A Step Forward for Modular Manufacturing Control

While I see companies that are predominantly American rushing to capture open technology initiatives and make them as proprietary as possible, here is another predominantly German initiative pushing for using standards to move manufacturing technology forward.

This news came to me indirectly from the PI (Profibus and Profinet standards organization). Check it out. Do you find this potentially useful?

What is MTP?

By now, we all know OPC UA is really good at supporting the use-cases for not only horizontal integration like machine to machine, but also vertical integration like device to cloud. Now, most recently, OPC UA is being applied to those industries considered to be process control or hybrid industries with factory automation. 

PROFIBUS & PROFINET International (PI) is leading the way with a technology called Module Type Package (MTP). For its runtime, MTP applies OPC UA information models to create standardized, non-proprietary, application level descriptions for process automation equipment. OPC UA Client/Server technology is used for communication. Offline engineering utilizes the AutomationML markup language. 

Rather than have every single I/O point controlled by one large distributed control system (DCS), MTP seeks to modularize the process into more manageable pieces. The point is to construct a plant with modular equipment to ease integration and allow for better flexibility should changes be required. With the help of a Process Orchestration Layer (POL), MTP-enabled equipment can “Plug & Operate” reducing the amount of time to commission a process or make changes to that process… pretty cutting-edge stuff.

The POL is the superordinate software into which an MTP file is imported. When an MTP file is imported into the POL, offline service engineering (orchestration) is performed along with communication configuration (OPC UA).  Note: if recipe/batch engineering is applicable, MTP utilizes the ISA 88 standard here. The next step is an Orchestration Test (“Plug”) and then to begin (“Operate”). It is truly “Plug & Operate”.

Why should you care?

MTP files describe Equipment Assemblies. These are individual automated units providing the functionality to realize a step in a process. They have their own mechanical equipment, sensors, actuators, and controller. A great example would be skid integration. Here, an end-user can quickly integrate skids into their plant DCS to reduce engineering effort. The MTP file describing the skid is employed to shorten the time-to-market. According to ZVEI the benefits from first pilot projects can be summarized as follows:

  • Reduce time to market 50%
  • Reduce engineering effort 70%
  • Increase flexibility 80%

Honeywell and Borealis Collaborate for Process Simulation

’m still catching up on a bit older news. One of the benefits of all this digital and digital twin conversation concerns simulating processes. These have uses ranging from training to improving processes. This news concerns a collaboration between Honeywell UniSim and Borealis.

Honeywell announced that Borealis will implement Honeywell’s UniSim Live software as early adopters to build process models for optimizing operations through virtual process simulation. UniSim Live will allow Borealis to extend the utility of process models to near real-time process monitoring and focus on early event detection by using digital twins to improve plant reliability.

Based in Austria, Borealis is a leading international provider of polyolefins, base chemicals, and fertilizers, and also one of the world’s largest producers of polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP). The organization continues to invest in new technology and digitalization tools to improve processing capabilities and efficiencies as part of its Borstar program to optimize and transform key operations.

Process models are digital representations of a plant and its processes. They are commonly used for designing process equipment or for training operations staff. UniSim Live’s advanced process modeling  detection capabilities are helping Borealis detect and mitigate issues that can impact plant performance. The collaboration with Borealis builds on Honeywell’s 20-year efforts associated with the Abnormal Situation Management consortium, whose charter is to improve plant safety and reliability.

Hexagon Releases Quality Application Updates

I don’t cover quality applications all that much, but these news items from hexagon show use cases for their technology.

Hexagon enables manufacturers to reduce part quality issues faster with cloud metrology reporting with Metrology Reporting, a Nexus App.

  • New cloud-based metrology reporting software consolidates disparate reporting tools to deliver metrology trend analysis for a broad spectrum of Hexagon and third-party metrology systems in one dashboard
  • Users can easily track real-time part quality trends during production on any device at any time, receive automated alerts and troubleshoot issues with interactive visualisation and CAD-to-metrology comparison reports 
  • Built-in collaboration ensures that manufacturers can solve quality issues faster and share up-to-date information with colleagues and supply chain stakeholders through a simple web interface

Hexagon halves quality inspection cycles and enables flexible manufacturing with the PRESTO robotic inspection cell.

The solution builds on Hexagon’s HxGN Robotic Automation software which integrates Hexagon’s 3D scanning and absolute positioning technologies and software in a single turn-key solution. 

