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Accelerate your foundry 4:0 digital journey

Considering investing in digital?  Our Global Product Manager for Digital Solutions -Kasper Paw Madsen,  advises on how to work out your strategy and choose the right foundry IIoT solution.

If your foundry is already performing well, how can you improve operations even further? Today, the answer is easy: Industry 4.0 digital tools. Adding the latest smart IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) technology to foundry machinery gives you a deeper, digital understanding of process challenges and signposts the path to the most efficient solutions.

But though improving productivity, sustainability and quality while reducing costs and cutting wastage is certainly attractive, investing in digital can be confusing. Where should you start? And who do you trust to help you? Making the right decision is critical but there are many competing solutions entering the market, often sold by new digital “experts” with little or no foundry experience.

In this article, we will discuss how to start with a simple digital solution and quickly benefit, then progress at your own speed towards more sophisticated applications – and even greater rewards. We will use examples from our Monitizer suite to show what’s possible at each step

"Monitizer is a complete digital foundry solution, based on decades of foundry knowledge and offering all the tools needed to collect, store, monitor and analyse process data. Because this scalable solution is compatible with equipment from any vendor, it works in any foundry or process."

Kasper Paw Madsen

Put the building blocks in place

At DISA, we see the digital journey as a 4-step cycle. You collect, visualise and analyse your data, and then intervene in the process to optimise it, applying what you’ve learned from the data. From an equipment point of view, each step builds on the previous one to enable full data-driven optimisation so it’s vital to think ahead and put the right foundations in place to support your future goals.

As the cycle shows, any digital foundry journey starts with collecting process data from local machines, sensors and other data sources, and feeding it to a single, central database. This requires secure IIoT infrastructure.

Essential kit includes machine interfaces to make equipment digital-compatible, sensors to generate the desired data, a local database to store it all in and software tools for reporting, visualisation and analysis. Any foundry IIoT solution should be able to access data from sensors, machine PLCs and existing databases – wherever they are and whatever the data format.

DISA’s on-premise Monitizer | CIM and other equipment like DISA MAC (Mould Accuracy Controller) collect, store and exchange data from multiple DISA moulding lines. This digital infrastructure makes better process control possible, with machine-to-machine linking supporting sophisticated automation and synchronisation options. One example is integrating automatic pouring with DISA moulding machine operation to reduce or even eliminate line stoppages and the need for manual intervention.

With DISA MAC, you can monitor real-time data on mould alignment before pouring and be alerted to any out-of-tolerance mould mismatch, step, parallelism and gaps. Other equipment that helps paint the most detailed and accurate picture of a foundry’s operation includes DISA’s TAG (Trace and Guidance) concept.

TAG marks each casting with a unique ID which can be tracked throughout the entire process to link every casting to the process parameters used to produce it. With this full traceability, digitalisation becomes even more effective in unlocking new insights that help reduce the costs of low quality to previously unseen levels.

Starting to win with digital

Automated collection and merging of time-stamped, standardised and encrypted data removes data silos and reduces laborious manual data preparation. As soon as trustworthy data is in place, managers can start to analyse and visualise it using customised dashboards, charts, graphs and reporting tools, along with more sophisticated statistical tools.

From real-time machine monitoring and using the correct settings for every pattern to identifying process problems, digital’s benefits come fast and early. Even the simplest data can reveal a host of issues, such as process bottlenecks that waste production time or excess energy consumption.

With this insight, managers can make changes to reduce or eliminate bottlenecks and speed up production. After making changes, they can then go back to the data and check for any improvements.

Choosing a flexible, secure IIoT solution

Monitizer | GLOBAL uses the NoriGate IIoT gateway to securely collect data from any equipment or data source anywhere in the world and send it to the Norican Hub Cloud. That makes this system extremely flexible and able to support any foundry process, regardless of whether you’re casting iron or melting aluminium. Foundry suppliers already rely on Monitizer | GLOBAL infrastructure to link their equipment together while starter kits for DISA, Wheelabrator and other third party machines make it easy to connect quickly.

Because a green sand moulding line generates many gigabytes of data annually, system scalability is vital, along with the power to process and merge incoming data in real time. This is where public Cloud infrastructure from providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) wins out, with effectively unlimited storage and processing power on tap, as well as the latest technology and the most stringent security standards.

So Monitizer | GLOBAL offers all the benefits of an in-house system and plenty of others, like a real-time digital picture of worldwide operations. Managers can observe current production and be alerted to emerging problems or compare different sites’ performance and spot where to make improvements.

Visualising data in the Cloud at MAT Foundry Group

Any digital foundry solution should let you filter and edit your data quickly and easily for reporting, and also let you customise how you visualise that data in charts, graphs and so on. This helps you understand the information contained in the data you’ve gathered and apply that information to make better business decisions.

Monitoring live KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and setting alerts is one powerful example. Exploiting Monitizer | GLOBAL’s open architecture, flexibility and customisable dashboard reports, MAT Foundry Group has connected multiple sites to give it a complete overview of its global operations. At its EURAC UK facility, teams now build their own dashboards with their chosen KPIs and process data.

