Interview "In the long term, we will see more automation."
Alongside developments in times of pandemic and environmental issues, automation is one of the major topics that concern the industry. How does this trend influence the foundry sector? Dr. Alexander German, Director of AED Automation, answers this question in our exclusive interview.
Automation can simplify, speed up and optimize many manufacturing processes - especially where the work can be dangerous and physically demanding for humans. The German family-owned company AED Automation specializes in high-end spray automation for die casting and forging, cell automation, as well as components, integration systems, and turn-key systems. The company thus offers solutions that optimize casting and forging results through cooling and lubrication processes.
In our exclusive interview, Dr. Alexander German, Director of AED Automation, highlights the benefits of automation for the foundry industry and identifies key challenges.
Automation is one of the trend topics in the metal casting industry. Where does automation currently stand?
As far as high pressure die casting is concerned we already have well automated processes for many applications. The manufacturing processes for automotive parts are often fully automated. This is obviously driven by the size and the weight of the cast part. But more importantly, the requirements with respect to quality, productivity, well controlled processes and ultimately costs are the main drivers. In this market segment, the next step will be towards implementing Industry 4.0 initiatives to better control the machines and the processes.
On the other hand, we also see a big number of high pressure die casting machines, which are operated manually. In this case mainly simpler components are cast on smaller machines. In particular in low cost countries this business model still pays off compared to automated processes. However, we can expect that labor costs will increase over time. This would speak for automation.
What factors are fueling the trend towards automation?
Ever since the main driver was costs per sellable part. And this will not change in the future. Considering the contributors to costs, we clearly identify (amongst other factors which are not impacted by automation):
- Uptime of the press
- Labor costs
- Quality of the cast part
All above mentioned factors can potentially be improved by automation. The high pressure die casting industry also faces the demand from their customers to manufacture the same components in different countries. Ensuring the same quality levels means processes have to be transferred. This is only achievable with automated processes.
However, I still expect numerous processes to remain not automated. This will depend on the business case. But in the long term, we will see more automation.
What challenges need to be overcome to enable automation in foundries?
As a first step the business case for an automation of the manufacturing line has to pay off. It is true, the implementation of fully automated manufacturing line is a challenge, at least for the first project. To our experience the most important part is to allocate this task to experts, who have the skills in plant engineering, automation projects, software and interfaces. If this is recognized as the main topic and well managed by professionals, then automation projects are implemented quickly and smoothly. The money for professional project management is well spent. Otherwise the customers may experience a hard landing.
Do you think the pandemic is accelerating significant investments in automation projects in the industry?
Definitely an interesting question to think about. As a matter of fact, automation could help to possibly increase safety distances between workers and avoid accumulation of people. If automation can help the industry to create a safer working environment for people, the industry should pursue.
Thank you for the interview, Dr. German!