Once upon a time, Industry 4.0 only seemed fitting for big fabricators with big budgets. The manufacturing strategy conjured up images of a fully automated facility with robots working around the clock. Conversations were strictly rooted from an investment standpoint: What would adoption of the strategy do for the bottom line?
Today, however, the idea of a smart factory is much more nuanced. Some see it as a way to better manage front-office activities through greater systems connectivity and information transparency. Others might leverage it for streamlined order intake and shipping or for preventative maintenance. For still others, the focus has expanded to the operator: How can it help the employees on the shop floor while not displacing them?
Recognition of its multi-faceted, competitive potential has brought Industry 4.0 to the point where more fabricators can consider it for their operations. It’s also come to the point where most equipment manufacturers are enabling its tenets into their offerings.
Exemplifying that shift, Wila USA, a manufacturer of high-precision clamping, crowning, tooling and bottom tool holder systems for press brakes, released a range of Industry 4.0 offerings that are laying the groundwork for widespread adoption. From a free smartphone app to a sophisticated, fully integrated clamping tool, there’s something for everyone.
An app for all
“The Smart Tooling App is the first installation of Wila’s smart tooling concept,” says Jordan Edwards, marketing and communications officer at Wila. “Wila is preparing its tooling inventory for an Industry 4.0 future, and for customers, that means higher productivity, less human error and, of course, greater systems connectivity.”
Understanding that a key component of Industry 4.0 is connectivity, Wila’s app allows users to scan a DM code that is imprinted on its New Standard tooling to access tool data and immediately share it with colleagues.
Once scanned, a 2-D photo and 3-D rendering of the tool pops up on the app with basic data included below the image. That data includes the tool’s tip radius and angle, tang size, working height, weight as well as maximum tonnage and the hardening process used to produce the tool. Email sharing is quick and easy and a variety of file types are supported, such as DXF, DLD, PNZ and MTX.
“If you scan one segment of the tool, the app also pulls up the other segments in that tooling range,” Edwards explains. “As we move forward, we’ll have all file types available so you can select the tool you want to share, select the file type and then share it the same way you would share any other digital file. The theory is that you could email that info to whatever computer is running your offline programming, whoever is managing your tooling inventory and add it to any other systems you’re currently using.”
The convenience of quick access to tool data as well as quick and easy sharing inevitably results in additional benefits. One of which is the elimination of human error when receiving and inventorying new tooling. It goes without saying that errors can arise when entering data manually.
“Imagine the issues you might run into if your tool was 6 in. tall and you accidentally put in 0.6 in.,” Edwards says. “In addition to avoiding the issues that can come from manual data entry, the app is a simple and easy way to get your foot in the door with Industry 4.0. It’s a good place to start because it doesn’t rely on other 4.0 processes and it isn’t going to disrupt your entire manufacturing processes.”
It’s not just for beginners, though. Large fabricators and manufacturers can reap the same benefits and more. As one example, larger companies with multiple locations must determine which parts will be produced where based on the tooling inventory at each location. If all locations were using the smartphone app and have shared their tooling inventories to one location, it would be easier to see what’s on hand and where.
In the full spirit of Industry 4.0 and connectivity, Wila also launched its Tooling Identification and Position System (TIPS). The system, which requires an equipped clamping system and supported tooling, simplifies the process of setting up a new bend sequence.
To ensure proper setups, each TIPS tool is outfitted with an ID sensor that the clamping system can scan to determine whether the proper tool is in the proper location. For dies, the sensor is found on the front-facing side of the tang. For punches, a sensor is found on both sides in order to reverse the tooling.
“If a tool is out of position, it sends out an alert on the CNC display, indicating which tool is out of position and where it needs to be moved to be properly positioned,” Edwards explains. “Because punches can be reversible, if it’s in the right spot but backward, it alerts the operator to that, as well.”
TIPS works for manual and automated operations. It’s a helpful tool for the operator to ensure that they’re positioning everything correctly, but it’s also detailed enough to support automated processes. When a tooling storage system is TIPS enabled, a robot arm can “know” where the tooling is located in order to pick it up and set it up quickly and accurately. For manual operations, a press brake operator doesn’t have to know a lot about bending to successfully perform a bend sequence. It tells the operator where and in what order to put the tooling.
As fabricators are continually faced with the challenge of finding skilled workers, Wila understands that technological advancements such as TIPS puts customers in a position where they are less reliant on the skilled workers that are becoming harder to find by the day. By empowering an inexperienced operator with TIPS, scrap rates and rework time are kept to a minimum.
“Most of the complexity of TIPS is tied into the engineering end,” Edwards says. “When you’re looking at it from the perspective of an end user, however, it’s simple and straightforward. And that’s kind of the point.
“It allows your knowledgeable press brake operators that have been doing this for a lifetime to be more on the theory side of the process, working alongside the programmers,” he continues. “And that, therefore, allows you to put a lower skilled worker into an operator position. For fabricators that are losing productivity to incorrect tool positions and sequencing or operator errors, TIPS can be a good solution.”
For customers that are taking advantage of Wila’s smartphone app as well as its TIPS system, the benefits grow. When a TIPS clamping system has Bluetooth engaged, files can be sent directly to the press brake’s control unit. Previously, the process would have taken much more time as files would have to be sent manually via email to the computer that runs the offline programming or to another computer where it would have to be put on a thumb drive and then loaded into the controls.
Light the way
Continuing with the concept of smart bending, Wila also offers its Smart Tool Locator (STL), a slide rule-style cover strip with built-in LEDs that aids press brake operators in achieving faster tool setups. The LED lights indicate where tools need to be placed in the tool holder, simplifying the task of setting up and aligning a bend or bend sequence.
Unlike TIPS, which shows the whole graphical interface, STL is a simpler version. Because the tools themselves aren’t outfitted with data for the machine to read, it can be leveraged at a lower cost of adoption.
“For stage bending, the STL lights up the section in each step sequentially, making the entire process easier for the operator,” Edwards says.
Whether it’s the free app, TIPS or the STL, Wila’s range of products is demystifying the idea of Industry 4.0 and what that concept can do for the bottom line and for the machine operators.
“Our approach to what we do is that we’re not just a tooling supplier: We’re a holistic solutions supplier,” Edwards concludes. “We’re always looking to add more value beyond the physical characteristics of the product – whether that’s offering applications advice to a customer that calls in with an issue or offering the free smartphone app. These are more subtle, nuanced approaches to truly being a partner and not just a tooling provider.”