Bringing heavy metal quality to the new manufacturing

ISE Magazine –Volume: 49, Number: 08
By Vivek R. Dave, Nevan C. Hanumara and Mark J. Cola

To make a difference, IIoT and 3-D printing must produce superior goods

Since its inception, additive manufacturing has shown great promise, provoking endless media interest and public attention. While there is a lot of hype around these innovative, world-changing applications and their potential for market growth, making them a reality is difficult. Additive manufacturing still lacks effective ways to track process consistency and repeatability as well as quality assurance. To be able to mass produce these products effectively, a more efficient way to monitor the process is needed.

Many people have heard of the internet of things, or IoT, where everyday objects have network connectivity allowing them to send and receive data. At its core, the industrial internet of things (IIoT) is about using big data to create automated manufacturing processes, buildings, lighting, security, energy production and transportation on a massive scale. One particular way that IIoT can be transformative involves the installed base of millions of industrial machine tools in use across a wide range of industries. These devices may have been advanced technologies in their time but are now in need of a boost to make the transition to IIoT.

The evolution of manufacturing

Additive manufacturing and IIoT are part of a larger trend that many have labeled a fourth industrial revolution. The first epoch was craft production. Following this was the second industrial revolution, characterized by mass production. The third industrial revolution was the era of computerized manufacturing. Finally, the fourth industrial revolution, presently underway, is dominated by the industrial internet. It involves digitization, virtualization, ubiquitous monitoring, sensing and control and massive data sets. These concepts eventually may lead to autonomous machines in manufacturing, as well as to the acceleration of mass customization and ever smaller lot sizes. Additive manufacturing could conceivably bring lot sizes down to one.

Disruptive trends in 21st century manufacturing

If we examine more closely the trends that have been and continue to disrupt manufacturing within the 21st century, they can be categorized into several broad areas. These trends further characterize the attributes and characteristics of the fourth industrial revolution.

The first trend is modularization. It involves systems that are composed of separable, reconnectable, reconfigurable elements that have standardized interfaces for mechanical connections, electrical and power connections, and data and information connections.

A second trend is identification/virtualization. Virtualization is not just the virtualization of a physical object through the formation of an administrative shell; it also encompasses the virtualization of production processes and supply chains. Virtualization includes the creation of a digital model of physical objects as well as all associated data.

Further trends include integration, digitalization, miniaturization and customization. Integration refers both to horizontal and vertical integration. Horizontal integration is machine to machine, factory to factory, etc., while vertical integration spans the range from sensors to machine to processes to global supply chains and networks. Digitalization could be viewed as being related to virtualization, but in a more comprehensive and all-encompassing sense of the widespread and ubiquitous use of digital and information technologies at all levels, right down to the machine and manufacturing process level.

Meanwhile, miniaturization refers to doing more in a smaller footprint, or higher power density or with high information density. So, more generally, miniaturization is maximizing function and utility within a minimum achievable size or form factor. Customization on the product end manifests itself through mass customization, lot size, etc. Customization embodies the concept of high complexity, and this drives the design of manufacturing systems capable of delivering mass customized products.

The industrial internet: Structure and Attributes

The industrial internet comprises three tiers: the edge tier, the platform tier and the enterprise tier. The edge tier consists of processes, machines, assets and “cyber-physical” objects. At the next level up, we find the platform tier, which analyzes the data from the edge and provides command and control prompts as needed back down to the edge. The highest level of the IIoT is the enterprise tier and is envisioned to be the knowledge or actionable knowledge level.

Additive manufacturing of metals and IIoT

In the additive manufacturing of critical metal parts, quality is defined in terms of metallurgical structure as well as mechanical properties. Materials science dictates that there is a linkage between processing, microstructure and mechanical properties.

Edge computing is emerging as a very important and critical aspect of the IIoT, where raw data from manufacturing processes or machine tools are processed to provide actionable knowledge very close to the point of generation of the data. The analysis of these data may very well involve cloud-based platforms as well, but in manufacturing the ability to process field data locally is of paramount importance in terms of data security, reducing latency time and protecting proprietary information. The specific case study presented here shows how such technologies could be applied effectively to additive manufacturing to overcome some of the quality barriers that may exist for the widespread use of metal additive manufacturing.