PRESTO enables end-to-end inspection in a turnkey package and is powered by 3D-laser scanning technologies.

Compared to other solutions on the market, PRESTO does not require a part to be specially prepared for inspection, and with no need to clean it afterwards. 

PRESTO connects inspection to the rest of a manufacturer’s ecosystem. PRESTO can be fully programmed offline with a digital twin of the cell. This allows the programmer to progress the quality inspection set-up while the operator is conducting the measurements, offering maximum equipment efficiency and return on investment. Data from the inspection can also be compared to the digital twin, ensuring that design matches reality.

PRESTO requires minimal set-up, automates processes and is designed to be as easy to use as a smartphone. The system is also designed to be useable by quality professionals without robotics expertise, providing a safer and more efficient environment for manufacturers.

This robotic cell is built with safety in mind. Clear walls ensure others on the factory floor can safely see what’s happening and the mobile workstation enables the operator to freely choose the right distance to safely monitor the inspection. 

Qualcomm Adds New IoT Solutions

Qualcomm’s product development department has been busy extending the chip-maker’s presence in the smart device market. This news release announces what they term to be next-generation IoT devices. The new devices are Qualcomm QCS8550, Qualcomm QCM8550, Qualcomm® QCS4490 and Qualcomm® QCM4490 Processors.

  • The new Qualcomm QCS8550 and Q/CM8550 Processors combine maximum compute power, extreme edge AI processing, Wi-Fi 7 connectivity, and vivid graphics and video to enable and quickly deploy performance-heavy IoT applications, such as autonomous mobile robots and industrial drones.
  • The Qualcomm QCS4490 and QCM4490 Processors deliver key advanced features such as premium connectivity and next-gen processing to industrial handheld and computing devices. The solutions are equipped with both 5G and Wi-Fi 6E for multi-gigabit speeds, extended range, and low latency, and powerful, efficient processing to handle complex computing tasks. The Qualcomm QCS4490 and QCM4490 Processors are designed with planned support for Android releases through version 18, meaning they can be used in industrial designs through 2030, providing flexibility and longevity for maximizing development time and cost savings.

Sandvik Engineers Use AI to Generate Art

Combining a couple of recent memes in a new way, this article I received through a marketing person I’ve known for more years than either of us will admit to takes a refreshingly positive look at AI.

Crafting works of art from metal isn’t anything new. Many of us would instantly think of the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower, while those versed in contemporary art may think of the Chicago Picasso or Sir Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North. But how would one go about combining several famous works of art using stainless steel and artificial intelligence (AI) to create a new type of modern masterpiece? When Sandvik Coromant engineers Henrik Loikkanen and Jakob Pettersson were tasked with creating an AI-generated, stainless steel synthesis of some of history’s most famous works of art, their metal cutting expertise was put to the ultimate test.

In partnership with Sandvik Group, Sandvik Coromant has developed a statue for the history books. Made using AI modeling and cutting-edge manufacturing solutions, the sculpture combines the dynamic poses of Michelangelo’s work, the musculature craftmanship of Auguste Rodin, the somber tones of Käthe Kollwitz, Kotaro Takamura’s Japanese influence and Augusta Savage’s inspirational defiance to unite some of history’s most famous artists from a period spanning 500 years.

Weighing 500 kilograms and standing at 150 cm tall, the Impossible Statue was officially inaugurated at Tekniska Museet, Sweden’s National Museum of Science and Technology, in April 2023. Producing a statue in such a way has never been done before. So how did Loikkanen, Pettersson and the team craft this blend of art and science, past and future?

When AI meets art

AI has been around for some time, with intelligent machines tasked with performing activities that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, language translation and problem-solving. Its concept dates back decades, with the earliest program written in 1951 by Christopher Strachey, later director of the Programming Research Group at the University of Oxford. But the emergence of new, conversational AI programs such as Google’s Bard and ChatGPT open up even more applications of the technology.

Today, the achievements of AI seem almost limitless — it can even create art. After establishing a 2D design that brought together the styles of the five artists, Sandvik began translating the model into a complete 3D image. Using depth estimators to build the 3D model, human pose estimators to refine the body, video game algorithms to generate realistic fabric and specialized AI to reintroduce fine details that were lost in previous steps, Sandvik was ready to turn the design into reality. Using Mastercam software, a design for a statue with over six million surfaces and complex details was converted.

