Electrical engineering company Weidmüller and the globally operating Grenzebach Group are collaborating in the fields of data analysis and predictive maintenance. The project focuses on status and quality monitoring, as well as wear prompts in the innovative friction stir welding technology used by Grenzebach. This is achieved thanks to the customised analysis software by Weidmüller. "Sensors fitted to the system record the forces during welding and, together with the Analytics software from Weidmüller, allow for real-time monitoring of the welding process," explains Michael Sieren, Head of FSW Sales at Grenzebach.
In concrete terms, the friction stir welding technology used by Grenzebach involves a rotating tool that is able to generate the heat necessary for welding at the weld joint as a result of friction and pressure. The material becomes malleable as a result of the heat, and is stirred by the rotation of the tool along the weld joint. With light metals such as aluminium, this method creates durable weld connections between materials without any flying sparks, smoke or the toxic fumes that are otherwise commonplace. Up until now, quality controls for this process have been visual and manual, and have been carried out by the operator after the procedure is complete.
These are laborious checks that will no longer be required in the future thanks to the use of the Industrial Analytics solution from Weidmüller: "Our Analytics software has been specially tailored to meet Grenzebach's requirements, and compares the forces recorded by the sensors during the welding process with an ideal reference data set. As soon as the system detects a deviation that lies outside of the defined parameters, the machine operator is notified and immediately knows that something isn't right with the welding process. This eliminates the need for manual checks of every weld seam," describes Dr Daniel Kress, Data Scientist responsible for the project at Weidmüller.
The Analytics software from Weidmüller makes it possible to record and document the process parameters, and therefore also the quality of every weld seam and every part that is produced. At the same time, the software also provides information as to when the "friction pin" responsible for generating the heat at the machine is looking likely to fail and is in need of being replaced.
"This is a really important factor, as in addition to minimising the amount of rejects that can occur as a result of a broken tool, it also helps with the availability of machinery. This availability is of particular importance in the field of machinery and plant engineering, and a lot of effort is put into ensuring that production is interrupted as little and as briefly as possible," Kress explains.
Thanks to the information provided by the Weidmüller Analytics software, machine operators can recognise the need for a friction tool replacement in good time, and can schedule the replacement to take place between two welding processes or during a shift change, keeping rejects and system downtime to a minimum.
„We are very satisfied with the initial test results, and are working closely with our contacts at Weidmüller with the aim of further optimising these results," says Michael Sieren.
"The use of the Analytics solution also provides a whole range of additional benefits: on the one hand, we can offer our customers very rigorous and verifiable quality control processes, as well as predictions regarding system failures, which helps our customers to reduce costs and save resources. We are also able to implement data-driven services, thereby effectively selling product quality or system availability. We see ourselves as a strategic partner in machinery and plant engineering, and we support our customers in digital transformation," says Tobias Gaukstern, Head of Industrial Analytics, in relation to the benefits offered by this solution.
"We are convinced that this will allow us to provide our customers with a great deal of added value in the long term, with this added value then being passed on to our customers' customers too."