Are you reimagining your manufacturing processes?

The heading for my Editor’s Comment in the August 2019 issue of Castings SA was: Don’t risk getting stuck in the ‘Iron Age’. The heading and subsequent editorial was in response to what I had seen at the GIFA/GMTN 2019 International Foundry Trade Fair exhibition that took place in Düsseldorf, Germany at the end of June 2019. It was also a subtle response to utterings from a few South African foundrymen prior to visiting the exhibition: It will be same old, same old again. To a certain extent you cannot question their thinking because for the previous two decades there had not been any ground-breaking technology revealed, that would have an impact directly on the foundry industry. Except for 3D printing.

When the exhibition had taken place previously in 2015 the explosion of the technology had already started but had not made a significant impression on the foundry industry, bar for a handful that were forward-thinking. At the 2015 exhibition I remember seeing for the first time the debut of a 3D printing machine that the manufacturer was hoping would address the production needs of the foundry industry. The 3D printing machine exhibited had been developed and manufactured to support higher volumes and automation for the industrial production environment. It must be noted that rapid prototyping and small batch production was already in use in the industry and those early adopters were being rewarded. However, this machine also represented a considerable evolution in the manufacturer’s machine portfolio, as the new printer allowed customers to engage with the sand printing. The machine was very impressive but at a price of nearly one million euro, it was out of the reach of all of the South African foundries and any manufacturing enterprise willing to service the South African foundry market.

As we should all know by now the period subsequent to the 2015 exhibition has been one of rapid change in terms of digital connectivity, Industry 4.0, IoT, additive manufacturing/3D printing and the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning. In fact, if you look back it has been a sprint and continues to move forward at a rapid pace. The 2019 edition of GIFA/GMTN exhibition demonstrated this and it added more to the scenario by bringing in the resources and even bigger use of robotics in the manufacturing environment. I wrote that the foundry industry must adopt or adapt to the new digital age technologies or you risk getting stuck in the ‘Iron Age’.

This was emphasised when I attended a press conference and we were hit with the statement: ‘Maturity of conventional technologies – the potential to optimise Die-Casting is more or less exhausted’. This was a statement by Jonathan Abbis, Managing Director at Bühler Die Casting in his presentation to the media. As I explained at the time, you cannot take the statement in isolation though but rather you have to take it in the broader context of what Abbis was presenting about the future of die-casting and the technology that will be associated with die-cast manufacturing. However, the statement applies across all aspects of manufacturing and industry in general. Abbis’ point is crystal clear though.

In my opinion those that did not attend the GIFA/GMTN 2019 exhibition are the poorer for it especially if you take into account the quantum leaps that have been made in this digital era. The forthcoming EMO Hannover 2019 promises to offer similar technology gains. A must to see will be the VDW’s (German Machine Tool Builders Association) presentation on umati – a standardised and universal machine tool interface for data transfer to higher-level IT systems. It is a prerequisite for industry 4.0 in production. More than 70 international manufacturers will connect more than 100 machines and you will be able to discover the benefits in a live situation.