There were some unique challenges involved in the statue’s design. “We needed a phenomenally precise digital simulation to help us machine the statue,” revealed Henrik Loikkanen, Technology Area Manager at Sandvik Coromant. “Digital manufacturing means we can prove out that whole complex machining process beforehand. The only time we spent on machines, therefore, is actual production time. It also meant we didn’t produce a single scrap component during the entire project.”

Machining the impossible

After finalizing the statue’s design with AI and virtually simulating optimal ways to manufacture the statue using digital twinning, it was time to commence machining. “We treated producing the statue as we’d treat machining highly specialized, complex parts like those found in the aerospace industry,” continued Loikkanen. “An additional challenge came from the statue’s chosen material — stainless steel from Alleima — as ISO M materials are notoriously difficult to machine. The material group is characterized by its high work hardening rates and poor chip breaking properties during machining. Careful attention, therefore, must be paid to the tools selected for machining the material.”

Sandvik Coromant chose several tools to help sculpt each intricate part of the statue. The Coromant Capto® tooling interface was used to connect the arm and head to the torso of the statue, solid round tools from the CoroMill® Plura and Dura families were responsible for finishing all the statue’s surfaces and features, and CoroMill MH20, a high-feed milling cutter launched in 2021, was used to machine the bulk of the stainless steel removed from the workpiece.

“We have more than 10,000 standard products covering drilling, milling, reaming and threading in our back catalogue,” explained Jakob Pettersson, CAM and Machining Specialist at Sandvik Coromant. “But we couldn’t select just any tool to create the Impossible Statue. To pull off such a manufacturing feat, we needed to be laser-focused in our selection.”

“We had to give the method and tooling selection extra thought in order to use as little tooling as possible and thereby limit waste. Rough machining of the statue was done with a mix of solid carbide end mills from the CoroMill Plura and Dura families. The rough profiling of the final shape had to be made with rather long tooling. Here, a combination of MH20 high-feed cutters mounted on heavy metal shanks was the perfect fit. The use of end mills from our solid round tools offering greatly sped up the process and therefore reduced energy consumption.”

The CoroMill MH20’s ability to machine at long overhangs typically makes it beneficial to the aerospace sector. It’s designed with difficult-to-machine components in mind and, in contrast to the conventional four-edge concept, the MH20 is designed with a two-edge insert. This is especially beneficial as it means the weakest section of the insert is far away from the main cutting zone, delivering greater reliability and protection against wear. It also means that machining against a corner or wall will not impact the next edge or leading corner, ensuring an equal performance per edge.

CoroMill Plura HD is Sandvik Coromant’s first choice solution for heavy-duty applications in steel and stainless steel, offering safe and efficient solid end milling. The tool now comes with an added benefit in the form of Zertivo™ 2.0 coating, developed by Sandvik Coromant’s R&D team to improve process security and productivity even further. CoroMill Dura is designed to be a one-for-all tooling solution. The end mills can be used in all processes needed to produce a component ― including roughing, finishing, semi-finishing and ramping.

A manufacturing masterpiece

Naturally, machining the impossible isn’t without its challenges, and the team made several adaptations to its machining strategy. “The initial 3D model was not the type of model CAD/CAM systems can work with,” said Loikkanen. “It had to be converted from a 3D-mesh model, which is essentially a shell of surface polygons commonly used in 3D animation studios, to a solid 3D model with density, and that was a pretty challenging process. Once completed, the model was sectioned into 17 pieces, and all interfaces between them had to be modelled with a tight fit to make the intersections invisible when the parts were put together. It took time to get everything perfect.”

“We also had some challenges during rough machining due to the size of the component in relation to the machines,” added Pettersson. “This was solved by simulating NC-code and finding all the areas where we would reach the machine work envelope limit and by altering the CAM sequence.”

In the end, a statue that seamlessly blends the works of five artists was made possible. But developing a never-seen-before statue wasn’t the only accomplishment for Sandvik Coromant. “Along the way, we implemented several techniques that can be applied to future digital machining projects,” said Loikkanen. “Because of the pure amount of programming work, building the statue would have been impossible without a digital twin. All the testing was done digitally to save a huge amount of time that would otherwise be spent on trial-and-error testing. This is certainly something we can apply in future projects to save time and reduce the number of scrap components.”