Steve Merritt, General Manager at EURAC UK


"We’d previously tried digital options from other providers with little or no success.  We needed a way to see our foundry data, our way.”

Monitizer | GLOBAL gives EURAC’s staff a real-time digital picture of line performance, helping managers find ways to improve while the shop floor and maintenance teams can quickly spot – and remedy – any issues during day-to-day production.

“At a glance, our melt shop can see a live view of where any particular run is up to, current run speed, and how much iron is needed to complete the job,” explains Merritt. “You are automatically able to cut out all the stop/start inefficiencies and potential delays which naturally end up eating away at productivity levels and, potentially, quality.”

Other system advantages include automatically alerting the maintenance team if pressure readings indicate a fault with the extraction system – vital as the plant is surrounded by housing. Monitizer | GLOBAL’s time-stamped data makes it easier to find the root causes of any problems while live data monitoring and alerting also support preventative maintenance for reduced downtime.

“A weak seal was identified before it had a chance to fail, saving us several hours in unplanned maintenance time and associated production loss costs,” notes Merritt. “There is huge potential to leverage insights from every single level of production, from shop floor statistics to multi-site comparisons.”

Automated analysis for full process optimisation

Once reliable data is available, straightforward reporting, visualisation and alerting can uncover many different and significant benefits for foundries. But to tap the full potential of digital, more advanced analysis is required. The ultimate goal? Finding the combination of machine and material parameters that produces desirable results like minimum defect rates or maximum output volumes.

However, optimising an entire foundry process is extremely difficult. With hundreds of variables and a tangled web of relationships between them, this avalanche of data is too complicated for traditional SPC (statistical process control) or semi-automated statistical techniques. That’s why foundries looking to improve outcomes like scrap rates usually only consider the influence of single sub-processes like melting or pouring – definitely worthwhile but far short of what’s now possible using the latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.

A combination of techniques like machine learning and Cloud computing horsepower lets AI tools successfully analyse huge amounts of complex data in real time. Monitizer | PRESCRIBE is powered by technology from award-winning AI experts DataProphet. Its AI analyses foundry data to find correlations between quality and the process parameters the casting was produced with. A unique AI model is generated based on all your data that accurately prescribes how process parameters like melt temperature, sand grain size or pouring time affect quality metrics like scrap rate and defect types.

When searching for a supplier here, look for an AI solution that’s delivered as a packaged service via the Cloud which cuts out the need for both in-house data scientists and new IT infrastructure. Also, choose an AI that incorporates an EES (Expert Execution System) (see below) and that works with any foundry process – not just green sand.

Profit from foundry optimisation – automatically

An AI-built model gives you parameters for the whole production line that will deliver defect-free castings or other desirable outcomes. That’s an excellent result but AI works far better when combined, like Monitizer | PRESCRIBE, with a real-time EES (Expert Execution System).

The EES monitors all available production data from all sub-processes and, as inputs like foundry humidity, sand compressibility or pouring temperature change, the EES suggests prescriptions (next best actions) that operators can use to intervene and adjust the process to keep production in the “sweet spot”.

Rather than only taking corrective action after a problem has occurred, the EES predicts an upcoming quality problem and instantly suggests changes to avoid it. That means problems are fixed before they even happen.

Going back to our 4-step optimisation cycle, the EES is guiding your intervention based on real-time data and so closing the optimisation loop. In the long term, leading-edge foundries will be able to run autonomously, with an EES controlling and optimising entire processes while humans concentrate on higher value tasks.

One grey iron foundry’s experience shows the power of the AI approach. It employed traditional manual and semi-automated statistical process control techniques but could not analyse its data successfully. Its scrap rate was 9%.

After implementing an IIoT infrastructure to collect data from 37 sources, it still struggled to improve quality using traditional analytics. But Monitizer | PRESCRIBE successfully modelled its process, even with an expanded 225 data sources, and reduced defects by 50% in the first month of deployment

Defect rates in shipped castings were close to zero after just three months and the foundry now saves over $100k every month. It achieved this simply by adjusting its process parameters in line with the AI system’s suggestions and bought no new equipment.

Choose digital for a profitable future

Whether you’re thinking of starting to collect data or moving towards AI-driven optimisation, Industry 4.0 and IIoT simply cannot be ignored. If you don’t take advantage of it, your competitors will and foundries that fail to digitise will soon find themselves struggling to maintain their profit margins.

That’s because the potential of a successful IIoT deployment is huge: higher productivity and uptime, increased quality, lower scrap rates, greater automation and lower overall costs. Picking a complete solution that’s already tried, tested and proven to perform in any foundry will give you the best chance of achieving these benefits. But remember, simply buying an IIoT solution will not generate value on its own.

When planning your digital transformation strategy, consider what you want from your partner. Have they successfully delivered previous digital transformation projects in your sector? Is their IIoT solution developed, tested and proven for foundries? And do they have the mix of foundry and IT skills needed to make your project a success?

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