Tool Lifecycle Management Value creation is better than information hunting

| Author/ Editor: Robert Auer* / Alexander Stark

Wagstaff tackles information loss with the Lifecycle Management tool from TDM Systems. In this way, the machine and plant manufacturer gets an overview of the approximately 4,000 tools, which pays off for the company in terms of time and money.

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Machining of a large steel hydraulic cylinder welded construction for one of Wagstaff’s product lines for aluminum casting.
Machining of a large steel hydraulic cylinder welded construction for one of Wagstaff’s product lines for aluminum casting.
(Source: TDM Systems)

Wagstaff Inc. plays a key role in the aluminum industry: The family-owned company with headquarters in Spokane (Washington/USA) develops and manufactures plants and systems for the production of primary aluminum ingots. Founded in 1946, since the early 1960s the company has been the market leader in direct die casting of aluminum, a process in which the molten aluminum is cast into a permanent metallic mold. Since then it has grown continuously and today operates subsidiaries around the globe serving over 300 customers in 58 countries. On a surface of 12,500 m2, the plant in Spokane covers all process steps, from research and development to production, machining, assembly, testing and delivery. The machine park comprises 30 CNC and 30 non-CNC machines. The number of tools has also been steadily increasing. The growing complexity confronted the technology leader with new challenges.

“At some point, around 2004, it became clear to us how much money we spend on lost information,” recalls Jeff Smutny, Head of Production Engineering at Wagstaff. Certain tool data were stored in process documents for the respective product lines, others in the CAM system and others in Excel tables. It was difficult to keep track of this information and use it for new orders: “This approach wasn't very efficient, and everyone seemed to have a slightly different understanding of how certain tools should be used,” says Smutny. “That was a waste of time and money.”

Another problem was the communication between the individual employees and departments. For example, information was not exchanged satisfactorily between NC programming and manufacturing. There was no central database in which the master data of the tools was stored. “We had to rely on second-hand information instead of having direct access to the information source,” explains Russ Rasmussen, production engineer at Wagstaff. This made critical operations like simulating a part difficult because we didn't know if we were working with the current, accurate data.

Smutny's visit to the headquarters of Walter AG in Tübingen was the initial spark for a major change at Wagstaff. The engineer saw that Walter was using the TLM (Tool Lifecycle Management) system from TDM Systems and was pleased with its scope and capabilities: "It was clear that we needed a tool management system."

According to Dan Speidel, sales manager at TDM Systems Inc., the TLM System ensures that tool data is available at the right place at the right time. It connects CAM systems, presetting and storage systems as well as CNC machine controls, but can also be used on the planning and execution level of PPS, ERP- and MES systems. “To do this, the system must be able to integrate data from a wide variety of sources into a central database, from the manufacturer's catalog to a 3D model,” explains Speidel.

The Lifecycle Management tool influences the entire process, from the selection of the tools through their use in production planning to production. Important: The information from the individual process steps flows continuously back into the central database. From there, they can be used across the entire network. Wagstaff had completely lacked such a system.

The first step in the reorganization with the TDM solution was to define the tools. With around 4000 tool assemblies and many other tool components, this was not an easy task. A step that, according to Speidel, pays off. In his experience, many companies are satisfied with the generic tool models of the CAM system, but also pay a high price for them. If the available tools are not recorded in any database, the programmer would theoretically have to leave his desk each time and ask in the tool output or search for the corresponding tools. This results in a waste of time.

If, on the other hand, the programmer uses the actual tool graphics instead of the generic models from the outset, the guesswork and the associated uncertainty are eliminated. According to Speidel, efficiency and repeatable accuracy can be achieved by recording and listing the available tools and components.

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A number of further questions arise during the selection of tools: Which tools are best suited for which process step? And which combinations are particularly efficient? Today, TDM's Lifecycle Management tool helps Wagstaff quickly answer such questions by providing programmers with basic information about tools and their applications. It not only helps in the tool selection for each NC operation, but also stores geometry and cutting data for each tool. It provides 3D tool graphics for NC programming and simulations and saves tool lists of the NC programs for future use. In addition, the system captures cutting data, machining conditions, and best practices allowing tool usage to be optimized for the next project.

Save Time and Increase Precision

“These TDM features provide great benefits for repeat orders,” Smutny explains. “But they also help with new tasks.” For example, if it is another product or another application, but the material is the same, the programmer can fall back on the previous behavior of the tools and assemblies, explains the engineer: “Overall, we have saved a lot of time and increased precision,” Smutny sums up.

The tool presetting function of the software also contributes to greater accuracy. TDM works together with leading presetting manufacturers to realize communication in both directions: During the measurement process, the systems can access the target data for each tool assembly stored in TDM. The measured actual data is then transmitted to TDM. In this way, data quality can be continuously improved. This data exchange with TDM takes place via DNC or with tool chips. The information about the required tools and NC programs arrives simultaneously at the respective machine, together with the current actual data of the preset tools as well as graphics, photos and/or labels.

According to TDM Systems' experience, access to precise tool data generally reduces programming and set-up times by around 25 %. Programming times at Wagstaff have also been significantly reduced: According to Smutny, the company has grown strongly since the introduction of TDM, but the programming team still has the same number of employees as in 2004. “We now spend more time preparing tasks that generate revenue and less time searching for information,” Smutny says with satisfaction. “TDM has increased our bandwidth.”

Inventory and Purchasing Volume Could be Reduced

“Keeping track of around 4,000 tool assemblies and their components used to give us headaches and wasted working hours, which can now be used for value-adding activities,” says Rasmussen, adding another advantage: The fact that the company now knows what cutting tools, extensions, brackets and collets it needs to have in stock has reduced both inventory levels and the purchasing volume of new tools and components.

Rasmussen admits that the new system was initially not readily accepted by all colleagues. Many of them hesitated. Today it looks quite different: “One of our programmers recently said that he can't imagine doing his job without TDM anymore. TDM has thus become a decisive component of our successful work.”

This article was first published by MM MaschinenMarkt

Original by Victoria Sonnenberg

Translation by Alexander Stark

* Robert Auer is Director Global Business Development at TDM Systems GmbH in 72072 Tübingen, Phone (0 70 71) 94 92 76-0, info@tdmsystems.com

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