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How Is Industry 4.0 Improving the Foundry and Casting Industry?

EmilyNewton
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VR Headset in an industrial environment

Industry 4.0 has forever changed manufacturing. The foundry and casting industry has experienced much of the progress, which has meant facility leaders can optimize their processes and minimize adverse outcomes. Here are some specific ways that innovative technologies can pay off and prove the benefits of smart metal casting.

Reducing Product Defects

Managing the die-casting process is typically a challenging endeavour. That’s due to numerous variables — from injection rate to temperature. However, one example used at a Toyota plant applied artificial intelligence (AI) to improve aluminium die-casting used for automotive air-conditioning systems.

The trial involved using a controller to capture approximately 40,000 data points for every die-casting shot, then analyzing that information with artificial intelligence. This approach allowed real-time production monitoring, plus learning which aspects were most likely to lead to defects.

It was then possible to control those variables, causing quality improvements. More specifically, AI evaluated the conditions at the time of a shot. It then checked the product’s quality after the casting.

Representatives from Toyota hoped to improve product quality and productivity with this experiment, which had them demonstrating a proof of concept for two years. The positive outcome of this smart metal casting test shows what’s possible. It could also encourage decision-makers at other companies to run their own trials.

AI excels at processing large quantities of data, which is one reason why it’s so often chosen to improve manufacturing processes. Once an artificial intelligence tool uncovers various trends associated with defects, it’s easier for factory leaders to conclude how they’ll target production issues and overcome challenges.

Enhancing Safety

Worker fatigue is an issue across all industries. One study showed that an astounding 97% of American workers had at least one of nine possible fatigue indicators. Being tired while on the job is particularly dangerous in metal casting facilities due to the precision required when pouring molten, liquid metal into moulds.

At H&H Castings, new or temporary workers get trained in the company’s melt department an average of twice a month due to the volatility associated with the role. The organization conducted a study whereby workers wore connected eye-tracking glasses while performing their tasks. The data revealed which duties required the most concentration and confirmed that any lapses could have disastrous consequences.

Company leaders hope they can use insights from the investigation to save up to 400 hours of training within the organization per year. Additionally, thoroughly reviewing the workers’ eye movement details will unlock future opportunities to help workers stay safer despite doing dangerous jobs.

This is one of many examples of how the Internet of Things (IoT) and data collection projects can highlight critical information that company leaders may otherwise overlook. Increased awareness of task-performance specifics could help prevent accidents while ensuring foundry workers have the skills they need to succeed.

Collecting accident data and running it through big data software could help people stay safer at work, too. For example, if the results show that a certain task is highly likely to cause injuries, leaders could set aside more time for training or tweak existing processes.

Improving Mould Creation and Production Methods

Ongoing efforts are underway to make better casting moulds with 3D printing. For example, using a lattice structure within the mould can make it stronger without adding too much weight.

One research paper explored taking 3D printing and casting even further by adding smart sensors to moulds made this way. The content focused on sand casting. Green sand casting is one of the most popular brass casting methods. In such cases, people make single-use moulds from sand aggregates and pour molten brass into them.

Putting sensors in 3D-printed moulds allowed capturing data about a wide range of characteristics. They included moisture, pressure, and whether a mould moved during casting. Researchers programmed the sensors to collect data for approximately two hours before a casting process started, continuing until about two minutes after the pouring finished.

In another example of 3D printing that could eventually affect foundries, a company uses a vacuum casting method to draw metal into thin structures. This process allows creating slimmer metal structures for highly complex or smaller parts. However, this approach also offers impressive versatility. Company representatives say this vacuum additive casting method can produce parts weighing a few grams all the way up to 60 tonnes.

This second example shows that 3D printing is starting to disrupt traditional metal casting methods. This development may encourage foundry managers to explore how to keep their companies relevant as smart technologies become more readily available. Many of the new things they do may also include intelligent tech, such as smart sensors to reduce variability.

Raising Productivity

Many decision-makers initially get interested in smart metal casting options because they want to maximize output. Meeting that goal could enable a company to stay competitive and keep customers happy. Robots are often significant parts of helping a company embrace Industry 4.0.

One foundry uses a collaborative robot to help grinding operators. The company relies heavily on grinders to prepare the complex 3D shapes of its castings. Representatives say the cobot helps stabilize and take weight off the grinder, which reduces the fatigue load and vibrations experienced by the machine operator. Those benefits allow people to work safely for longer periods. The cobot also minimizes the likelihood of the grinder slipping from the work surface.

Foundry operators may also use robots to clean casts. Some models on the market can halve cycle times and substantially reduce tool costs. They also accommodate foundry equipment made from various materials, including aluminium and steel.

Since many of these robots do not require a person to have extensive programming knowledge to set them up, it’s easy for decision-makers to see returns on investment faster than they might expect. It’s also advantageous that robots handle repetitive work well, and they don’t need breaks.

Smart Metal Casting Makes Sense

Using Industry 4.0 technologies in the foundry and casting industry does not guarantee success. However, people are more likely to experience the benefits if they take the time to finalize how they’ll implement the tech, choose goals to meet, and give employees enough time to get used to any new processes.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing articles for the tech and industrial sectors. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily at https://revolutionized.com/subscribe/

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