22 Jul 2024

AUTOMATION FOR MANUFACTURING

Global project uses Internet to pinpoint and manage tools

Three companies, located on different continents, are collaborating on a project that is using the industrial Internet to track the presence of items on factory floors. The companies – Bosch in Germany, Cisco in the US, and Tech Mahindra in India – are all members of the Industrial Internet Consortium, and the project, called Track & Trace, is an IIC testbed.

The aim is to manage handheld power tools in manufacturing and maintenance environments to collect data on their use and to prevent their misuse. Technologies being developed in the project will pinpoint exactly where tools are and how they are being used and, thus, determine the force and work needed to complete a task. In addition, if a tool is being misused, it will be able to power itself down to avoid accident or injury.

Over the course of the two-year project, the testbed collaborators plan to fine-tune the localisation of tools to within 30cm – and, ideally, down to 5cm. Currently, the accuracy is around 1m – a large enough gap to allow mistakes. They hope that the project will contribute to the quality of goods being produced, as well as enhancing productivity and safety.

Bosch is supplying the data-gathering and evaluation software, as well as cordless nutrunners; Cisco is helping to pinpoint locations by triangulating wireless signals; while Tech Mahindra is responsible for the application programming.

“There is no other solution like this out there; it harbours major potential for industry as a whole,” says Dirk Slama, the project manager at Bosch.

The project’s first result is the ability to determine the position of a cordless nutrunner on a shop floor with extreme precision. This information can be used to select the correct torque for a task automatically, making it possible to tighten safety-relevant bolts with the necessary torque, for example. It will also be possible to document these settings automatically.

The tools are connected with each other and with production data for the items being manufactured. In an application such as aircraft assembly, the positional information will identify, for example, that a nutrunner tool is currently located at the aircraft’s vertical stabiliser. Backend software will send instructions automatically that specify the torque needed to tighten the bolts at that location.

“Connected tools contribute not only to product quality and safety, but also to making production more efficient, which improves competitiveness,” says Slama. In addition, the continuous collection of tool data will allow users to automate tasks such as replacing worn parts after a specified number of power tool rotations or hours of operation.

The ability to set tool parameters accurately, depending on their location, is expected to be particularly useful for the assembly of complex structures. In aircraft construction, for example, regulations specify the type of screw and the amount of torque that must be used to join specific parts. For example, joints on the wings require different levels of torque to those on windows. With some aircraft containing thousands of bolts, each of which needs to be tightened and documented precisely, the remotely-configured tools could save a lot of time as well as minimising the risk of errors.

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“We are able to record the torque used to tighten hundreds of thousands of bolts, for example, and store that information in a database,” Slama explains. “The information makes it possible to quickly identify any discrepancies, and it provides users with clues as to the possible causes of faults.”

The connected tools could also help in troubleshooting. If a worker tries to use a tool for the wrong task or at the wrong place, the tool could power itself down, preventing errors from occurring and helping to improve safety, quality, and productivity.

The IIC testbed highlights key aspects of digitally-connected manufacturing. One example is cross-industry cooperation among companies who are working to create open standards to exchange data.

Tests on the Track & Trace components are underway at Bosch Software Innovations in Berlin, and at Tech Mahindra in Bangalore, India, to determine how they interact with each other. The first pilot applications at industrial user sites are planned for later this year.

In the future, open standards will allow power tools – used for duties such as drilling, tightening, measuring and soldering – to be integrated into networks.