In the race to ramp up production, improve cost efficiencies and stay competitive, technology innovations are key. But which solutions should manufacturers invest in and what benefits do they offer?
Across the heat treatment process, there are multiple points at which efficiencies can be made by upgrading to or introducing new technology. In this article, we will explore four technology solutions that fit these criteria and examine what benefits they offer manufacturers looking to reduce operating costs and maximise uptime.
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- Improve energy efficiency with our Energy-Saving System
- Optimise resourcing through Remote Monitoring Systems
- Maximise output using Electron-Beam Welding
- Increase efficiencies by upgrading to RoMan Transformers
1. Improve energy efficiency with our Energy-Saving System
Energy is wasted throughout the heat treatment process. Manufacturers capable of improving energy efficiencies stand to significantly reduce energy and wider operational costs, while better meeting other directives like compliance and green targets.
The VFE Energy-Saving System was designed to enable site managers to unlock these efficiencies. Through its installation, potentially significant cost savings can be achieved in electricity and argon consumption for relatively low capital cost and little downtime. The environmental benefits in CO2 reduction will also contribute to meeting corporate goals.
What it is
The system is made up of a small enclosure containing a standard mini PLC and a small touchscreen HMI for operator monitoring, meaning it is not constrained by site layout or floor space. The enclosure is pre-wired with terminals for connection into any vacuum furnace to stand in for the operator for sequencing the vacuum cycle or selecting the quench gas.
How it works
The system automatically, and in a safe, predetermined sequence, shuts down the vacuum pumping system when the furnace is not in use. When operation is required, it automatically restarts the vacuum cycle ready for operation.
2. Optimise resourcing through Remote Monitoring Systems
The need to monitor performance and act on alerts typically means operators are bound to a physical location, usually a control centre. At a site management level, this is not effective utilisation of the operators’ time. It increases the requirement for larger teams and makes for more costly and demanding shift coordination — especially for operations that run 24/7.
Our range of Remote Monitoring Systems removes the requirement for operators to be bound to one physical location by giving them the ability to monitor machine performance from a handheld device, such as a smartphone or laptop. This frees up operators’ time, increases resourcing capabilities and team capacity, and can reduce staff overhead costs.
What it is
VFE offers four different levels of remote monitoring. The solutions are per machine and are fully featured as described when installed to FMCS/AMCS controlled machines. In each case, we will supply, install, deliver and test the solutions to ensure they are configured correctly and working as required.
How it works
Level 1.1 monitors alarm status direct from the control system PLC and sends a text message/email alert if an alarm is triggered.
Level 1.2 provides a secure connection route from VFE to the machine by means of a VPN tunnel, giving us visibility over what the operator can see and enabling us to remotely diagnose any performance issues or faults quickly.
Level 2 provides the additional recording of key process data to enable verification of cure progress even if the control PC were to fail during a cure. Machine status can be displayed on a smartphone (Android/iOS) or tablet to users within the included wireless network range, enabling remote monitoring.
Level 3 includes the provision of a 49” LED monitor for wall mounting, with an HMI processor unit to display the current status of each FMCS/AMCS controlled furnace, autoclave or oven. Teams or individual operators can see and act on key information at a glance.
3. Maximise output using Electron-Beam Welding
As a core manufacturing process, any opportunity to upgrade a line’s welding capabilities has the potential to increase efficiencies, maximise output and deliver superior products.
Electron-Beam (EB) Welding uses minimal heat input combined with low distortion to create finely machined and hardened workpieces that can be welded as the last operation. This saves additional processes such as straightening of warp or grinding (usually necessary after welding) and contributes to the production of higher-quality finished parts.
What it is
VFE is in partnership with market leaders Probeam for the supply, installation, service, calibration and aftercare of EB welding machines. This includes EB Generator Maintenance, EB Chamber Maintenance, General Maintenance, EB Technology, Machine Calibration, Training and Retrofit Solutions.
How it works
In most cases, the electron beam is produced within an EB Welding machine using a thermionic generator. The beam direction and focus are altered using a magnetic stigmator, and a focus lens assists with the transport of the electrons to the product to create a weld. This process takes place in a vacuum within a vacuum chamber on a CNC table. The product can be further manipulated using a range of different types of jigs and fixtures to rotate or move the part during welding.
4. Increase efficiencies by upgrading to RoMan Transformers
The cooling process of traditional air-cooled systems is relatively inefficient, driving up running costs beyond what they need to be. At scale, this negatively impacts the profitability of production lines. Furthermore, tired water-cooled cables are an ongoing maintenance requirement. It is not unusual for site or maintenance managers to review and replace these on a monthly basis.
The close coupling of RoMan Transformers improves the efficiency of the cooling process. Crucially, the reduction of electrical losses in the power delivery system creates less energy wastage, improving the energy efficiency of production lines, reducing energy costs, and helping to bring operations within the remits of government and personal KPI targets.
What it is
We offer RoMan Transformers as either equipment upgrades, retrofits, or as part of a new furnace build, depending on each customer’s specific application requirements.
They are available in various voltages and frequencies and can be integrated with silicon-controlled rectifier (SCR) and insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) controls and saturable reactors. Furthermore, the size and capability of the transformers can be designed to meet your specific application requirements.
How it works
The RoMan Heating Transformer’s smaller, lighter design enables a close coupling to the load. This helps by reducing electrical losses in the power delivery system, conferring many of the benefits described above.
Investing in future production
In a year that has seen so much disruption to manufacturing cycles around the world, the need to balance process and agility has been vital. Technology plays a central role in adapting in times of disruption. The economy continues to undergo seismic changes, highlighting the importance of future-proofing operations wherever possible. We hope these four technology solutions inspire you to consider how your own production lines can be optimised to reduce costs and to deliver more for less, so that whatever happens in 2021, you can be confident that your operations are running smoothly, compliantly and cost-efficiently.