The production shop of the future is starting to take shape—and it’s increasingly digital. For Germany-based Schuler Group GmbH, this includes everything from tracking and tracing parts and materials to equipment design, system setup and machine networking, cloud-based data storage, advanced analytics, quality inspection, training, and maintenance.
“We have a dream to create a closed-loop system, so machines understand themselves and can optimize themselves through artificial intelligence,” said CEO Domenico Iacovelli at a recent workshop at the company’s Michigan Ave. Service Facility in Canton, Mich.
The goals are to improve overall equipment efficiency (OEE), reduce energy consumption, boost quality, and lower costs. To this end, a customer in North America saved $120,000 in the first year of implementing Schuler’s Visual Die Protection (VDP) system to monitor the production process, according to the supplier.
Although Iacovelli acknowledges that his vision of a fully digital future is still about a decade away, he noted that many tools are already available and being used by customers to varying degrees. The transition is starting with digital diagnostic tools to anticipate failures and get the most out of existing equipment, according to Iacovelli, who was appointed CEO in 2018.
Started as a metalworking shop in 1839, Schuler was acquired by the Austrian-based Andritz Group in 2013. The company supplies a range of presses, dies, automation systems, network forming, and service solutions across the metalworking industry for customers in the automotive, forging, household appliance, and electrical industries. Schuler presses are also used for minting coins in more than 180 countries.
Schuler launched its Digital Suite family of products for networking forming technology in 2021. The technologies can be used in a wide range of applications, including single presses or press lines, and they can be retrofitted for use with existing equipment. About half of the machines Schuler sells now include at least one of the Digital Suite technologies, the company said.
Using cameras and intelligent software, VDP can identify the root cause of unexpected problems, allowing shops to prevent expensive die damages. If a scrap of sheet metal or some other object is detected, the press will stop automatically. Additional cameras can be installed to monitor scrap chutes and other areas of the machine. As many as eight monitoring functions—including part position verification and in-process checks—can be configured to optimize performance, Schuler said.
Other Digital Suite tools include:
Cybersecurity Check — As part of an OT security assessment, Schuler can check system conformity with regard to security standards such as IEC 62443, NIST, and NERC CIP. Regular checks can identify new vulnerabilities on Schuler and third-party machines.
DigiSim — Virtual tools replace physical testing and setup procedures, simulating complex forming processes that traditionally increased time, risk, and costs. The software simulates the movements of the slide and transfer system, as well as all other movement sequences relevant to output and freedom of movement, thereby detecting and eliminating potential collisions between various production elements, according to Schuler. DigiSim can program forming systems offline, using set point parameters on a fully digitalized basis).
Production Monitor — Any machine connected to the internet can use these tools to monitor production, process, and status data via a desktop computer or smart device to quickly identify potential areas of mprovement. Users also can access documents such as operating and maintenance instructions. Historical production data, realistic parts costing (machine-hour rate + part-specific productivity), and trend analysis are also available, as well as early detection of abnormalities due to operational reasons or related to specific dies.
Schuler Connect — Press operators use smart devices (smart glasses, smartphones, or tablets) to connect with remote Schuler experts, who can virtually view what the camera sees and access data in real time. With customer approval, the Schuler team can remotely connect to the controller, thus shortening service calls and reducing machine downtime.
Smart Assist — A software-supported help tool for setting up and optimizing production processes, the easy-to-use assistant provides step-by-step guidance with the help of images and videos on smart devices and other interfaces. Recorded through direct entries or teach-in functions, collected data is used for fully automatic optimization of the movement curves for the slide and transfer system.
Track and Trace — The system marks each part with its own ID, linking data, and information to the component. All relevant information is stored in a database, making it possible to check which coil a component came from, which parameters were present during the forming process, and various quality characteristics.
Visual Quality Inspection (VQI) — Using error-free parts as templates, the camera system detects and separates defective components during production. This eliminates the need for time-consuming marking of part contours and annotation of defects.
“In the end, it’s all about making money,” said Tiago Vasconellos, sales director, Schuler North America. “That’s why customers buy our equipment. And our digital tools enhance the value of their investments.”
Many of Schuler’s Digital Suite tools are used at the company’s Smart Press Shop, a joint venture with Porsche AG in Halle, Germany, that opened two years ago. Located near Porsche’s vehicle assembly plant in Leipzig, the press shop provides Class A body and structural parts for the Macan SUV, as well as smaller assemblies to other vehicle manufacturers and tier-one suppliers.
Deploying Industry 4.0 digitalization tools and other advanced manufacturing systems, the facility is intended to raise the efficiency of automotive production with “a new level for forming technology.” The joint venture operates a servo press line and a laser blanking line, allowing Porsche and Schuler to act as their own press shop for the first time. Dies are automatically changed in the press line; no dies are needed for the laser-cutting line.
The forming process and part flow are simulated on a computer in advance. Schuler’s DigiSim software detects interference contours and ensures the necessary safety distances by mimicking the actions of the slide and transfer, as well as all other movements relevant for the application. Raw materials are supplied in a closed loop.
All of these factors increase cost effectiveness and energy efficiency per press stroke, and provide environmental benefits, Schuler said. The “numerous experiences gained are priceless and will continuously improve Schuler products,” the company added.
Following its implementation in Europe, Schuler plans to launch various aspects of the Digital Suite lineup in North America starting in 2023. This includes DigiSim, Smart Assist, and VQI.
Schuler is also expanding into new areas. In February, the company announced a partnership with Switzerland-based AutoForm Engineering GmbH. Teaming AutoForm’s Digital Twin technology with Schuler’s Digital Suite, the collaboration promises to eliminate the gap between virtual simulations and the physical press shop to further increase productivity.
By combining AutoForm’s finite element-based simulation technology, which enables users to engineer and design robust stamping processes, with sensor data generated by the press, optimal control parameters for each stamped part can be determined. Control parameters calculated by AutoForm software can then be transferred to Schuler’s software. As a result, stampers and auto part suppliers can employ a full range of press adjustment capabilities and real-time control strategies, according to the partners.
“Customers will be able to integrate the data from engineering all the way through to the press shop operations,” Iacovelli said.
For more information about Schuler visit schulergroup.com or call 734-865-0133.
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