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Blechexpo displays lasers for factories of the future

Greg Blackman reports from sheet metal processing show Blechexpo, where lasers for the Industry 4.0 were on display

Laser system providers were showcasing technology for ‘Industry 4.0’ – standing for the fourth industrial revolution – at the Blechexpo and Schweisstec sheet metal processing and joining trade fair. The show is taking place from 3 to 6 November in Stuttgart, Germany.

Both Trumpf and Bystronic had new developments on display targeting digital manufacturing, the underlying principle behind Industry 4.0.

Trumpf has recently founded IT company Axoom, which provides a connectivity platform for manufacturing environments. Along with demonstrations on the Trumpf booth, Axoom, based in Karlsruhe, Germany, had its own stand at the trade fair.

Dr Jürgen Hohnhaus, CTO and member of the management committee at Bystronic, told Laser Systems Europe that the idea behind Industry 4.0 is that ‘the part will pull itself through production, rather than being pushed through by the job shop’.

Hohnhaus explained that, in the world of Industry 4.0, each component entering production will be assigned a data matrix code containing the complete manufacturing procedure for that particular part. At each station, machines will automatically know how to process the part and where next to send the component as it passes along the production line.

While the third industrial revolution is based on electronics and IT, Industry 4.0 revolves around the Internet of Things, whereby objects are embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity all operating in a networked infrastructure. Siemens’ electronics plant in Amberg Germany, which makes programmable logic controllers, follows this model and is a forerunner of what the factories of the future could look like. Around 75 per cent of the Siemens Amberg factory is automated; it produces one control unit every second.

The technology initiative SmartFactory KL and the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence have also been developing a demonstrator plant for Industry 4.0, with partners including Siemens, IBM, SAP, and Cisco.

As a largely digital piece of production equipment, the laser will find its place in the smart factories of the future. At Blechexpo, Hohnhaus said that a lot of Bystronic’s latest innovations were designed to make laser machines smarter. This includes its ByOptimizer online service where customers can input a laser cutting job and the algorithm will calculate the optimal cut plan to minimise material waste. Bystronic says that the service can save a company 12.5 per cent of material on average just by optimising the cutting plan.

Trumpf’s TruConnect service is similar, in that it optimises the overall production process (rather than the individual job). Trumpf said at the show that batch sizes are getting smaller in manufacturing, meaning upstream and downstream processing time is becoming disproportionately long compared to actual production time. Its TruConnect service aims to reduce upstream and downstream processing time to make factories more flexible when setting up machinery.

Axoom, owned by Trumpf, offers a cloud-based digital platform for manufacturing. Sandra Rios, head of product management and marketing at Axoom, said at Blechexpo that the software helps connect different factory machines that used to operate independently within the production environment.

The Axoom platform offers its own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or can connect to existing ERP solutions operating in the factory. It includes modules for order and resource management, logistics, and production planning and reporting.

Standardisation is considered a must for Industry 4.0 in order for equipment from different vendors to be connected together in a network. Hohnhaus at Blechexpo said that laser manufacturers need to provide open, standard interfaces, but that this is still largely a goal for the future for the laser processing industry.

Axoom does specify that it is an open platform. It lists its partners, which include the digital daughter company of the Klöckner, Linde, J. Schmalz, Sick, WiCAM Technische Software, Xetics, and Carl Zeiss Industrielle Messtechnik.

Elsewhere at the show:

  • Amada was showing a 2kW fibre laser, the ENSIS-3015 AJ, incorporating a laser beam modulation function that changes the beam parameters depending on the thickness of the material. It can cut up to 25mm thick ferrous steel. The company was also exhibiting a 4kW fibre laser; Lumentum, also exhibiting at the show, provided the laser diode modules for this system.
  • Prima Power was exhibiting its Laser Genius 2D fibre laser cutting technology. The 6kW fibre laser has a series of functions for different production needs: Smart Cut, for cutting thin sheets (up to 5 mm); Max Cut, for fast cutting of medium-thick gauge sheets; and Night Cut, for intensive production.
  • Also on display were laser processing heads from Precitec and components from II-VI, as well as complete laser systems from LVD, Mazak, Mitsubishi Electric, and BLM, among other companies.

Related articles:

The revolution will be automated - article from Imaging and Machine Vision Europe on Industry 4.0