency.”

And for that to happen, software, sensors, data analytics and the digital twin come to the rescue.

As far ahead as Trumpf may be on the path to smart manufacturing, many multiple-plant sheet metal manufacturers with which Reuther comes into contact have yet to connect their plants digitally. The different factories not only work on their own, but also sometimes end up actually competing with each other, he noted.

Companies benefitting from Trumpf’s work on the smart factory include job shops and original equipment manufacturers serving industries such as agriculture, food & beverage, transportation and industrial equipment.

The new smart factory is hard at work showing how manufacturers that do go digital gain a full overview of what capacity is available in each plant, along with a clear understanding of the flow of, and interaction between, machines and an overview of each machine’s capabilities, and can:

  • Secure more business by responding more rapidly to RFPs,
  • Avoid self-defeating, internal competition, and
  • Deliver products more quickly than in the past.

The new factory offers production capacity—exclusive to Trumpf customers using Trumpf equipment.

The benefits Reuther settled on, along with the technology behind each:

  1. Fast processing of quotes and orders.

Trumpf’s Axoom software company developed Webshop. Reuther equated it to Amazon, saying that the whole shopping process can take two to 10 minutes. The sooner manufacturers react to a request, the higher its chances are of landing the order. Customers typically have a turnaround time of three to four days. “Let’s assume all this processing—doing your math in your Excel spreadsheet and checking your schedule—is automatically available to the customer when you place a request. He can decide between getting it very fast, for a premium, or waiting for four weeks. The price of the part is unfolded with our software. It does the full calculation automatically, in the background. All the processes are simple, standard algorithms.  It’s exactly the same as what humans use. But this is a live system, and you get feedback in two or three seconds compared with about three days.”

TECH BEHIND IT: Web shopping software by Axoom, a Trumpf firm focused on Industry 4.0. (Anticipated to be available to Trumpf customers next fall.)

  1. Full control of equipment.

Whatever a manufacturer has on the shop floor, the software helps plant managers see if the machines are running or broken or sitting idle. It also reminds them when a planned maintenance cycle is coming. “This means I can immediately take any measures needed if I get notifications from the machine that ask for help. You have full control of the equipment so you don’t lose any time if something breaks. You don’t have machines sitting idle for long,” Reuther said. Untended night and weekend shifts are a prime target. They can cause hours of lost production time. Software promoting transparency can automate calls, text messages and emails when a machine goes down, trimming the time lost to, say, 30 minutes.

At the September opening of Trumpf’s new smart factory near Chicago, Tobias Reuther, its director, demonstrated how a shop floor manager can use a gigantic, in-glass control-center touch screen to run manufacturing operations. (Photo courtesy Trumpf)

TECH BEHIND IT: Manufacturing execution system (MES) software by Trumpf called TruTops Fab, which connects to ERP systems. (Available to Trumpf customers for the last five years in North America.)

  1. Inventory management.

“Do I have the right material? If I have combine parts, how many parts of the combine do I have for the manufacturing process? That is fully controlled through [the MES software] TruTops Fab,” Reuther said. “Here modular storage comes into play. It says, ‘OK. I have placed an order.’ This order will consume 100 sheets. And if I only have 80 in stock, it gives me a warning and automatically places an order. So I don’t have to have a lot in stock because I have transparency about what is going on with orders in my shop—and I know what is in my inventory. Let’s say you have 20-gauge stainless steel. It’s very common. Am I going to put some in stock to be able to react very quickly? If you have all the information on your past orders, you know exactly what material was consumed, and so you might want to keep popular materials in stock and not order everything as [production] orders come in.”

TECH BEHIND IT: Manufacturing execution system (MES) software by Trumpf called TruTops Fab, which connects to ERP systems. (Available to Trumpf customers for the last five years in North America.)

  1. Full transparency on orders status.

Manufacturers can know exactly where each job is in their systems. “If the order has five manufacturing steps, I can keep track of which step it is in, in real time. I know how long it is going to take until it is finished and sent to my customer. For each of those steps, I can have the system send me notifications: ‘Finished cutting.’ ‘Finished bending.’ Those can be sent to your cell phone.” And, Reuther noted, those notifications can be sent to the end customer—each detail or just when the order has entered and finished production.

TECH BEHIND IT: Manufacturing execution system (MES) software by Trumpf called TruTops Fab, which includes messaging. (Available to Trumpf customers for the last five years in North America.)

  1. No searching times.

Transparency is the key to smart manufacturing, Reuther said. “If I don’t know what is going on in my shop, I cannot take any actions. Customers are missing a lot of transparency at the moment, because things are not connected.” Many manufacturers today still rely on paper routing slips. Many still hire people to search parts on their own shop floor. About 800 customers have visited the smart factory so far, and, he said, “a lot of them say, ‘Wow. If you can help me with searching times, that is perfect.” Trumpf placed 27 gray localization devices in its smart factory. They are placed on elevated positions and interact with moveable sensors in small blue plastic boxes that attach to orders, parts or carriers, such as carts, using magnets. Users scan the sensor and the cart and the two are “married” until the part leaves the factory. “These tracking devices are very important, so that you don’t lose your part,” he said. “You can ping them, bringing search times down to pretty much zero.” And shop floor managers can do so from anywhere in the shop—or even from their couch at home. Trumpf also uses laser-marked or punch-marked QR codes automatically created by the software to bring information on the part. “Once you have scanned the part and assigned it to the order, this code on the part allows you to know exactly which step it is at in the manufacturing process,” he said. “It is paperless production,” which forces people to be transparent.

TECH BEHIND IT: Moveable sensors from theTrumpf-owned French firm BeSpoon. (Anticipated to become available to Trumpf customers next summer.)

  1. Automated transport with AGV.

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in smart factories avoid the need for forklifts, which create traffic hazards on the shop floor and a large workforce. (The carts have laser sensors that cover 270°, so when they approach people, they stop, blow their horns to say “get out of the way” and then continue on as soon as the people in their way are gone.)

AGVs facilitate the transport of material on storage pallets, raw material and finished parts. Trumpf installed reflectors around its smart factory shop floor to guide the VarioCart AGVs it developed in concert with Stopa. The low-profile AGVs allow unpacking and loading the material in an area outside the production facility and help to keep dirt from being tracked into the clean environment from the area where raw material is received.

TECH BEHIND IT: VarioCarts by Stopa, a German manufacturer of automated storage systems for sheet material and long-span goods, and Trumpf. (Anticipated to become available to Trumpf customers next fall.)

  1. Remote support through experts.

“You can dial into an expert” after donning smart glasses and earphones, for which Trumpf developed its own software, Reuther said. The glasses provide paper-free and hands-free augmented reality (AR). The Trumpf employee working remotely sees a live picture of exactly what the service person on the shop floor sees, via the smart glasses. “‘Augmented’ means you can enrich whatever picture you see—with additional technology” that can deliver such things as a step-by-step maintenance video that plays on the lens of the glasses while the service person is standing in front of the machine that needs to be fixed. “For service guys, it might mean, ‘Here is the cable routing in the machine. Can you check if that is correct?’ Everybody who sees the technology understands the benefit of it. The key here is, the faster you are up and running again when fixing an issue, the better it is for Trumpf and for the customer.”

TECH BEHIND IT: Smart glasses from Trumpf. (Available to Trumpf customers in the U.S. since the fall of 2016 and in Canada starting this year.)

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