Connected laser processes for efficient production in Industry 4.0

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In the transition to Industry 4.0, more and more processes and production chains are becoming interconnected. This is a technology that offers a number of advantages for those working with laser welding and additive manufacturing (AM).

Sensor data ensures better product quality and stable production

As early as the 1990s we started incorporating sensors into our laser tools, measuring things like reflections in the optics (to detect dirt) and temperature increases and displaying these values on a screen. Today we can equip the optics with significantly more sensors, which allows us to export a wealth of data from our control system.

The biggest advantage of this is that it is easier to guarantee the quality of the work carried out and the products made. By looking at different thresholds, for example, it is possible to identify the levels that deliver the best end results. Products that are of too low a quality not only risk being substandard but, in some cases, are also dangerous. In the automotive industry, poor welding can result in cars with inferior crash safety. To detect these types of defects, Volvo, for example, uses an external system to complement Permanova’s system and give a warning when this occurs.

Collecting data about and from its manufacturing process makes it easier to detect and correct faults and ultimately avoid bottlenecks, wasted resources, and other production problems. An intelligent system can notify the operator of various measures to make production safer and simpler while increasing product quality.

Connected laser processes allow for greater efficiency and predictability in production

The collection and presentation of the data itself is rarely an issue, but you have to know what to do with it. At Permanova, we recommend that our customers share as much of their data with us as possible. This enables us to provide relevant advice and suggestions with the aim of streamlining production. In many cases, the data our systems generate needs to be linked to the customer’s quality measurements in order to be able to set the correct levels for warnings and alarms. As the quality data often reveals the production rate down to variant level, it can be difficult to get companies to share it with us.

However, it’s not just about detecting faults and shortcomings. Many companies change tools or equipment based on time periods – quarterly or once a year, for example. By measuring the tools’ performance, replacement may turn out to be unnecessary, and customers can instead save time, money, and resources just through a simple optimisation. This is provided that the relevant data exists and that the right conclusions can be drawn from it.

In terms of maintenance, we currently focus primarily on the last stage of the PPP chain.

1. Problem. Something has already happened or broken, and urgent service is required to restart production.
2. Prevention. There has previously been a focus on preventative maintenance in order to avoid unplanned production stoppages. Maintenance staff read the values to try to anticipate any problems. This is very time- and resource-intensive, and it is difficult to spot trends.
3. Prediction. Using all the data available, trends can be spotted and incidents can be predicted with a much greater degree of certainty than before. Maintenance staff receive a work order and spend time only on activities that safeguard production quality.

Industry 4.0 provides completely new opportunities to spot trends and thus be able to predict incidents or problems in production. As a result, staff need to spend time only on activities that safeguard production rather than on monitoring values to see if anything is about to happen, or rectifying problems that have already occurred.

Measurement data helps to optimise welding and additive manufacturing

Welds must have the correct strength. By measuring parameters such as power, speed, the location of the weld relative to the joint, etc., the system can be programmed to deliver optimum results. This is especially valuable in additive manufacturing, as many layers must be fused together with uniform parameters. At Permanova, we strive to achieve an adaptive process for additive manufacturing. Our vision system also measures the input material, enabling it to detect problems in previous production steps.

Better product quality increases interest in connected laser processes

Industry 4.0 is increasingly moving from being a trend concept to something that delivers a clear and concrete customer benefit. Improved quality is a key contributing factor when companies choose to invest in laser processes with connected sensor systems. Companies with high production volumes are currently the biggest users of this, but it is attracting a broader range of users. This is due to things such as the falling price of laser sources, better knowledge about the potential of lasers, and better sensor systems.

At Permanova, we are continually preparing our products for the transition to Industry 4.0, and we have long seen the benefits that our sensors bring to our customers in the form of, for example, increased productivity, quality improvements, and reduced costs. Contact me if you are interested in finding out more about how a connected laser process can benefit you and your business, and read more about our various laser processes here on our website.

Björn Lekander | 2019-11-21