“The programming and simulation process became faster and faster for each component,” added Pettersson. “Machining took about the same time throughout, mainly because the cutting data and tooling selection never changed that much. This point brought me to one conclusion: the extensive product data and recommendations we give are accurate and are easily attained either from our website, tool guide, Tool Library or even integrated directly in CAM systems themselves. Surely, this is of great value to our customers and addresses one of the more work-intensive tasks in closing the digital loop around CAM programming.”

Now on display for art and technophiles alike to admire, the statue serves as a reminder of the creativity both digital and physical manufacturing tools can accomplish. “I’m incredibly proud we’ve pulled this off,” concluded Loikkanen. “Hopefully those visiting Tekniska Museet, and anyone else who sees that statue, can appreciate that it’s an artwork like no other.”

“The techniques we used and the methods we employed really show what Sandvik Coromant can do,” added Pettersson. “We truly know metal cutting, even when tackling a challenge nobody’s ever seen before.”

ABB Technology To Tackle Methane Leakages From Orphan Oil and Gas Wells

Often by the time a tech or business story hits mainstream media or politics the situation is on the downward slope of the sine wave. There was a story in The New York Times today about pollution and emissions from petrochemical plants. Surely that has been a big problem. But companies have been tackling the problem for a while, now. Here is a story from ABB which has developed technology applications to find methane leakages so that they may be repaired.

  • ABB’s proven emissions monitoring technology now extends to tackling the massive environmental problem of millions of leaking orphan oil and gas wells
  • ABB’s OA-ICOS laser-based technology has a track record of providing trustworthy measurements of greenhouse gases that are recognized by global industry bodies, research centers and environmental protection agencies
  • By supporting the work on plugging decomissioned wells in the United States, the technology helps in the fight against climate change
  • ABB’s emissions monitoring technology which is typically used for gas leak detection by oil and gas companies and natural gas utilities is now employed to identify and monitor orphan wells in the United States. 

With the help of ABB technology, organizations such as The Well Done Foundation, the nonprofit organization that works to plug orphan oil and gas wells in the country, can detect leaking wells and, once the wells are capped, continue to monitor the sites to ensure they no longer emit harmful greenhouse gases.

Orphan wells are oil or gas wells that have been deactivated and no longer have legal owners responsible for their care. Due to their age and deteriorated condition, the wells can leak methane and other harmful greenhouse gases through their “plugs”.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that methane emissions from over 2 million inactive, unplugged wells, of which orphan wells are a subset, range from a CO2 equivalent of 7 to 20 million metric tons per year (approximately the emissions of 2 to 5 million cars). Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere, according to the Environment Defense Fund.

Many wells are situated on farmland, and could contaminate land, air and water, potentially harming ecosystems, wildlife, livestock, and people.

In some parts of the United States where towns are growing, housing has been built where oil and gas wells once stood. The Environment Defense Fund estimates that 14 million Americans live within a mile of an orphan well.

“It is extremely rewarding to see our technologies employed in the endeavor of fixing such a pressing environmental problem. We remain focused on accelerating the pace of environmental programs that reduce emissions, especially in the oil and gas industry. Our work on this initiative is a great example of how technology can benefit the environment and help countries achieve their sustainability goals,” says Jacques Mulbert, Division President, ABB Measurement & Analytics.

What can be measured can be improved

Together with channel partner Winn-Marion, ABB worked to create a comprehensive approach that enables the identification, on-site qualification, and monitoring of orphan wells. At the heart of the solution are ABB’s gas leak detection products as well as a suite of flow computers, both used in tens of thousands of industrial plants worldwide to measure and report on emissions.

Initially, ABB’s gas leak detection system is used to find the orphan wells. Depending on their location, the high sensitivity analyzers using OA-ICOS technology are transported by vehicle (using ABB Ability™ MobileGuard), drone (HoverGuard), or backpack (MicroGuard) to the site. The system can detect methane emissions down to 1 part per billion (ppb).

Once on-site, it measures methane concentration and flow with a measuring range as low as 180kg/h. The flow from the thermal mass is logged and visualized on ABB’s gas flow computers, the control devices known in the industry for their extreme accuracy and reliability. In the post-plugging phase, methane emissions continue to be monitored.

A key advantage of ABB’s emissions monitoring technology is that it is fully audited by the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the Federal government’s onshore oil and gas program in the United States.

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