Nothing works in the foundry environment without digitalization. If you want to actively manage the megatrends decarbonization and energy efficiency, the digital tools from ABP are the perfect tools for every foundry. Siempelkamp Giesserei GmbH in Krefeld has set an example and at the turn of the year 2021/2022 has taken the step to become the first fully digitalized melting plant in Germany. In doing so, the company is reacting to the current challenges on the market: skyrocketing energy prices, the megatrend decarbonization, and the ongoing topic of demographic change.
ABP Induction divided the project into three phases: The project was started with engineering and preparation. This involved the analysis of the data structure, the provision of data models and the connection of the equipment. The second step was deployment and testing. This included installing the ABP Edge Gateway, implementing the apps, and verifying data collection and communication. Step three then included the actual release and approval, including user training and defining the next steps.
„We are literally starting with the hardware in the first step towards digitalization: The PLCs are being rebuilt and upgraded, the old PC technology is being dismantled and servers are being set up to be able to virtualize the working environment,“ explains Wolfgang Baumgart from ZORC Technology GmbH. The server works with a service orchestration tool that distributes the individual tasks into containers. This server then used the orchestration tool to start tapping into the individual data sources from the furnaces and temperature lances to the crane trucks and aggregate trucks like a data octopus. „Today, foundries have an internal Wi-Fi network virtually everywhere. Many sensors are therefore connected via WiFi and are then integrated as IoT devices,“ Wolfgang Baumgart explains.
To this end, ZORC employs microcontrollers to cost-effectively connect sensors or PLC systems. „This also works well for older systems: There are some good solutions to digitize these as well – and it can be done at reasonable prices. No large machine is lost in the digitization process. You can take existing systems into the modern age with available technology at very reasonable prices.“ So this is how you maintain the value of the system - a sustainable decision if you can keep and upgrade large mechanical systems („retrofit“).
The benefit as he sees it: Routine tasks, especially when it comes to documentation tasks, are automated by the system – this simple work no longer has to be done, so that the user can concentrate on the actual challenge. So, aspects of work organization can also be found in the change processes. „Here, another example from the field: In many cases, NEWS SPECIAL EDITION 13 employees are still classically „note-oriented“ – everything is printed and handwritten. The fact that this habitual structure is to disappear completely and be replaced by a digital process has to be communicated carefully,“ says Wolfgang Baumgart.
But it helps, he says, that employees are already familiar with the new communication medium from their private everyday lives: „Everyone knows a cell phone and has one in their pocket. It‘s the medium of choice for obtaining quick information, especially when you‘re stuck in the work processes. For example, think of the work step of taking a temperature reading: The employee takes their cell phone, checks the specifications, and can put it aside again. So the cell phone is integrated into the work process via company applications – getting used to it is a process.“
A central component of successful digitization is the ability to allocate all production data. „For this, you need a workflow management in order to be able to describe something like this in a business process. We use our own language for this – the „Business Process Model Notation“. The individual steps of the production process are represented graphically and broken down into individual steps by the software. You can imagine this process flow like this: „The system starts a melting process, from which tasks are generated for various workstations, e.g. charging for the crane operator, preparing additions for the furnace operator or sparking off spectrometer samples in the laboratory.
Data is collected along this process and constitutes the „production tree“. This tree can be used directly to generate digital twins or to train artificial intelligence (AI). Structured data of this kind is therefore much more valuable than the unsorted data sets of classic „Big Data“ systems.
In summary, this means: All data is collected and evaluated, is available merged to the business model, and the individual employee is focused only on their task. So what the workflow management system has going for it is that the employee at the individual workstations only ever gets information on his screen or tablet about exactly his tasks that are relevant to him, so that he can complete his task.“
Managers, in turn, can then check the dashboard to see how the process is performing overall. This results in the possibility that external intervention can still be made in the actual work process. „If important decisions are pending, actions can be released immediately, which makes the process as a whole faster and more reliable,“ adds Markus Fournell.
Finally, a production tree is created that contains all the relevant information. The branches are formed by all raw materials and all measured values, all energy values and times; they therefore reflect as a process what is ultimately produced: The finished casting as the trunk of the tree. The roots of the production tree are then figuratively supplied by the quality department, containing data on tensile strength results, microstructure, dimension and surface; basically everything the customer wants to receive in the final documentation. „These trees provide two other significant benefits: As a plant operator, you have all the information for accounting together, from costs to material consumption.
And: The trees can be used to train digital twins, which can be then used to simulate production processes and test variants. „These digital twins can be trained very well, especially for metallurgical processes – a key factor for process optimization in operations.“
At Siempelkamp, all processes now run together centrally in one system: „The trick is to bring the individual data together in such a way that there is convergent data that comes from the most diverse areas and subsystems in order to be able to interpret and use it,“ says Dr. Georg Geier from Siempelkamp.
This interconnection is not something that is trivial, he says: „We work in grown structures with very different characteristics, hardware and software architectures, and this has to be integrated. This is where the partners ABP and ZORC come into play – we wouldn‘t be able to do it without them. We need them at our side, because I am certain: unless we digitize our processes and business models, we won‘t be able to generate an acceptable ROI in the future,“ says Dr. Georg Geier. The detailed report on the changeover can be found in ABP News 11.