TOOL MAINTENANCE IN THE ERA OF INDUSTRIAL IOT

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I’ve recently noticed an increasing interest in management and optimization of tool usage & maintenance cycles. The growing demand for parts in aerospace, automotive and other industries, along with the continuous pressure to cut costs, shorten production times and ensure quality, means that tools are becoming more critical for smooth factory operations. That’s why manufacturers are further investing in tool tracking & management to improve their overall effectiveness, availability and utilization. Manufacturers will not compromise the quality of their produced parts that could be caused because a certain mold was not serviced on time or if a certain tool wasn’t calibrated. To prevent this from happening, manufacturers often send their tools to be serviced too often, resulting in lower availability and poor overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). So how do you shift from ‘time-based service’ of tools to a more accurate ‘duty-cycle-based service’? One solution is to increase tool utilization and better fit proper tool maintenance around your production schedule. That may be easier said than done, but advanced IoT software can do all of this and more, without overloading your busy factory floor staff. I often find that even advanced manufacturers rely on paperwork, Excel or simple tool management systems for tool tracking and management. Such systems rely on manual inputs which is time-consuming for staff, not always up-to-date and they are not connected to other production systems. Often, information on availability of tools, their current location and maintenance needs is simply not known to staff. This may lead to delays and hampers the ability to keep up with the factory schedule or quality requirements. Additionally, tool maintenance is not always done on site. In such cases, lack of advanced planning for maintenance is seriously disruptive. All this needs to change, and the Industrial Internet of Things is changing it. Manufacturers must keep up with fast-moving tool management technology or risk losing competitiveness. Tool tracking and management Industrial IoT technology combines software with shop-floor sensors and tracking technologies such as RFID, BLE (Bluetooth Low Emission) and other sensors, to monitor tools in real-time. The software is “aware” of the production plan and status, as well as the tool’s preventative maintenance needs, and takes all maintenance requirements into account, minimizing the impact on production. Once a deviation is detected, i.e. tools are not in their designated location, or tools that have passed their ‘maintenance due’, an alert is immediately generated and sent to the relevant factory staff. Additionally, tool duty cycles such as autoclave curing are tightly monitored to ensure tools are maintained on time but not earlier than necessary. When tools go through maintenance, the software updates the ERP and other enterprise systems to hold back material and work orders that require these tools.   The Digital Thread – allowing for Auditing, Accountability and Inventory Material, tools, machines and operators involved in the manufacturing process of finished parts are automatically logged in what is called the ‘Digital Thread’. The Digital Thread helps in another critical area too – the ability to be ‘audit ready’ at all times. OEM standards and regulations are strict, especially in sectors like aerospace and automotive. Industrial IoT software displays the complete history of the tool, how and when tools were serviced, how they were stored, how they were used, and their current location in case the tool belongs to a customer or the government during inventory check-ups. IIoT software not only takes all possible steps to eliminate production errors, it also allows you to convincingly demonstrate to your customers, and to regulatory authorities, that you have done so. Author: Avner Ben-Bassat, President and CEO
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