Metal Casting Technologies : MCT-1STQRT-2017
and future improvements in robotic grinding,” says Palmer MAUS’s Butler. “When these advances are incorporated within a robotic grinding cell, foundries benefit from an extremely robust, productive and forward-looking tool.” Futureproofing by design Foundry operations of the future will likely continue the trends of the recent past. Most foundries of today are greener (fewer emissions), cleaner (less particulates in the working environment), leaner (fewer personnel performing multiple tasks), and more productive (higher tonnage per man hour) than ever before. While automation will play an increasingly important role in cutting edge metal casting processes, it will have to be implemented in the right way. “Automation shouldn’t just be added blindly,” says Brian Judd, a design engineer with Marketing Options, a technical marketing, visualisation and lean manufacturing training and consulting firm based in Ohio. “If a wasteful manual process gets automated without improvement, it is likely to produce less than desirable results.” For foundries looking to get ahead, effective futureproofing involves regular, critical evaluation of every stage of the production process. Even something as simple as a foundry ladle may be in need of an upgrade. “Foundry ladles are considered low-tech, but the design can invariably be improved,” says Acetarc’s Harker. “Fitting motor drives and radio control remote operation reduces effort and improves safety. Improving ladle design can also ease the replacement refractory lining.” Energy use is one area where foundries will undoubtedly need to make continued efficiency savings going forward. “Energy costs will certainly increase in the future, so it’s important that foundries plan for this now,” says David White, National Sales Manager with The Schaefer Group, a US-based firm specialising in high-tech energy efficient melting and holding furnaces. “For example, electric melting in radiant, roof-style melters is super-efficient, while the quality of metal produced is unparalleled.” From virtual to reality The advent of new technology can completely disrupt an industry. Computer Aided Design (CAD) has already revolutionised engineering and design, while the beneficial effects of 3D printing are now spreading throughout the manufacturing world. Now Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies are emerging as the next major disruptor in many sectors. Industry analysts predict that by 2020, the AR and VR industries will together be worth US$120 billion. New applications for AR and VR are emerging almost daily. The US Navy is using AR to enhance the safety and mission effectiveness of deep sea diving operations. The US Air Force has gone one step further; the F-35 fighter employs an AR system instead of a conventional head-up display. In the civilian world, jurors are now able to virtually experience crime scenes and doctors can use VR to guide remotely controlled robotic surgeons. One of the simplest applications of AR, already widely available, is to display virtual content overlaid on a smartphone or tablet camera feed. This kind of flat-screen AR is low-cost, but also low-immersion. It allows a limited field of view into the virtual world, while the relatively restricted processing power of mobile devices limits detail and fidelity. At the other end of the spectrum is the fully immersive VR headset connected to a powerful computer system or workstation. This is a goggle-like display that completely covers the user’s field of view with virtual imagery, and may also include audio. Some systems enable “room-scale” VR, which allows users to move freely within a delineated real space as they explore their virtual environment. VR in foundry set-up Foundries are one of the many industries set to benefit from the mixed reality revolution. METAL Casting Technologies 1st Quarter 2017 19 FEATURE 18 www.metals.rala.com.au FEATURE “We often see problems in foundries that can easily be addressed with VR visualization and training,” says Marketing Options’ Brian Judd. “’Seeing is believing’ is an understatement when it comes to being able to see a process or piece of automation equipment in operation.” Using VR, a foundry or factory layout can be rapidly assembled and modified during a collaborative session and displayed on-screen for multiple participants, either local or networked. Users can choose and position machinery or components inside a virtual copy of the foundry environment. Hand tracking allows users to “grab” virtual objects and position them directly, regardless of whether they are in the room, or connected via network. Once a layout has been assembled, users can tour and experience the design. “In the real world, foundry layouts are often approved which add automation or new equipment,” says Marketing Options’ Judd. “After implementation managers then find that there are obstructions, or some element of machine performance is different than imagined, or that casting size wasn’t taken into consideration. “VR simulation can eliminate these issues before the need for costly modifications ever arises,” he continues. “It offers foundries an unprecedented level of quality control for their operations.” VR for HR Virtual reality can also improve the way foundries train their employees. “We often see foundries implement new technology, such as the 3D printing of cores and moulds, with great excitement,” says Marketing Options’ Judd. “The manufacturer of the equipment conducts extensive training and the foundry moves forward. Then the operators leave and training is left to the prior trainer, or nobody at all.” For foundry workers, VR-based training is available round- the-clock, right from the desktop or tablet, for troubleshooting, maintenance and operator performance. And because it is made from a 3D CAD file, it recreates exactly the equipment they will be using on a daily basis. “For foundries, VR is a powerful tool,” says Marketing Options’ Judd. “These are early days for AR and VR technology, but the scope for applications is already proving to be limitless.” Future focus As many foundries strive to remain competitive, there is an ongoing need for them to add value and remain suppliers of choice. To do this they must be innovative, flexible and highly efficient. As they look to futureproof their operations, foundry management teams must be adept at analysing their ROIs and future cost savings in order to justify the capital expenditure needed to introduce new technology. “I think many smaller jobbing foundries are still learning about this,” says Marketing Options’ Judd. “When they are faced with additive manufacturing, 3D printing, multi-function automation equipment, newer smart controllers and an endless supply of other new technologies, the concept of futureproofing can understandably be a little overwhelming.” Those foundries which can produce components which embody a high knowledge content and skill will continue to flourish. Yet futureproofing is not only about technology and automation - those foundries which invest in people will set themselves apart too. Increasing the number of highly skilled employees who can drive the company in new directions with greater ability is also critical. “As foundries implement increasing levels of technology, the demand for far more technically minded people is also going up,” says Acetarc’s Harker. “There is a definite skills shortage which must be countered.” The need to produce lighter, more complex castings with longer lifespans continues to focus the mind of designers and cast metals engineers in all parts of the world. This will demand ongoing, high-level R&D expenditure and improved early-stage dialogue between practical foundry personnel, design engineers and OEM representatives. With traceability and connectivity increasingly important to a wide range of industrial sectors, the need to truly integrate Industry 4.0 and unify data streams will continue to impact the foundry sector. In this regard, mind-sets and forward-looking business management will remain just as important as the quality and performance of the components that metal casters produce. Subject to the vagaries of demand, the development of the global metal casting industry over the coming decades is always hard to predict with any great certainty. Yet one thing is clear. Customers want far more from foundries than just dependable products. Those metal casters who can continue to assimilate new ideas and working practices will be the ones that underpin the foundry industry as it moves further into the twenty-first century. n “Virtual Reality lets users experience any environment first-hand, enhancing training and improving visualization.” Rendering: “Technical 3D animations and renderings allow accurate visualization of complex multi-stage processes in action.” Electric “in Cell” melting and/or holding furnace.