With every significant technological advancement achieved in manufacturing, a new industrial revolution is proclaimed. The steam engine helped usher in the first “revolution” in the late
18th century. Electricity, gas and oil, nuclear energy, computers and automation have been the catalyst for more recent industrial revolutions. And now with the digitization of manufacturing, we’ve entered the fourth installment: Industry 4.0.
Manufacturers have adopted Industry 4.0 solutions in their sawing operations, including utilizing data captured through smart technology, to gather information to make fact-based decisions that improve production. Recently, experts from saw and saw blade companies weighed in to offer their take on technology that is improving workflow and worker satisfaction.
Developing new tech
A German executive is often credited for being the first to use the phrase “fourth industrial revolution” in a 2015 article in Foreign Affairs, after which the phrase quickly took hold. Fittingly, Germany-based saw manufacturing company Kasto has embraced Industry 4.0 in a variety of ways, including those that go far beyond the sawing station. The company has introduced material handling and storage solutions that are entirely automated.
Stefan Dolipski, vice president at Kasto, says saw users and multi-machine operation can benefit from Industry 4.0 advancements, as the solutions allow operators to see the status of the saws from remote locations at any time.
“Managers can monitor the entire Kasto machine fleet from the office or from home at any time and track job statuses,” he says. “Maintenance staff can see the downtimes of the saws in the app and, in case of problems, can immediately counteract with maintenance.”
Dolipski points to interfaces as a gateway for staying informed, such as the SmartControl internationally standardized interface (RFC1006) that is used for connecting to saws.
Saw blade manufacturer Lenox is doing its part to bring Industry 4.0 to the world. Its Lenox 360 solution, which relies on sensors attached to bandsaws, connects the machines to the cloud, transferring key information that improves utilization and efficiency.
“Having real-time data like that is a gamechanger for our industry,” says Alexis Fernandez, senior industrial solutions manager at Lenox, “particularly because bandsaws can be older pieces of equipment that are not easily connected to Internet of Things initiatives. Currently, it’s not uncommon for data to be tracked manually, which leads to more of a historical look at a business. It also prevents companies from identifying invisible or unseen downtime, which provides the greatest opportunities for quick efficiency gains.”
HE&M Saw has also embraced connectivity with its new or improved Industry 4.0 products, including Smart Saw, Smart Saw Connect and MTConnect. For example, MTConnect is designed to allow all machine tools to speak a common language for the purpose of visualizing efficiency and data. Paul Beha, products manager at HE&M, says “connectivity” is a relatively new buzzword in manufacturing, and that if information can be provided in the proper format, processes can be streamlined and decisions can be made more proactively instead of reactively.
“With advances in the ability to obtain real-time information utilizing creativity, technology and expertise,” Beha says, “the possibilities could be limitless as to how much data can be obtained and how it can affect the way businesses operate today and in the future.”
The key focus
The key metrics or data to focus on will differ from one saw user to the other, but a common one Mike Albrecht, national sales manager at Scotchman Industries Inc., sees is related to
“Our optimization software allows users to get the best yield out of their raw stock,” Albrecht says. “Improved efficiency on material savings means increased profits. Programmable length stop and material feeding systems also take the work out of setting up length cutting, saving time and reducing error.”
Lenox’s Fernandez recommends that manufacturers track efficiency rather than focus too heavily on utilization metrics. Tracking efficiency involves isolating several factors that impact how effectively saw operators process material, including properly training the operator and understanding the intricacies of the saw and its various applications.
“Organizations can make decisions about training operators who consistently produce less than others,” she says, “or if changing speeds and feeds would lead to greater output. In bandsawing, isolating those variables is everything and flat data, like utilization, hampers abilities.”
Dolipski says Kasto customers see value in tracking metrics such as finish quality, cutting time and tool life. For example, the saw blade is a major consumable, so tracking the reasons it fails can lead to cost savings on blades, but also point to production errors, such as running the blade too fast or too slow and other parameters that impact blade life and cut quality.
To err is human. It’s a factor in sawing, as Scotchman’s Albrecht points out, saying automatic saw systems and digital measuring systems – big components in Industry 4.0 – improve efficiency, but also improve quality because of the precision and lack of the human error element. Albrecht remains a big proponent of training operators and providing them the knowledge they need to feel empowered in the workplace.
“Fewer skilled laborers in the workforce lately have caused businesses to acquire machines that are capable of doing more,” he says. “More advanced saw systems require a trained and skilled workforce, but I believe having a workforce that is more involved in their job leads to labor retention.”
Beha says HE&M customers are increasingly reaching out to company engineers to solve production woes caused by the labor shortage.
“Technology has long been blamed for replacing employees,” Beha says. “Now, technology is the answer for filling the faltering supply chain left by the labor gap. Companies are embracing and investing in new automated equipment and integrated systems that utilize new technology more than ever. And even more new innovations are on the horizon. New network architecture to connect machinery in a way that will disseminate it in a meaningful way is here now and constantly improving.”
Kasto’s Dolipski says Industry 4.0 advancements have made it easier to control quality because operators are more aware of how to run the saw at the optimal setting, clearly increasing the quality of the cut and reducing the amount of costly and time-consuming rework. Furthermore, by adopting the latest tech, employees have a higher degree of satisfaction in the workplace, in part due to maintenance reminders that keep downtime at a minimum.
Also, with the optimal use and adjustment of the machines via Industry 4.0 advancements, it’s a morale boost – employees get more satisfaction being at the helm of a saw that functions at higher levels.
“Making the workplace more modern increases employee satisfaction in general,” Dolipski notes.
Similarly, Lenox’s Fernandez is 100 percent behind empowering workers via “intentional training and development opportunities,” which bolster labor retention. But the best-trained staff can be burdened with too many tasks, which is another problem that can be remedied via technology.
“Too often,” she says, “I’ve been in shops where the efficiency question is easily answered by better staffing, because operators are responsible for material handling, sawing on several machines, deburring and packaging. It’s simply too much for any one person to be responsible for on multiple saws while also maintaining high levels of efficiency. Data can help to illuminate those issues and create the opportunity to rethink how an organization works.”