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Digital Tool Data Refines Machining, Helps Industry 4.0 Find Its Way

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

Digital tool libraries emerge as a key part of advanced manufacturing

A screen from the CoroPlus ToolLibrary.

It’s said you don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. For Industry 4.0 and advanced manufacturing, digital libraries provide that map.

“We are talking about tooling standards,” said Alexander Zoller, president of Zoller Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI). “Besides the tooling standards there are also standards for clamping fixtures, for measuring instruments. So the entire flow of digitalization—cutting tools, measuring fixtures, measuring instruments, machine tools—are set up in the library.”

There are many incentives for companies to adopt Industry 4.0 and advanced manufacturing. Data are generated and collected at all steps in manufacturing. That enables machine operators to keep a closer watch on machines with devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. In turn, that enables operators to maximize output and minimize downtime for preventative maintenance.

Manufacturers “need to embrace the concept of digital adoption and understand that it has tremendous capability to improve their efficiency, reliability and quality,” said Jeff Rizzie, director of digital machining for Sandvik Coromant (Fair Lawn, NJ). “Understanding that machine shop operations are still quite conservative places, this requires a cultural change, first and foremost.

“Secondly, they will need to utilize these systems as a knowledge base versus relying only on the knowledge of their best engineers,” Rizzie continued. “This doesn’t replace the engineer, but provides a knowledge resource that allows them to move past the tribal knowledge that they generally rely on to do their jobs.”

‘They Will Be Key’

Rizzie said digital libraries may help all that work.

“They will be key,” he said. “There are many areas of waste across the machine shop’s value stream and the presetting area is not immune to that. Being able to connect things like tool models, application data, order codes, etc., will provide serious efficiency gains and reduce the errors that are common today.”

Digital libraries have been helped by the development of the ISO 13399 tool data standard and the Generic Tool Catalog (GTC) cutting tool data exchange format. They enable manufacturers to obtain the digital tool information needed for machining setups, including 2D drawings and 3D models with assembling coordinate systems as well as dimensional parameters. Such data can be integrated with CAM programs to develop toolpaths. There is also Standard for the Exchange of Product, known as STEP, a CAD file format used to share 3D models between users with different CAD systems. It is more formally known as ISO 10303.

ISO 13399 is a set of international standards governing the exchange of digital tool data. GTC enables straightforward and uncomplicated communication of cutting tool data. Changes in ISO 13399 are supervised 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).

“Together STEP, ISO 13399 and GTC provide us with a common language via which a cutting tool manufacturer may publish their cutting tool product data [descriptive and geometric information] for use in their customers’ shop software,” said Chuck Mathews, managing director of MachiningCloud Inc. (Camarillo, CA), a digital tool library developer offering digital catalogs from multiple suppliers. “While these standards do continue to evolve, they are certainly mature enough to be utilized in production by today’s manufacturers.”

A technician works at a MachiningCloud digital library workstation.

Ongoing Evolution

The evolution of standards is focused on making tool information more usable.

“The ISO 13399 standard continues to be updated, with the aim of refining and clarifying its contents to ensure standardization between users with as little room as possible for subjective interpretations,” said Pazya Bloch, team leader of catalog information systems for Iscar (Tefen, Israel).

“Iscar does its upmost to comply with these directives,” Bloch continued. “At the start of the process, this standard was built based on other standards. However, with time, it became apparent that some of those standards were not suitable and therefore the ISO 13399 needed to be improved and adapted to match its specific requirements so that users of digital tool libraries will be able to use it. Users’ CAD/CAM software should be constantly updated by the standard to be able to read the transferred data properly.”

Rizzie of Sandvik Coromant has a similar view.

“There have been numerous additions that allow for more and different styles of tooling to be included,” he said. A modular toolholder such as his company’s Coromant Capto “is one example of this,” he said. “This is an ongoing work that will allow for the addition of ‘nontraditional’ tools and new tool designs to be added.”

‘Tremendous Issues’

Alexander Zoller, president of Zoller Inc., at the company’s new facility in Ann Arbor, MI.

Sandvik Coromant’s CoroPlus ToolLibrary requires the use of ISO 13399.

