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How ‘smart processes’ fit into Industry 4.0

Glenn Nausley
By Glenn Nausley President, Promess Inc.

FIELD INTELLIGENCE: Smart Processes, Solutions & Strategies

If Industry 3.0 is identified by the computerization of factory floor processes to make them “smart,” then Industry 4.0 can be understood as the expansion of the idea to include all of the non-factory floor inputs required to produce a quality product and a successful enterprise.

By networking factory-floor computers with all of the logistic-based computers in the supply chain and even the customer, and by using smart algorithms and machine learning, Industry 4.0 promises to revolutionize productivity.
That’s very cool stuff and well worth doing. But it would be a mistake to let it divert attention from the continued improvement of smart processes on the production floor.

Taking those processes to the next level will require not only more computing power and some clever machine learning algorithms but also, more importantly, a higher utilization of sensing technology.

Everyone who has applied computer controls to anything is familiar with the old adage, “garbage in, garbage out.”

The key is to provide good process information in real time so our smart devices can make the right decisions.

Giving machines the ability to sense in real time what is happening in a process is the key to making that process both smart immediately and “smarter” in the future.

Here is a worked example of what can be accomplished, a simple snap ring press application performed on a CV joint assembly by IFA Group.

The folks at IFA Group started out using a pneumatic cylinder to slide the snap ring into the assembly until it fell into the groove and stalled the cylinder. A very simple system that has its difficulties when you try to automate it. Pressing the snap ring into the machined groove, knowing it is seated, but not overloading and damaging it is a challenge.

A better, Industry 3.0 solution is to utilize an electric press with integrated force and position feedback, such as the Promess EMAP (electromechanical assembly press). The operation produces a repeatable force/position signature. The force is steady while the snap ring slides into the assembly, it drops off when it falls into the groove and spikes up when the ring contacts the back wall of the groove.

A first-generation smart process senses the spike and stops the process and then analyzes the signature to determine that the operation was performed successfully.

That upgrade reduced, but did not eliminate, snap ring damage.

So, Joey Watkins, CVJ value stream leader at IFA Group, took the process a step further by implementing a “press to a rate of change” algorithm in the Promess UltraPRO Controller.

The smarter process senses the drop-in force when the snap ring falls into the groove and uses it as the trigger to stop the press ensuring proper installation of the snap ring without ever subjecting it to a heavy load.

It is a simple solution that relies on some pretty advanced sensing and control algorithms that were not available just a few years ago.

So far, Watkins and his team have built and installed four universal machines using 12 and 30 kN EMAPs and an eight-station system based on a Promess Rotary Electro-Mechanical Assembly Press (REMAP) that is dedicated to a single part.

So, while many are working on Industry 4.0 to improve logistical efficiencies, an important group of technologists like Joey Watkins continue to utilize the latest technologies to create smart and smarter systems to advance manufacturing at the process level.

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