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Digital Tool Data Primed for Growth

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering
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A growing number of cutting tool manufacturers are listing all of their products in digital tool libraries such as MachiningCloud.

Digital tool management systems, and the digital tool libraries that support them, are changing the way cutting tools, toolholders and workholding are assembled into tooling setups and used to machine parts. Aided by the development of the ISO 13399 tool data standard and the Generic Tool Catalog (GTC) cutting tool data exchange format, part manufacturers can obtain much of the digital tool information they need to create new machining setups, such as dimensional parameters, 2D drawings and 3D models with assembling coordinate systems. They can then integrate that information with their CAM programs to develop toolpaths, and in some cases manage inventories of cutting tools, toolholders, workholders and other components.

However, the process is far from complete. While many cutting tool manufacturers have adopted ISO 13399, making machining setups and data exchange easier, others are still in the process of adopting it or have yet to start. Likewise, some manufacturers have wholeheartedly adopted digital tool management (DTM) and can share the information it provides throughout the enterprise, while others still have “islands of information” within their operations that are cut off from one another.

This feature examines the current status of DTM in the metalworking industry, how different software programs can work together, and where digital tool information standards and practices are headed.

Gaining Ground

The status of DTM in the metalworking industry depends, in part, on your definition of digital. “Ever since computers were invented there has been digital data,” said Dan Speidel, director of sales for TDM Systems Inc. (Schaumburg, IL), a developer of software for managing information about tool components, tool assemblies and tool lists in a central database. “Scanning of AutoCAD drawings created on vellum into raster or vector files was the beginning of the digital revolution in manufacturing. Today, the question is how transparent that information is to other departments and systems, because pockets or silos of digital information still proliferate.”

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Sandvik Coromant’s CoroPlus tool library has assumed the functions of the company’s Adveon tool library.

According to Speidel, larger companies have been the first to adopt the concept of tool data management because they readily understand its return on investment and how it can capture their companies’ intellectual property around processes, speeds and feeds, tool life, tool use, and preferred tools. “Historically, the vast majority of our customers have been large companies,” he said. “However, the growth of licensing technology such as platform as a service [PAS] and software as a service [SaaS] has opened the doors to virtually every manufacturer using digital tool management, not just the Fortune 500 companies.”

Getting everyone on the same page is a laudable goal, agreed Swapnil Gupta, senior specialist, services and sales tools, Sandvik Coromant Inc. (Schaumburg, IL). Even before the ISO 13399 standard, digital tool management software had been deployed, but systems did not communicate in a standard format. That convinced Sandvik Coromant to lead the development of an ISO standard. “We are not in the software market, but to effectively use and communicate digital tool information, we had to create a digital tool data system that was brand neutral.”

Marcel Keinan, director of product management for Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX), and a leader in the development of tool data standards, noted that the utilization of DTM is like dancing the tango; you need two partners—a data supplier and a data consumer. “Tool companies won’t do it if there is no demand, and the demand depends on whether systems are in place that can use the information,” he said. “The concept is steadily growing, and it is an irreversible trend, but it is not happening as fast as I would like.” Siemens’ product lifecycle management (PLM) software is an information management system that can integrate data, processes, business systems and people in an extended enterprise. Tool management, working from the single PLM database, is a key part of the software.

Gregg Bigleman, TMS Tool Management Solutions manager, Zoller Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI), agreed that the application of DTM in the metalworking industry varies widely. “A high percentage of manufacturers believe they are digital, but many are not anywhere close to the full capability of DTM,” he said. “Most automotive, aerospace and energy OEMs have adopted DTM but rely on their suppliers to provide them with digital information on tools and parts, and many of the Tier 1, 2 and 3 suppliers aren’t using it at the level that they could be.”

He noted that there are multiple ERP, CAM, inventory management systems, and stand-alone vending machines, creating multiple data entry points that don’t communicate with each other. “True digital manufacturing is when you can perform the entire manufacturing operation from one tool database.” Zoller’s TMS Tool Management Solutions software provides a single database, including digital tool libraries, at an entry level for small companies up to large-scale databases with full communications. Manufacturers can start with a simple CAM interface, then move into inventory management and full ERP.

While not all cutting tool manufacturers are providing tool information in ISO 13399 format, there is a growing incentive for them to do so. “Most cutting tool manufacturers have a retention issue; they lose 20–30% of their business every year and have to claw it back somehow,” said Bigleman. “Digital tool catalogs can help them retain customers by making it easier for customers to select and implement tools.”

