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Industry 4.0 and digitisation hitting machine tools 
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Industry 4.0 and digitisation hitting machine tools 

July 31, 2023 2:11 pm

The machine tool industry, which produces machines used for cutting, shaping, and forming materials, has been significantly impacted by the advent of Industry 4.0. 

Automating the machine tools industry is a key component of Industry 4.0, and it has revolutionised the manufacturing process in several ways. Automation involves using technology and computer-controlled systems to perform tasks traditionally carried out by human operators. The convergence of Industry 4.0 and digitisation has substantially changed the machine tools industry. Utilising the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0 enables intelligent manufacturing through interconnecting machines, equipment, and systems. Equipped with sensors and communication capabilities, machine tools can now collect and share real-time data. This connectivity offers enhanced monitoring, predictive maintenance, and data-based decision-making. Vineet Seth, Managing Director – South Asia & Middle East, Mastercam APAC, elaborates that digitising machine tools generates large volumes of data. It can be analysed using advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to predict maintenance requirements, reducing downtime and improving performance accurately.

Industry 4.0 technologies and real-time data analytics have made machine tools smarter and more interconnected. This connectivity enables better monitoring and optimisation of machine performance, leading to increased efficiency and productivity in the manufacturing process. With Industry 4.0, machine tools can be equipped with sensors that monitor their health and performance. By analysing the data collected from these sensors, manufacturers can predict when maintenance is needed, reducing unplanned downtime and minimising disruptions to production.

Digitalisation and automation

Industry 4.0 has facilitated the digitalisation of manufacturing processes. Machine tools can be integrated into a digital network, allowing for seamless communication and coordination between different stages of production. Automated systems can manage production lines with minimal human intervention, leading to greater precision and faster throughput.

The machine tool industry has witnessed a shift towards smaller batch sizes and increased demand for customisation. Smart machines can be reprogrammed quickly to switch between different production tasks, allowing for greater flexibility in the manufacturing process. Manufacturers can make more informed decisions with the proliferation of data from connected machines. Analysing data on machine performance, energy consumption, and material usage can lead to process improvements and cost savings. Industry 4.0 fosters integration and transparency throughout the supply chain. Machine tool manufacturers can collaborate more effectively with suppliers, customers, and partners, leading to automated logistics and optimised inventory management. 

Machine tools industry automation

Automation empowers machine tools to function continuously, delivering tasks with remarkable precision and consistency. Indraneel Bhattacharya, Vice President – Sales & Marketing, Laxmi Machine Works, says, “Manufacturers can significantly enhance productivity and reduce cycle times by automating processes like workpiece handling, tool changes, and quality inspections, leading to accelerated production rates and improved overall efficiency.”

Automation in the machine tools industry often involves integrating various smart manufacturing systems. These systems use sensors, IoT devices, and data analytics to monitor and optimise the production process in real time. They can adjust machining parameters, detect defects, and even predict maintenance needs, improving efficiency and reducing downtime. Further, automated systems are employed to handle raw materials and workpieces throughout the manufacturing facility. This includes robotic arms, conveyor belts, and autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) that can transport materials between different stages of the production line. Manufacturers can achieve real-time data collection and analysis by connecting machines through the Industrial Internet of Things, enabling predictive maintenance and streamlined production processes.

CNC machines are a fundamental example of automation in the machine tools industry. These machines are controlled by computer programs that dictate the movement and actions of the cutting tools. CNC technology allows for precise and consistent manufacturing, reducing human errors and increasing production efficiency. A major concern is the consistent reliance of Indian industries on imported machine tools. However, we can manufacture critical components for sectors like automobiles, aerospace, medical, defence, and general engineering. According to T.K. Chakrabarti, Vice President of Lokesh Machines, “To become self-sufficient under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ campaign, Indian machine tool builders should prioritise bridging the gap by reducing dependence on imported CNC systems and vital parts and taking the initiative to produce them domestically for various sectors like automobiles, aerospace, medical, defence, and general engineering.

