Best of 2017: Controlling additive manufacturing with Industry 4.0 techniques

Best of 2017: Controlling additive manufacturing with Industry 4.0 techniques

Renishaw develops custom solutions for precision manufacturing applications using emerging additive manufacturing technologies.


As shops being to embrace Industry 4.0, Renishaw has identified a common trait among its most productive customers: they control the process. Automation, measurement, and feedback throughout each stage of manufacturing delivers optimized process control – monitoring part condition, machine performance, and process trends. When coupled with the new manufacturing capabilities of additive manufacturing (AM), easily accessible process data directs the development of unique solutions. This has already had an impact in applications ranging from medical to aerospace. As customers increasingly demand more specialized parts to save weight or space, process control and AM can offer higher volume production of customized parts for an array of applications.

Control the process for better parts

Most manufacturers evaluate machine performance by measuring the quality of finished parts. However, optimized processes monitor the condition of parts and the performance of machines, process trends, interventions, and environmental effects during production, thereby reducing scrap and rework, the infamous productivity killer. Information gained quickly translates into increased efficiency and productivity because adjustments are made before a bad part is made.

Industry 4.0 benefits
Maxillofacial surgery can use multiple discrete implants to reconstruct a patient’s face.

Any size operation can take advantage of Industry 4.0 strategies to improve production operations.

“Continuous improvement and the consideration of key variables when developing new processes play a large role in effective process control,” says Renishaw Inc. President Howard Salt. “Digital connectivity across our platforms simplifies communication between systems and removes barriers for almost any size operation to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0.”

The Industry 4.0 trend speaks to connectivity, making networking a key component of 24/7 data availability across different digital platforms, as well as the integration of sensors for performance monitoring and process control.

“At Renishaw, we believe both are essential to successful implementation of automation. The ability to monitor key process inputs, analyze data, and continuously improve manufacturing processes is key to increased productivity and higher accuracy,” Salt says. “This is precisely what Renishaw’s Productive Process Pyramid establishes (see sidebar). It is critical that checks and measurements are made before, during, and immediately after machining to control both common-cause and special-cause variation. Simply measuring the output of a manufacturing process is not enough, and often, too late to control all the variability in a manufacturing process.”

Solutions – from non-contact tool setting and tool breakage detection to laser calibration and ball bar testing – enable data collection through in-process measurement and allow manufacturers to understand what causes adverse effects during production. Users benchmark and track machine performance and implement fact-based, predictive maintenance – replacing redundant systems and rapidly reducing time and operating costs.

Design freedom

Flexible, fast, and financially sound in the long term, AM is having a major impact on the industry. Production benefits include less material used, lower tooling costs, shorter process times, shorter lead times, simpler assembly, and fully automated processes. AM parts can be lighter with better performance and reliability and be custom-designed. Very little material is wasted during AM, something that becomes significant as production runs increase. When combined with traditional subtractive machining methods, AM encourages engineering design freedom while driving lean manufacturing operations.

AM can play a key role in Industry 4.0, because in many cases it answers the question: How?

“Engineers design a part, but then the question becomes, how do we make it? AM has made it possible for design engineers to push the envelope of part design, cutting weight and size,” Salt says. “Patient-specific implants, surgical guides, hydraulic valves, aerodynamics, the applications are virtually endless. Shops can also make better parts sooner, because prototyping has always been a strength of AM. Now what used to take weeks, could in some cases, take only hours.”

Manufacturing’s trio

Intelligent machining processes are critical elements in advanced manufacturing. Automation, measurement, and feedback can deliver process control throughout the stages of manufacturing. Combining the information gleaned through machine monitoring and measurement with the capabilities of additive and subtractive manufacturing is a path to a new type of manufacturing. Shops can produce higher quality, custom-designed parts less expensively, faster, and with less waste.

When used as a complement to subtractive manufacturing and traditional craft processes, AM benefits production costs, part precision, and predictability. It has evolved from prototyping and is now used for direct part replacements and custom part installations. AM allows manufacturers to make parts which were previously impossible to manufacture with subtractive methods alone. This design freedom can enable significant improvements in the functional performance of parts.

Collaboration can be another key to the advancement of AM into mainstream production.

“Customers with special part or production requirements look to designers, material providers, and machine makers to develop new methods and techniques, and the answers will come faster through joint effort,” Salt says. “The commitment we’ve made to this approach is evidenced by our network of global Solutions Centers, specifically focused on advancing additive and metrology technology. We want shops of all sizes to see the benefits of advanced manufacturing technology and how it impacts operations.”

Widely publicized trends such as Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing, and data mobility provide manufacturers an opportunity to develop processes that deliver improved productivity and process capability. Improvements in interconnectivity between systems and easy access to automation will also be important in enabling the effective adoption of new processes and technology such as AM.

Renishaw Inc.