According to Michael Feltes, self-configuring and interconnected injection moulding machines have long been a topic in the industry. A number of the ideas that come under the banner of digitalisation today are neither new nor revolutionary. In the late 1980s and early 1990s “computer-integrated manufacturing” was already becoming quite a buzzword, but after moderate successes it turned into more of a taboo and a synonym for over-engineering and excessive complexity in production. “Now, however, the time is ripe for the smart factory, in which all manufacturing machines and their components communicate together and are continuously optimising themselves,” says Dr Christoph Steger with conviction. Behind this optimism is the development of modern information and communication technology, which is making a number of applications possible for the first time. In future, this will lead to significant improvements in the productivity, efficiency, quality and flexibility of the manufacturing process. “At Engel we’re focusing specifically on three areas: machines, production and service, all of which come under our inject 4.0 initiative and our smart machine, smart production and smart service solutions,” adds Dr Steger.
Smart machine increases the processing capability of the injection moulding machines with no need for the machine operator to acquire additional specialist knowledge. The iQ software products, for example, continuously analyse certain process parameters in order to identify and immediately rectify deviations even before rejects occur. The software guarantees a stable process and consistently high product quality, no matter what the ambient conditions and despite any fluctuations in the quality of materials. “Our various smart machine solutions provide the best proof of how assistance systems can make it easier to adjust the injection moulding machines and increase their processing capability,” argues Michael Feltes. For example, iQ weight control ensures that the injected melt volume remains constant over the whole injection moulding process including the holding-pressure phase, while the iQ clamp control software monitors mould breathing and continuously readjusts the clamping force. Both significantly improve process stability. E-flomo is an example of a self-adjusting system. The regulated temperature-control water manifold automatically compensates for temperature fluctuations in the mould, which also increases process stability and reproducibility, while additionally conserving cooling energy.
In contrast, all machinery is taken into consideration under the general term smart production. The aim is to increase the customer’s productivity. Linking all the machines and locations makes it easier for the processor to utilise their machinery to capacity, to retrieve the status of injection moulding machines and to create documentation. “We even go one step further and offer our customers – with our authentig MES – an energy-management tool that simplifies resource optimisation across their whole system of machines,” explains Michael Feltes.
Lastly, the third – but central – element of the smart factory are smart service solutions, which mainly involve remote and predictive maintenance. “In order to avoid unplanned downtimes and to minimise planned ones, we must work resolutely on load-related maintenance intervals,” explains Dr Steger. That is the only way to extend the service life of machines and individual system components. Engel is also keen to go a step further in this area and it has made it possible to predict the remaining service life of individual components. Thanks to cutting-edge sensors, assessments of the condition of an injection moulding machine’s plasticising screw can already be conducted online. The evaluation of the wear parameters on the basis of mathematical models makes it possible to identify and – through corresponding adjustments – avoid critical process settings that accelerate the wear of certain components.