The automotive and aerospace industries have been increasingly demanding lightweight materials, and this trend is expected to continue as sustainability. Moreover, the ongoing surge in manufacturing activities spurred by infrastructure projects is emerging as a manufacturing market. The automotive and aerospace sectors are at the forefront of technological progress in cutting-edge metal cutting and forming processes. These industries are actively exploring Additive manufacturing, including hybrid additive or subtractive techniques, to create complex aero-engine components and parts with conformal cooling needs.

Automation is closely linked with the concept of digital twins in the machine tools industry. Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical machines and processes, allowing manufacturers to simulate and optimise operations before implementing them in the real world. This approach minimises trial-and-error, reduces setup times, and optimises resource utilisation.

Adaptive machining

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Some advanced automation systems in the machine tools industry use AI algorithms to adapt real-time machining processes. These systems can optimise cutting paths, adjust cutting speeds, and choose appropriate tooling based on the processed materials and the specific machining requirements.

Industrial robots are used in the machine tools industry to perform various tasks, such as material handling, part loading and unloading, and even complex machining operations. Robots can work tirelessly and with high precision, enhancing productivity and safety in the manufacturing process. Collaborative robots, or cobots, work alongside human operators in a shared workspace. They can assist with tasks that require human dexterity or decision-making while ensuring a safe working environment. This collaboration enhances productivity and allows for more complex manufacturing tasks.

Machine tool manufacturers and other industries must create a cohesive and interconnected approach to their operations. To achieve this, they can adopt various strategies, such as refining processes, updating technology, relying on data-driven decision support systems, implementing stringent quality control measures, optimising maintenance practices, and streamlining supply chain management. These efforts contribute to cultivating a culture centred on continuous improvement, fostering skill development, and measuring performance with corrective actions as necessary components.

Future ahead

Overall, Industry 4.0 has transformed the machine tool industry, making it more efficient, adaptable, and capable of meeting the demands of modern manufacturing. Embracing these technological advancements is crucial for manufacturers to stay competitive and thrive in an increasingly digital and interconnected world. Cybersecurity becomes a critical concern as machine tools become more connected and reliant on digital systems. Protecting manufacturing facilities from cyber threats becomes paramount to ensure the integrity and safety of the production process.

Adopting Industry 4.0 technologies requires a skilled workforce to operate and maintain these advanced machines. As a result, there is an increasing demand for workers with data analysis, programming, and automation expertise. The integration of Industry 4.0 had a profound impact on the machine tools industry. They achieved enhanced monitoring, optimised production processes, and greater flexibility with real-time data analytics. 

Overall, automation in the machine tools industry has significantly improved manufacturing efficiency, precision, and flexibility. As technology evolves, automation integration will become even more sophisticated, paving the way for more streamlined and intelligent production processes.

Indraneel Bhattacharya, Vice President – Sales & Marketing, Laxmi Machine Works Limited.
“Manufacturers can significantly enhance productivity and reduce cycle times by automating processes, leading to accelerated production rates and improved overall efficiency.”

Vineet Seth, Managing Director – South Asia & Middle East, Mastercam APAC
“Machine tool manufacturers and other industries must create a cohesive and interconnected approach to their operations.”

T.K. Chakrabarti, Vice President of Lokesh Machines Ltd.
“To become self-sufficient under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ campaign, Indian machine tool builders should prioritise bridging the gap by reducing dependence on imported CNC systems.”

Vijaykrishnan Venkatesan, Managing Director, Kennametal India Limited.
“We need to continue to increase the adoption of IoT, which will support the interconnection of automation and manufacturing through technologies such as AI/ML.”

Niranjan Manjrekar, Managing Director, Bystronic Laser India Pvt. Ltd.
“Intelligent connectivity of laser cutting systems and press brakes with automation, software, and service solutions is the key to comprehensive digitalisation in the sheet metal industry.”

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