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Digitalization

Machines & Processes

The digital transformation is in full swing at the Schaeffler plants. Innovative digital tools and intelligent data usage are being deployed to increase productivity, from planning new production facilities or entire factories to effecting modifications during ongoing operation.

Working on concrete applications is important to computer scientist Dr. Dennis Arnhold. He uses his knowledge to implement new production planning methods at Schaeffler.

A plain office in Herzogenaurach. Dennis Arnhold opens his laptop. It takes just a few mouse clicks and he is right in the middle of a factory located in Kysucké Nové Mesto, a small Slovakian town near the Polish border. Here Schaeffler recently expanded its wheel bearings manufacturing capacities in an existing plant. “This is a digital twin of the complete production line,” explains Arnhold, zooming in on the 3D view. All the details that make up a factory can be seen; not only the machines, but every single lamp and even the logistics containers that are used in component supply – with the quality of animation similar to a modern computer game. But for Arnhold, this “3D Experience Platform” is anything but a leisure pastime. It serves for the planning of new production lines or even entire factories.

To see is to understand: Realistic simulations of new plants improve decision-making quality. To see is to understand: Realistic simulations of new plants improve decision-making quality.

Being able to plan in three dimensions offers great advantages, from the expert’s point of view: “We can, for example, design workstations with optimum ergonomic comfort even in advance.” Arnhold is particularly proud of the floor space that has been saved: Compared to an older production line with a comparable output in the Schaeffler network, the required space is 40 percent less at the Kysucké factory. What works with a traditional product, such as the wheel bearing, is of even greater importance when it comes to innovative systems: Where complex assembly lines are planned for the first time – such as for electrified drive systems, for example, the virtual systems enable product and process developers to discuss and determine the optimal production layout in advance.

We can design ergonomic workstations even during the early planning stages.

Dr. Dennis Arnhold

Factory planning in a virtual environment is only one aspect of the digital transformation that is currently going on in the Schaeffler workshops. One example is in Höchstadt where the Machine Tool 4.0 was put into operation in cooperation with DMG MORI at the end of 2015. Integrated into the regular production process, the machine continuously transmits over 170 signals. “We have already achieved initial success,” says Ronny Hüttner, Digitalization Project Manager at Höchstadt. Frequent retooling is a special challenge at this plant, which specializes in the small-batch manufacture of high-precision bearings. Thanks to the digital order control system, setup times have been reduced by up to 25 percent, since changing over to a new product no longer means that all the tools have to be removed: Now the machine knows which tools can be used for the next job as well. Currently, Hüttner is working on interlinking the Machine Tool 4.0 with a further lathe center, a grinding machine and a robot used for the feeding of workpieces. “As a next step, we’re converting a networked machine into a networked production island,” explains Hüttner.

Testing on the shop floor: The Machine Tool 4.0 proves itself under real production conditions.
Testing on the shop floor: The Machine Tool 4.0 proves itself under real production conditions.
X-ray view: The goings-on in the machine tool of the future can also be seen on a tablet PC. X-ray view: The goings-on in the machine tool of the future can also be seen on a tablet PC.

Specialists at Höchstadt are also working on how to ensure the meaningful use of the obtained data. In the future, it will for instance be possible to issue an “energy certificate” for every component. As the energy requirements of different workpieces vary considerably, the goal is to achieve more targeted purchasing of electric power. Moreover, in the event of technical breakdown, machines should automatically be able to report the failure cause to the higher-level manufacturing execution system. Once this is working throughout the Group, the obtained information could be used to purchase or develop machines in a more target-oriented manner. And ultimately, it should be possible even during the manufacturing process to predict whether the quality of the components meets all requirements and to adjust the machining process accordingly, if necessary.

Hüttner and Arnhold have a simple common goal: perfection. Errors and defects, whether during planning or ongoing pro­cesses, should only happen in a digital environment in the future.

Percent reduction in setup time resulting from digital order management alone

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