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Smart Anything Everywhere

Cyber-Physical Systems Engineering Labs is part of the Smart Anything Everywhere initiative.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 644400.

LegInt (Advancing Legacy Machine Tools into the Digital Manufacturing Century)

Problem and Solution

There is a new trend in industry to offer production services on a digital marketplace (Industry 4.0). The vision is to minimize the overhead needed to create and organize production chains. An ultimate goal is to enable self-organizing production scenarios providing highly economic manufacturing solutions starting at lot size 1.

There is a massive momentum in the development of the digital environment as computational power is getting cheaper every year (Cloud Computing). However, the backend processing is still relying on expensive machine tools - for example to create metal parts via milling. The investment cycle for machines like that is completely different from the rapid changes in information technology. Especially small enterprises use the machine tools for decades and a large amount of equity capital is bound to these machines.

There is a danger that new trends in manufacturing will be disruptive for lots of small and medium size companies. An obvious solution is to integrate legacy machine tools into digital production chains, which is the focus of the LegInt project. Its main goal is to develop and verify a toolset which supports the integration of legacy machine tools (hence the project acronym LEGacy INTegration).

LegInt targeted the related challenges by developing a "shell" that augments legacy machine tools through a set of interfaces to embed them into an advanced Cloud Manufacturing environment. This shell consists of both hardware and software components. The potential of LegInt has been demonstrated in a practical industrial experiment using legacy numerical controlled milling machines, though the approach is not limited to such machines only.

LegInt Concept

LegInt uses Function Blocks as an enabler for the integration of legacy milling machines into digitized production chains. A function block represents a feature - for example, a pocket or a face - to be created by milling processes. The DIH at fortiss brought their open source framework Eclipse 4diac and the necessary expertise to enable the product designer to describe complex milling processes through a connection of parametric Function Blocks. Each Function Block is calculating optimised milling tool moves that are necessary to generate the feature geometry. The contributing SME FormTec brought the knowledge and skills to generate traditional numerical control code files on the fly via a driver-based system.

During the LegInt experiment, different techniques, algorithms and tools have been developed aiming to retrofit legacy machine tools and transform them into cyber entities. The developed monitoring system supported by smart sensing and wireless network is capable of collecting data from the machines and transmitting them into a cloud environment where they can be analysed and further used for process planning and optimization. The core component of the LegInt experiment that can benefit by the monitoring data is the 4diac function blocks that are utilized for the process planning and optimization.

A new flexible modular approach using Function Block shells has been introduced that supports quick and easy replacement of functionality. This opens the door to potential new business models, by allowing the update of Function Block behaviour flexibly through the supply of modular algorithms, which can be written in any software language. They can be swapped in and out of Function Block as required.

Overall, the main benefits of the LegInt experiment are increased machine and shop-floor awareness, adaptive planning, and a framework for a user-friendly and easy-to use LegInt Interface.

How did CPSE Labs Help?

CPSE Labs provided the ideal setting to bring together the necessary partners to realise the LegInt ambition: the SME FormTec combines expertise in cutting technologies and software development, the two universities in Patras and Cranfield served as additional technology providers for monitoring and cloud systems. The Digital Innovation Hub at fortiss offered their open source infrastructure Eclipse 4diac for distributed industrial process measurement and control systems based on the IEC 61499 standard for Function Blocks, and provided necessary technical training and consulting.

For SMEs such as FormTec the management and the realization of research activities alongside the daily business is a challenge. The CPSE Labs funding enabled FormTec to devote time and effort to evaluate Eclipse 4diac as a standardized programming method for realizing new function block concepts. Furthermore, CPSE Labs funding enabled the experiment consortium to present and demonstrate their results at the 2017 Hannover Fair, which provided an important opportunity to connect to potential new customers and initiate further activities for future exploitation.

Impact

The cyber-physical shell around legacy machines developed within LegInt is an approach to adapt large investments in machine tools for future digitised usage. The benefits include adaptive process planning, multiple criteria based decisions (delivery date, cost, or energy consumption), massively reduced overheads, and support for the integration of simulation tools improving process safety and quality.

FormTec estimates that over 1,000 companies in Europe running expensive legacy production milling machines can benefit from the technology or at least parts of it and constitute potential FormTec customers. The results of the project build the base for consultancy and individual solution development for this large customer base. Therefore it is a foundation of a new branch of business of FormTec with an expected potential of additional revenue of €0.5M over the next five years.

Outputs

The main outputs of the experiment are a software framework and a related demonstrator for integration of legacy machines into a digitized production environment, and consists of modules for product specification, job dispatching, and monitoring of the behaviour of legacy milling machines. The demonstrator of the software/hardware framework illustrates the remote connection to a real machine to monitor the state of the different machine components, and the generation of machine specific instructions based on generic CAM-files, using 4diac for specifying transformation workflow, and utilizing current state of the machine for adjustments in the machine parameters.

Design centre

This experiment is supported by our Germany South design centre

Germany South design centre

Technology platforms

4DIAC Logo

Partners

Dates

1st Apr 2016 - 31st Mar 2017
Funded under: CPSE Labs Call 2