“If the library is not built requiring the use of ISO 13399, then there will be tremendous issues trying to ‘match up’ data, not only across multiple manufacturers but even within a single manufacturer at times,” Rizzie said.

“For example, trying to build a 3D solid model of a complete tooling assembly becomes difficult as connecting points can be unique to each manufacturer,” he said. Executives see momentum building for digital libraries, though some challenges remain.

“The ability to build multi-brand assemblies and run jobs using tooling from a variety of suppliers is the norm in CAD/CAM, tool data management and CNC machining,” said MachiningCloud’s Mathews. “However, combining the descriptive information from different manufacturers is difficult because of the varying formats.

“As ISO 13399 becomes more widely adopted, this task will become easier,” he added. “On the other hand, since STEP is the most widely used format in the cutting tool industry for 3D CAD models, combining those models is easier. People using STEP CAD models do still struggle with orientations and coordinate systems that may vary from one manufacturer to another.”
‘Smart Manufacturing’

According to Alexander Zoller, president of Zoller Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI), digital tool libraries help keep all parts of a manufacturing operation on the same page.

“For us, our company, we are specialized in smart manufacturing,” he said. “We bring everything together from CAM to the finished part. What we are providing is this digital information throughout the work flow on the shop-floor level. So we have implemented a standard in our tool management software and we share this information through CAM areas so a CAM programmer can have access to this digital information.”

Zoller said it’s important that “the stockroom has the same information available. That a presetting area has the same information available. That, in the end, we have the right tool at the right time with the right dimensions at the right machine.”

Another trend favoring development of improved digital tool libraries is the move toward smaller, more customized production runs of parts and products, Zoller said.

Zoller Inc. apprentice Karl Wittkopp studies a digital library system

“In the past, you had to make maybe 1000 pieces, 2000 pieces, 3000 pieces,” he said. “Today, the challenge is you have to make three pieces of that part, two pieces of this part, 10 pieces of another part. This is the challenge companies are facing in the manufacturing industry today.”

For customers, he said, “The question is always if they want to keep the standard of what they have or if they are looking into the future. The challenge is they are having lead time issues, they are having quality issues and they are having pricing issues.”

Digital libraries can improve manufacturing operations, he said.

“The important thing is to bring the digital library together with the reality of what you have on the shop floor,” Zoller said. “This is the most important and most critical thing. We are bringing those two things together. If a CAM programmer is programming his part, he really needs to use the tools that are available in the toolroom.”

In early 2018, Zoller Inc. moved to a larger facility in Ann Arbor which included expanded space to demonstrate its digital library, presetter and other systems to customers. It includes a showroom featuring how all the systems connect to a machine tool. “The question we are asked is how we can make more parts in a less amount of time at less cost,” Zoller said.

Companies say much work lies ahead.

“The big challenge is for Iscar to enter conforming and uniform interpretations for each feature and to catalog the items according to subject in a standard way,” Iscar’s Bloch said. “There is a structure, called PLIB in the standard, which contains the classification of every type of product according to field. In order to create a P21 file containing all parameters, every item must be classified according to the field in the PLIB to which it belongs.”

MachiningCloud’s Mathews noted that going digital will require manufacturers to slightly change their business processes to assure that both the traditional analog catalog information and the digital product data is prepared and published at the same time. “For new products, this is a minor effort. However, going back through the years and preparing the digital product data for existing products can represent a significant amount of time and effort, especially for larger catalogs or older products,” he said.

More Sophisticated

Iscar, like the other companies, sees digital libraries as a building block to Industry 4.0.

“Once the transfer of digital data is directly between machines, tool information communication between manufacturer and users can be facilitated between digital files,” Bloch said. “The standard will facilitate importing relevant information directly into a CAD, CAM, CNC simulation or tool management system, providing quick access to relevant cutting tool information to generate the best machining solution for the job matched with the most efficient cutting tools.”

Sandvik Coromant’s Rizzie sees digital tool libraries continuing to grow in sophistication.

“Today we are already connecting CoroPlus ToolLibrary directly to CAM systems, but in the future you will see them connected to things like vending machines, ERPs, MES inventory control and ordering systems,” he said. In the future, Rizzie said tool libraries may be connected to artificial intelligence and machine learning systems. “For me, tool libraries are the start of a closed loop ecosystem across the value stream.”

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