Speed Bumps

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The Zoller tool organizer is available in 5 different versions to suit various applications

While DTM has grown, there are still hurdles. The software can be expensive and costly to implement, and since not all cutting tool manufacturers have gone fully digital, the original data needed to drive it is not always accessible, according to Chuck Mathews, managing director, MachiningCloud (Camarillo, CA), a digital tool library developer offering digital tool catalogs from multiple suppliers. “The real opportunity for productivity improvement lies in the workflow the software offers, and those products don’t tend to be as effective in the workflow as they could be,” said Mathews. “There are many possibilities for next-gen software solutions, even in these large companies that already have implemented one.”

There is an also a question about the integration of DTM systems with other shop software. “The fancy phrase today is the digital thread,” he said. “The goal is getting data out of the DTM software into CAD/CAM for programming, simulation and verification; to the presetters to set the tooling up; and to the CNC to run the job. You don’t want to be typing in data or using Excel spreadsheets.”

Mathews noted that there are over one million cutting tool components on the market, and that large cutting tool manufacturers can each have up to 70,000 items, with new tools continually added and obsolete tools deleted. “When you have 250 tools in your shop and are creating a new job, you don’t want stale digital tool data—you want the most current information. That’s what MachiningCloud, Adveon, Novo and others are trying to provide.”

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Information on speeds and feeds and other machining parameters are a key part of digital tool libraries such as MachiningCloud.

Sandvik Coromant’s Gupta agreed that the continued development of digital tool libraries is critical, and noted that major changes are being made to the company’s Adveon tool library. Adveon is “empty” software that can be filled with digital cutting tool data from any company using the ISO 13399 format. Sandvik Coromant partners with 15 CAM software companies that provide Adveon as an add-on application.

However, Adveon is in the process of morphing into the CoroPlus ToolLibrary, which was launched at IMTS 2016. As it takes over Adveon functions, CoroPlus ToolLibrary will manage tool information for premachining (design and simulation). It has a tool recommendation feature, which provides cutting tools, feeds and speeds, and other machining parameter recommendations within a few clicks. Data from ToolsUnited, a supplier of electronic catalogs from a variety of cutting tool manufacturers, is accessible in the CoroPlus ToolLibrary. “Machine shops can use it to find tools from any supplier,” said Gupta.

In addition to residing on CAM software, the CoroPlus ToolLibrary is also available online as a free stand-alone application. If a shop begins using a CAM system associated with the program, such as Mastercam, tool assemblies can be transferred from the stand-alone CoroPlus ToolLibrary to the CAM program.

Standards and Formats

The continued development of ISO 13399, a set of international standards governing the exchange of digital tool data, and the Generic Tool Catalog (GTC) format, which enables straightforward and uncomplicated communication of cutting tool data, are helping advance growing applications for digital tool data. Changes in the ISO 13399 standard are handled by an ISO Technical Committee. Governance of GTC, including any proposed modifications, is now managed by the Interstate University of Applied Sciences of Technology, Buchs Institute for Computer Science (St. Gallen, Switzerland). The GTC site (http://gtc-tools.com) is sponsored by Iscar Ltd., Siemens PLM Software, AB Sandvik Coromant, Kennametal Inc., and MachiningCloud Inc.

While there are still proprietary methods of tool data exchange being used today, the use of standards is a much better option, according to Keinan. “Siemens is vendor neutral and we import different tool libraries into our PLM software; we allow our customers to be able to match and combine tools from different vendors into one tool assembly.” Even though standards are still evolving, the time to get on board is now, he said:  “If you are going to wait till the world is perfect before you start using digital tool data, you’ll never get anywhere.”

Keinan noted that one customer decided to deploy the entire Siemens PLM system, but initially demanded that every tool reaching its enterprise be based on ISO 13399/GTC. That proved difficult to accomplish, and instead Siemens made sure the vendors who were not fully ISO 13399 compliant would provide their data in a format that could be read by adapting some of the information which was not clearly specified or non-existent in the ISO 13399 standard. “The company ended up making huge productivity improvements by getting data in digital format,” he said.

