AMRC and the four pillars of process monitoring

15 March 2019

AMRC engineer Jon Stammers showcased the value of data capture and process monitoring in manufacturing to kick off the Lamdamap 13th International Conference and Exhibition.

The conference, held at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and organised by Euspen, focussed on novel manufacturing technologies and machine tools, new developments in measurement techniques, performance evaluation for machine tools, machine tool standards, and metrology in new fabrication techniques.

It drew an international crowd with guests from the US, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, India and Korea speaking at the two day event, which included a tour of the AMRC site. Among those invited to talk was keynote speaker Dr Jon Stammers from the AMRC Machining Group.

Jon spoke about work the AMRC, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, is doing to capture and understand data from machine tools as part of its process monitoring.

The data generated is incredibly valuable as it can be used to inform on the health of a process or machine. This is useful in determining tool wear – moving away from manual inspection which requires machine down-time – helping optimise performance and improving productivity.

“Our work is all about understanding what is happening in a machine tool. Traditionally you listen to the machine - the operator might put their hand on it to feel what’s going on in there, or they might get a ruler out to measure things,” he said.

“That’s a kind of traditional process monitoring and as we go out to see SMEs, which is a big part of what we do at the AMRC, we still see a lot of this out there in industry. So that’s something we do - help industry move away from that - because there are a lot of things happening in a machine tool. There’s lots of data coming out of it that can be exploited and used to understand what is happening in your process.”

Much of the work is looking how to get data out of machines, sensors and systems.

“There are four pillars to process monitoring – the machine, the tool, the part and – the bit that’s often actually forgotten – the people,” Jon said. “The people are a big part of your process and operators know a lot about your process and can tell you a lot about your process.”

He went on to explain: “We try to look at things from three different levels: the micro level which is where your tool is interacting with the work piece; the machine tool level – what do we know about the machine, can we assess its health, what can we learn from the machine’s data; then there is the bigger picture – the macro level – what’s happening across the factory?

“There’s a lot of data; a lot of things to monitor and consider.”

He said sensors embedded near the process or on a machine tool controller can generate lots of useful information.

“Just an accelerometer on the top of the spindle - somewhere that gives us an indication of what’s happening at that tool work piece interface - we can learn a lot about the process and a lot about the machine tool as well. Combining data sources is where you start to get real insights into your process.”

Jon said the AMRC’s process monitoring team has been working on a tool to help better understand data generated.

“The thing about all this data is we need to be able to look at it and understand it a little bit better so something we’ve worked on is a data exploration tool,” said Jon.

“This is a web-based tool that allows you to look at machine programmes you have run and all the data collected associated with that programme.  You can search by date and machine tool and look at all the programmes that were run on a particular date for that machine tool.

“The whole point was to create a tool that our programmers and manufacturing engineers could use to explore the data and understand a little bit more about what’s happening in that process –e.g.  spindle load, tool path, tool vibration.”

The conference was told about an intelligent, low-cost tooling insert, embedded with smart sensors the AMRC has developed to deliver in-process condition monitoring that reduces machining stoppages and improves productivity.

The prototype device, developed with Innovate UK funding, allows a machine tool operator to determine the condition of a cutting tool without manual inspection.

“Relating to all of this is something that we refer to as ‘The Full Monty’. A machine tool has been stripped down to its bare bones, hence the name ‘The Full Monty’ – it’s been stripped off,” he said.

“It’s going to have a complete mechanical and electrical overhaul so this was seen as a good opportunity to also embed sensors in the machine tool itself. A lot of work we do is around retrofitting sensors where we can access the machine tool. This was an opportunity to get those sensors into the machine tool structure itself.

“It’s in the process of being finished off and we’re going to have in the region of 150 data streams from this machine. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about what we can sense.”

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