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27. June 2018

Long-running research project with Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts yields positive results: Process optimization: Steeltec digitizes procedures for selecting drawing dies

As part of a research project with Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Switzerland, the bright steel manufacturer Steeltec has been optimizing the procedures it uses to select rod and bar drawing dies. The project involves digitizing the inventory of drawing dies used at Production Facility 1 at the company’s Emmenbrücke site and automating the die selection process. Steeltec, which is part of the SCHMOLZ + BICKENBACH Group, is seeking to improve process reliability and to future-proof production by increasing efficiency. 

The final shape of bright-steel drawn products is determined by the drawing dies used in the rod or bar drawing process. To produce material of the required dimensions from long products, Steeltec has access to some 4500 different dies with diameters of between 4 mm and 42 mm. The aim is to select the most appropriate die for each production job. This is where the research project at the Competence Center for Mechanical Systems at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts comes into play. The project seeks to digitize the tool management steps and thus boost the reliability and efficiency of the whole rod and bar drawing process.

Drawing dies supply all of the relevant data

The research project began back in 2013. In the first phase of the project, the Lucerne team used a 3D scanner to measure the entire stock of drawing dies at Production Facility 1 in Emmenbrücke. Since 2015, Steeltec has been using this digital database for simple search requests. The database already supplies important information on individual dies, such as production history, diameter, geometric tolerances and the steel products that have been previously manufactured using the die. If a die is used, its data will now be updated appropriately before it is returned to storage.

Currently, the project team is developing a smart search algorithm that will be the core process in the tool cycle and is also creating a graphical user interface for the digital tool store. The final phase of the user interface should be implemented in 2019. By that time, all of the steps involved in selecting the best drawing die for a specific job in Production Facility 1 will have been digitized. The system will then be able to handle complex search inquiries, allowing the most suitable drawing die and its associated data to be identified early on in the work order scheduling process.

Digitization shortens the die selection procedure by up to 20 percent

Retooling times have been significantly shortened as a result of digitization, as all of the relevant information is immediately available when the tool is changed. When the entire process is taken into account, Andreas Sieber, plant manager at Production Facility 1, believes that the time saved is as much as 20 percent relative to previous manual die selection procedures. Another advantage of the new system is that the drawing dies can be utilized much more efficiently. The new software makes selecting the right die for a job quicker and more straightforward, with the result that less material is wasted in preproduction trials. By collecting data over the long term, the production team will also be able to identify those drawing dies that are simply sitting unused on the shelves or that need to be reconditioned, illustrating another valuable benefit of digital tool management and tool stock optimization. Overall, Steeltec’s customers benefit from more reliable processes that are based on access to key empirical production data.