Mathews of MachiningCloud agreed that ISO 13399 and GTC are practical, usable, and are being implemented in portfolios today. “They are a communications bridge between the cutting tool manufacturers and shop software,” he said. “For example, MachiningCloud helps cutting tool manufacturers publish ISO catalogs and then connect that data directly into shop software.” MachiningCloud operates as a subscription service that allows manufacturers to get the tool data they need from the cloud. “A typical shop can save themselves 10 hours a month on their engineering rate, which alone easily justifies the subscription, and it improves the accuracy and quality of that engineer’s contribution. It also eliminates redundant data entry, which is good for job satisfaction.”

One challenge is integrating DTM systems with other software, such as ERP, CAD/CAM, automated ordering and replenishment and PLM systems. That means getting out of the “silo syndrome,” according to TDM Systems’ Speidel. “From our alpha/beta software release to today’s version, we knew that we cannot be another silo of information, so integrating to other systems is a key function of our centralized tool data management system,” he said. “The question is whether that involves a simple data exchange or an online interface, such as reading tables out of the database.”

In addition to using ISO 13399 tool data, TDM Systems can categorize tools into a class/group structure that supports pre-ISO 13399 and GTC concepts. “Our mapping engine converts that information into a direct data format for a specific CAM system,” he said. “We interface with most presetters and crib management systems in order to share data back and forth to those systems and to machine controllers. The goal is to eliminate the pocketed silos of data in different databases.”

Barriers to Adoption

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TDM Systems software features tool lifecycle management.

While significant progress has been made, obstacles to greater adoption of DTM remain. “The biggest barrier is not technology,” said Speidel. “The barriers we see involve company culture. Many operations lose out on the additional productivity new cutting tools provide because NC programmers and operators have a previous mindset on how they should be used and end up not using them to their full potential. And using DTM requires an openness to sharing information, a concept many people are not used to.”

According to Keinan, the biggest barrier is truly understanding DTM’s value. “To do that you have to really understand the entire workflow; that involves having the right tools, a CAD/CAM/tool management system that can manage them, and the right processes. This involves making changes, which is difficult.”

He noted that the traditional design of tooling setups gives full license to the designer, who can order custom tools without checking to see if a more economical method already exists. As a result, production can be delayed due to tool unavailability. “A better approach is to use a system where, while creating a tooling setup, the designer can see what tool assemblies already exist, the tools they require, and search for them in the system. If that still doesn’t work, the designer can work with a company engineer to search the existing digital catalogs to create a new assembly with available components.”

Changes Ahead

While there are speed bumps to adoption of digital tool libraries and DTM, sources interviewed for this article agreed that increased adoption is coming soon.

“Data technologies in general, not just tool libraries, will advance,” said Sandvik Coromant’s Gupta. “The connectivity of machine tools will play a bigger role in manufacturing. More manufacturers will be connecting and monitoring machines and managing them from their iPads or iPhones, which will enable more lights-out manufacturing.”

Mathews predicted full implementation of digital tool information over the next five to 10 years. “It typically takes a cutting tool manufacturer one to two years to get online, but in the last three months alone MachiningCloud brought 12 carbide tool manufacturers online,” he said. “Many others are working on it now, not just thinking about it.”

One incentive is the need for OEMs to drive down year-over-year operating costs, according to Zoller’s Bigleman. “Tier 1, 2 and 3 suppliers have to embrace that in order to survive, and DTM is one of the tools they can use to gain additional control of their processes and still produce parts at a margin acceptable to their owners or investors,” he said.

Keinan looks forward to the development of non-brand-specific tool advisors. “Most tool advisors today are proprietary and refer only to one vendor’s tools, not the tool assembly, which can contain components from different manufacturers,” he said. “The length of the tool assembly can deeply influence the quality of the toolpath, because the longer the tool assembly, the higher the vibration, so if you are just getting advisory information on the tool, you’re probably getting the wrong data. A whole new world can be opened if people have access to data for tools and components across the board. In the world I envision, a common protocol would enable any application to access, over the web, different tool vendor tool databases, get the relevant digital tool data, and create an independent tool advisor, best practices, or even a procurement system, enabling open e-commerce in cutting tools.”

The digital tool landscape will look completely different in five years, agreed TDM Systems’ Speidel. “The only companies that will be around are the ones that adopt the technology and gain the competitive advantage,” he said. “We’re seeing more robotics and artificial intelligence in manufacturing, whether it is a simple algorithm or something that can problem-solve on the fly, inspect products as they come off the line, or provide 100% digital inspection with cameras, lasers and touch pads. The whole manufacturing industry is being revolutionized.”

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