Opening the black box - SmartCMS at Fiasa

Why is a good part good and a bad part bad? To open this black box, FIASA decided to partner up with Bühler in 2018. Together, the two companies are developing a Smart Cell Management System (SmartCMS) that brings information from all peripherals together in a single system. 

Opening the black box

Why is a good part good and a bad part bad? Jens Hunke is focused on improving the understanding and monitoring processes of die-casting cells. His foundry, FIASA in Northern Spain, has become a pioneer in the area of Industry 4.0, equipping a cell with SmartCMS (Smart Cell Management System) together with Bühler.

The automotive industry is a cost-driven market. Success mainly hinges on low process costs,” says Jens Hunke. The CEO of Fundiciones Inyectadas Alavesas, S.A. (FIASA) knows just how important it is to keep processes and costs under control at the foundry. For over 46 years, his company, located in the green hills of the Basque country, has directly and indirectly supplied virtually all European car brands with drivetrain components. In the current situation especially, with the automotive industry in a state of upheaval, it is essential for suppliers to offer a wide range of services and prepare for the future.

“The challenge is figuring out what direction the market is going to take,” says Hunke. After all: Fewer cars with pure combustion engines mean fewer cast parts for the drivetrain. In times like these, FIASA will invest in a new die-casting cell. But not just any die-casting cell – the new one should set benchmarks in terms of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), that is, availability, performance and quality. “We can gain market shares by optimizing our OEE,” explains Hunke. There are two reasons why the OEE isn’t simply 100 percent: malfunctions and scrap, both due to the fact that not all processes are transparent to date.

To open this black box, FIASA decided to partner up with Bühler in 2018. Together, the two companies are developing a Smart Cell Management System (SmartCMS) that brings information from all peripherals together in a single system. 

SmartCMS is more than just a cell control. It lays the foundation for intelligent management of entire die-casting cells, including connectivity to Internet services. “Bühler’s request for our involvement in the project as a beta test customer presented the perfect opportunity,” says Hunke. Of course, IT specialists could develop a cell control. The crucial difference is that at Bühler, it’s the application engineers, and not the IT specialists, who define the functions. “What stands out about Bühler is that the company is both a machine manufacturer and a technology leader in application engineering,” Hunke says.

Complex cell

Both project partners had the same goal in mind right from the start: higher availability and lower scrap rates in FIASA production. Together, they aimed to gather insights in order to optimize Smart-CMS. “It was important for Bühler and FIASA to have the same focus – that is driving the Industry 4.0 initiative forward,” underscores Oliver Walter, Project Manager at Bühler. Both sides were ready to gradually work towards an ideal solution in two week development cycles while remaining in close communication. Thanks to the geographical proximity between Spain and Switzerland, the team held monthly meetings to regularly update the road map based on the needs of FIASA.

FIASA had very strict requirements for the new cell. To ensure end-to-end traceability of the entire process down to individual cast parts, FIASA integrated a blasting machine into the cell for surface finishing. As there is no manual transport path between the cell and the blasting process, it is impossible for data from other cast parts to get mixed up. Final marking within the cell with the data matrix code – similar to a bar code at the supermarket – now allows the component to be identified uniquely and relinked to its production process data. “Our goal was an isolated production solution enabling us to cast, stamp, blast, and verify the part as well as identify it via data matrix,” says Hunke. This allows FIASA to ensure transparency regarding the origin and production of parts for customers.

Identifying causes for scrap

However, the gained traceability provides the greatest benefit for FIASA internally. “We want to understand what data is crucial for a good cast part,” explains Hunke. Combining this complex casting cell with SmartCMS is where things get interesting: from the time of the shot, to adjusting the casting machine, to the temperature of the cooling basin – each process parameter can be recalled to any time specified. “SmartCMS collects and saves data from all peripherals within the cell, providing us with insight on the die program for concrete components,” states Hunke.

This means that the system can better identify the causes for scrap parts and possibly prevent them altogether. If employees from quality control detect a bad part in the X-ray machine, the system operators can check the data matrix to see whether a process parameter has gone off course, enabling them to keep better control over the parameter in the future. After all, the later a bad part surfaces in the production chain, the more costs it generates in follow-up processes.

The goal is to discover bad parts far before quality control. “SmartCMS helps our customers collect quality data and define windows for parameters that ensure high-quality parts,” says Walter.

Starting the cell from a central location

Since the spring of 2019, the cell has been up and running in the halls of FIASA, providing initial insights. SmartCMS is a plain touch panel that acts as a control center, or the brain of the cell, so to say. Much of the process data from the individual peripherals is visible to system operators at a central location for the first time ever.

“Access to this data requires close collaboration with all partners that supplied a part of the peripherals,” says Walter. To harness insights from collected data, the engineering team at Bühler installed even more sensors into the cell. And the result is a ton of data: each day, 1.42 gigabytes are collected and provided on the Bühler Insights IoT platform.

For the die caster, this mass of data means more training. After learning the ropes of the system, employees can work applying a more targeted and efficient approach. Manual testing is no longer required, and they can start or stop the entire cell from a central location, in addition to confirming messages or changing parameters. The variety of data not only makes processes more transparent – it also helps understand wear. The worst enemy to availability is unplanned malfunctions forcing cell downtime. “By contrast, if the cell says ‘imminent malfunction’ thanks to SmartCMS, we can complete the required maintenance or troubleshooting during a planned break,” Hunke explains. 

This increases our availability, while reducing costs for individual cast parts.

Jens Hunke, CEO of Fundiciones Inyectadas Alavesas, S.A. (FIASA)

Investment into the digital future

By pooling all data, SmartCMS is the perfect platform for launching digital services with data analytics. 

In the future, we will be able to apply algorithms to integrate artificial intelligence into the system.

Oliver Walter, Project Manager at Bühler

Ultimately, the cell should be able to optimize itself and identify the best production parameters for each product on its own. The first specific services, such as a digital service for predictive maintenance, are already on the market.

With the new die-casting cell and its capacity for connectivity, FIASA has made a major investment towards Industry 4.0. Jens Hunke is convinced that he can only win by using SmartCMS.

“As most suppliers in the automotive industry, we are looking for alternative selling markets,” he says. “When it comes to process and material competition in drivetrain electrification, companies producing the most lightweight components in the most cost effective way will come out on top. I believe that in the future, SmartCMS users will also be able to replace other technologies, such as forged parts or sheet metals.”

Content Block

How can we help?

Gupfenstrasse 5