Interconnectivity is important in establishing smart manufacturing environments in which the data shared between disparate pieces of equipment improves the speed of jobs through even simple process improvements. I learned Zoller’s philosophy while attending an open house at its U.S. center of operations in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At the event, the company invited customers into its new Industry 4.0 Technology Center to demonstrate its measuring systems and interconnected tool-storage solutions. The event included product displays and demonstrations of presetting and inspection machines as well as speeches by Zoller President Alexander Zoller and General Manager Dietmar Moll. While the speeches briefly touched on the capabilities of the measuring equipment, their main focus was on how the company’s Tool Management Solutions (TMS) Gold software facilitates data sharing across machines.
Zoller realized this interconnected approach to manufacturing by expanding on its presetting machines, which provide measurements of the length, diameter and complex cutting tool geometries. The company already had many other offerings (heat-shrinking solutions, automated inspection solutions, machines capable of complex DXF comparison and more), but it realized that the presetting machines generated data that could be useful in other applications. The presetters create “digital twins” of the tools they measure, which the company has used in secondary processes such as creating tool profiles for CAM programmers to run more accurate simulations of tool paths. In another application, the TMS software uses the digital twins to keep an accurate accounting of a shop’s tools, including their number, condition and location in the shop. Using simple inputs attached to tool-vending machines and cabinets, the shop can keep track of who has which tool, and management will have ample notice when inserts are running low.
While the company has been dedicated to metrology for decades, the development of the tool-vending and storage solutions is not a change of direction, Mr. Zoller says. “Our measuring and presetting devices were already recording most of this data for our customers,” he says. “With our vending and tool-management solutions, we are able to put this data to new use to improve our customers’ shopfloor experience.” The company simply saw that its machines were taking in useful information, and expanded its offerings to put that information to use. This is the heart of data-driven manufacturing.
Oftentimes, people hear the term “data-driven” and picture endless charts and spreadsheets filled with minute details on every metric possible to retrieve from a machine tool, but Zoller demonstrates that data-driven manufacturing is the simple act of gathering information that is truly valuable and putting it to use in your shop. Machine metrics are certainly important, but so is knowing something as simple as how many carbide end mills are in stock before placing an order for more.