Completely integrated, linked process flows is the Metal Forming Division’s goal. Closed-loop systems with adaptive algorithms are the method of choice.
“We rely on machine learning and algorithms to automate our production and business processes,” says Digitalization Coordinator Karl Radlmayr, clarifying the importance of artificial intelligence in the Metal Forming Division. For the next step, Radlmayr and his team are looking at the division’s roll forming lines. Roll forming is one of the most common sheet metal forming techniques—and thanks to technological advancements, it’s also very powerful. “We can now implement quite complex components with roll forming,” comments Florian Mayer, who is in charge of research and development at voestalpine Krems.
Sophistication for cars & planes
Progress has attracted the interest of the automotive and aerospace industries, which are known for their stringent requirements—for obvious reasons: safety! Customers from these industries expect precise compliance with their specifications. Mayer points out that this is why
“For us in the Metal Forming Division, accuracy and early error detection are particularly important.”
A critical factor is the high production speed of the roll forming lines, which can process up to 120 meters of sheet metal per minute. The later a defect is detected, the more material and time is lost.
The metal formers want to counteract this with closed-loop systems. “These are machines that check their own products, compare them with the specifications and then independently correct, and even optimize, their production steps,” explains Radlmayr, who is responsible for digitalization. He is not alone in expecting a significant increase in efficiency and an enormous boost in productivity.
Florian Mayer knows the solution: powerful sensors and actuators that translate a control command into physical action, plus digital control and artificial intelligence. Ideally, this combination will result in a self-optimizing production unit.
Digital process images
That is exactly what the Metal Forming Division is working on these days. One of the people involved is Werner Suppan, who is responsible for research and development in the Tubes & Sections business unit: “To stay at the cutting edge of science, for planning and implementation we draw on the expertise of the Austrian Institute of Technology, which specializes in automation.
The Metal Forming Division is working together with this scientific partner and creating a digital image of the processes in a roll forming plant: punching, sectioning, and welding.
Four times more accurate
Werner Suppan adds: “The goal of digitalized roll forming is to replace the previous process monitoring, such as checking the dimensions afterwards, with automatic inline measurement to allow us to move from process monitoring to digital process control.”
If this goal is achieved, we could be looking at up to four times the accuracy in production. However, this requires stable sensor technology, which the Metal Forming Division is currently investigating.