The metal forging industry is a highly productive and specialised sector, but very often there happens to be a mixed situation regarding plant automation, as a result of the stratification of technologies and solutions from different periods.
The task consisted in modernising a plant hosting the forging furnaces.
In one part of the plant there were treatment furnaces with obsolete automation on board and equipped with a dated supervision system responsible for the centralized management of recipes, treatment cycles and alarms. In the other, shine new-generation heating and treatment ovens, with a modern level of automation that includes machine interconnection; in this specific area of the plant, the requirements consisted in implementing a customised supervision system that managed both the ovens status and event reporting.
The objective pursued the complete renewal of the entire plant in a way broader than simply revamping of the existing installation.
The company identified THREAD as a qualified strategic partner for carrying out in an efficient manner the digital transformation of the plant, even if a great part of the plant was not aligned with the most widespread and advanced protocols.
THREAD was entrusted with the task of developing a dedicated system to collect data for analytical and process quality certification purposes, making the most of existing technology and opening up new, interesting opportunities to support the company’s growth.
The data collection and analysis system designed by THREAD communicates directly with the factory floor by collecting data from the PLCs installed on the ovens and, unlike traditional systems that store all data centrally, to record them locally on Raspberry devices. These devices act as buffers and send the data in a “store & forward” mode whenever they are synchronised with the central server. The advantage is that, in this way, there is no risk of losing strategically important data in the event of a temporary malfunction of the communication infrastructure.
The tolerances are very tight: in fact, it is not allowed to face a hole in the data collection. This is true both for acquiring a complete picture of the ovens operation and for quality and traceability issues of the forged part.
The most sensitive data are represented by the value of the thermocouples installed in the different areas of the oven, as well as the parameters relative to the temperature of the ovens; these data are essential for the production of process certification reports.
The amount of data collected by the PLCs is conveyed into a central Sql database and, once the furnace cycle is completed, it is possible to produce reports certifying that the heat treatment cycles of the forged parts have taken place in compliance with the highest quality standards. In the past, this data collection activity was carried out with recorders that were moved from forge to forge to download the data related to kilns operation.
In addition to the inconvenience of employing a person specifically dedicated to physically move the recorders between the ovens PLCs, there was also the fact that the recorded data relating to the thermocouple performance was not integrated into a single database, so performing queries and limiting the analysis periods was far from immediate. Moreover, it was necessary to rethink the graphic layout of the data presentation in a more user-friendly way.
The data collection and analysis software developed by THREAD solves this problem. Its streamlined, web-based architecture efficiently supports the store & forward mode implemented on the ovens, interconnecting all PLCs, and allows the extraction of visually attractive pdf reports for certifications.
One of the most appreciated aspects of the software developed by THREAD is that it can connect to all types of PLCs and read the variables directly in the program. The Sql format of the central database allows programs to be loaded from the central server directly onto the PLC, avoiding the problem of having to load programs locally in different versions and formats depending on the kiln’s automation level. Furthermore, the fact that the data is available in a single database and accessible from any machine makes it possible to evaluate the implementation of future business intelligence operations.
The possibility of activating control of the entire system also responds to the need to help operators supervising the forges by entering parameters centrally without the need to load the various recipes locally.
The next step is to analyse the data regarding energy consumption, together with interfacing with the management system for a synergic management of orders, passing from a “passive” use of supervision to an “active” use.
Until now, it had not been possible to make the production and the management level talk to each other because the previous systems had limitations. Today, thanks to the systems developed by THREAD, it is not only possible to collect and analyse the data collected by the furnaces more effectively, but also to address a real network integration of all departments in the plant and pursue a path of intelligent evolution of production.
Last but not least. Thanks to the supervision software, operators can remotely monitor the status of the ovens at any time, connecting to the control system simply by using a computer and launching a web browser. Next step will be granting the access using a mobile device, as to make production control completely flexible and versatile.