Smarter by the day

Q&A with a Trumpf executive about the importance of interconnected processes in fabrication

Trumpf’s Smart Factory control room gives users real-time visibility to each piece of equipment on the production floor.

Trumpf Inc.’s U.S. headquarters is located at the Farmington Industrial Park in Connecticut. Aside from coordinating its field service, spare parts and product support operations there, Trumpf also operates a customer training campus that, according to the company website, boasts more than 25 full-time instructors and offers hands-on classes for programming, maintenance and equipment operation in a 48,000-sq.-ft. fabrication shop.

It’s an impressive place, to be sure, as is Trumpf’s technology center in Costa Mesa, Calif., and the laser technology center in Plymouth Township, Mich. Such demonstration and training facilities have become commonplace for any major machine tool builder or distributor. What’s far more unexpected is the company’s Smart Factory in Chicago, a working job shop that should be a go-to destination for any Industry 4.0 fabrication fan.

When he’s not on an airplane or driving to a shop somewhere, it’s here that you’ll find Tobias Mauz, head of sales for Software Solutions NAFTA at Trumpf North America, a man who’s passionate about terms like interoperability and XML-based data exchange. FAB Shop Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Mauz recently about the current state of play in connected sheet metal fabricating. Here are his thoughts:

FSM: I’ve been coming across the terms “ICB” and “interconnected processes” recently, and not only from Trumpf. What do they mean, and why are they important?

Mauz: ICB stands for integrated cutting and bending, and as you might expect, it means interconnecting these and other direct manufacturing processes. At Trumpf, however, ICB goes

Trumpf’s Smart Factory in Chicago is a showroom with a twist as it makes actual customer parts from material that they supply.

much deeper than that. We are fully committed to supporting our customers along the entire value stream, encompassing both direct and indirect processes. That’s very important, because in study after study, we’ve found that sheet metal fabricators in general struggle with the latter.

FSM: But isn’t achieving more efficient indirect processes a function of the shop’s ERP and MES systems and how well they were implemented?

Mauz: There’s some truth to that, although I would add that overall efficiency also depends on the interoperability of the machine tools and their related systems. And while fast, accurate cutting and bending machines are a necessary part of any shop’s success, many other factors are at play, most of which have nothing to do with traditional business management software.

For example, how do I program the machines? How do I load and unload them? What about parts separation and moving material from one machine to the other? Going deeper, there’s also machine scheduling, job quoting, nesting and remnant management, and job progress tracking, to name a few indirect processes. All of these functions have to work in harmony with the shop’s capital equipment to be able to optimize production operations.

At Trumpf’s Smart Factory, visitors will find people, machines, automation and software perfectly interacting thanks to digital networking.

FSM: What’s the answer then? I have the feeling that it’s going to be both expensive and disruptive to implement.   

Mauz: That’s a reasonable concern, which is why we’ve developed a predefined, modular structure that shops can use to address their specific bottlenecks or production issues. These range from our entry-level Front Desk module for remote machine monitoring to a full-blown ICB solution that includes integrated cutting, bending and automated material handling. All are either part of or work with our MES system, TruTops Fab, which contains seven different modules and covers the challenges described earlier.

FSM: But don’t these solutions require shops to exclusively have Trumpf equipment? If not, how do you communicate with other brands and vintages of equipment?

Mauz: Obviously, we recognize that Trumpf isn’t the only player in the sheet metal industry, just as we recognize the need to share data with external software systems. In both cases, our MES system can exchange information using standard XML files. It’s a very open interface, and I can tell you that we have not come across an ERP system yet that cannot read and write using this format. A similar situation exists on the machine tool side as well as various manual processes such as assembly or welding stations that have no direct interface.

Either way, we’ve had great success connecting to these external information sources and collecting production data from them. Doing so provides high levels of transparency to operations

No matter how advanced the factory, it cannot operate without high-quality, well-maintained tooling and machinery.

that were once a mystery.

FSM: What about ROI? Do you have any customer success stories in particular you can reference?

Mauz: One success story I can tell you about a customer in Alabama that I’ve worked with over the past couple of years. Like many shops, they were struggling to find programmers, and the owner asked us if there was any way to automate the process. They had already invested in the remote monitoring software I mentioned earlier, so we introduced our TruTops Boost product.

They already had a well-known nesting and programming system, but after transitioning to Boost, they were soon able to keep up demand without adding any additional programming employees. They’ve since added several more modules, including one for production scheduling and capacity forecasting, followed by inventory management. Because each module is part of the TruTops suite, it was very easy for them to take small but steady improvement steps.

FSM: Finally, tell us about Trumpf’s Smart Factory in Chicago. Isn’t this just another of your technology showrooms?

Digital networking is a key component of any smart factory.

Mauz: It is indeed a showroom, but with a twist – it’s a real production environment, making actual customer parts from material that they supply. This approach not only allows us to showcase all of the technology that I’ve been talking about here, but at the same time, really lets us road test our products. We’re drinking our own Kool-Aid, some would say.

So yes, we invite everyone to come to Chicago and see our solutions in action, but for customers facing a backlog or unexpected spike in demand, we encourage them to send us part models and let us take a look. We’ll show them how “lights-out manufacturing” and a “lot size of one” aren’t just a bunch of nice sales words.

Trumpf Inc.

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