Monitoring Manufacturing Efficiency with Advanced Auxiliary Equipment
by Dianna Brodine
Process monitoring is a critical component of any successful injection molding job. Monitoring the molding machinery and the mold itself can provide in-depth insight into how each and every shot is running, from cavity pressure and temperature sensors to detecting short shots and parts that do not conform to preset standards. Intensive monitoring, whether machine-side or via mobile monitoring systems, can reduce the potential for bad parts, which in turn saves time and reduces scrap, all while ensuring the end customer remains satisfied with the part quality.
While sensors, software and systems abound to monitor what's happening inside the mold and as the part ejects from the molding machinery, the auxiliary equipment plays an equally important role in the conveying, drying and chilling of both the resin and completed parts. Monitoring systems exist for that equipment, too, enabling up-to-the-minute data collection, immediate troubleshooting and preventative maintenance.
Frigel offers real-time cooling system control and adjustment
Frigel, with global headquarters in Italy and North American headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, has introduced 3PR, promoted as complete real-time cooling system control. The system records machine operating data points, but exceeds data collection by using the information to actively make adjustments to the Frigel cooling system for optimum performance without operator intervention.
"The 3PR is a first for cooling systems," explained Al Fosco, global marketing manager for Frigel North America. "The system automatically senses what's going on in the production environment and adjusts the fans, pumps or compressors to match the requirements of processing. It's a total functional approach to the system and goes beyond just predicting potential failures."
The controller allows operators to see all cooling-related systems data at a glance, including pressures, temperatures and coolant levels. It can monitor energy consumption, examine performance over time and observe system functions. The biggest advantage lies in preventative maintenance. "We know how long a pump or fan motor should last or how many hours a machine should run before the filter should be changed," explained Fosco. "3PR tracks the data and then will tell you it's time to check the filters or that the amp is running higher than normal. That data allows preventative maintenance, so processors can keep running rather than running until the equipment fails."
Alarms and service notifications identify the exact location of needed maintenance, and 3PR provides troubleshooting instructions on screen. "A troubleshooting manual has been built into the controller, and it walks the maintenance technician through the repair. This prevents the customer from having to call for onsite service," Fosco said. In the event more involved maintenance is required, 3PR provides real-time remote capabilities to Frigel's global service technicians.
Still, Fosco says the greatest advantage lies in process optimization. "The system adjusts itself to the conditions of the environment and the production run," he explained. "Processors want to turn the cooling system on and forget it. The 3PR allows that."
Conair connects with web-enabled controls
First introduced in 2006, the ControlWorks™ system, from Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania's The Conair Group, now uses SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) technology to monitor and control most Conair equipment. The functionality gathers process data from all connected equipment and stores it for analysis of trends and prediction of maintenance requirements.
The system is web-enabled, which allows users with a computer, tablet or smartphone to view control screens and interact with the equipment. Conair has offered web-enabled controls since 2011, starting first with its FLX material-handling controls and gradually adding the feature to other products until, today, they are available on Carousel Plus™ dryers with DC-T touchview controls, TrueBlend™ gravimetric blenders with SB2 controls and TrueWeigh™ continuous gravimetric blenders, among other systems.
"With Conair's web-connected equipment, processors can use a standard internet browser to log into the equipment control system and monitor operating conditions just as if they were standing in front of the machine itself," said Bob Criswell, mechanical engineering manager for The Conair Group. "If there is an alarm on any web-enabled equipment, the controls can send an alert via email or text message. Then users can log in to assess the situation and, if necessary, make changes immediately and remotely. In short, anything that can be done at the control panel itself – changing setpoints, performing troubleshooting and other operations – also can be done remotely from the other side of the plant or from the other side of the world."
Controls with data-gathering capabilities, like the SB-2 blender controls, can generate reports that can be immediately exported to reporting software to facilitate process validation.
Novatec brings Prophecy to auxiliary equipment
Novatec, Baltimore, Maryland, has obtained the rights to "wearable" sensor technology from Prophecy Sensorlytics, also a Baltimore-based company. Prophecy takes sensor technology and combines it with Bluetooth and wireless technology to apply 24/7 monitoring and predictive maintenance to the components within auxiliary machinery, according to Novatec.
Conrad Bessemer, president and CEO of Novatec, explained that the aim is to make processors more productive. "If processors are just collecting equipment data, the data really doesn't provide a path to predict what will happen in the future," he said. "We want to give the processor the ability to predict future failure, rather than waiting for equipment to fail, because that allows the processor to plan for repairs or adjustments during routine maintenance."
Sensors are attached to the outside of a machine, collecting data on vibration, sound, air flow, material flow and temperature changes that could indicate a need for maintenance or predict potential equipment failures. Once a baseline has been established, data is collected on a continuous basis using software that is proprietary to the system. If the sensor data shows a variable outside of the approved range, the variation is displayed in a graphic format to provide an immediate visual for equipment operators.
"It's similar to technology in today's cars that tells drivers when to perform an oil change based on driving patterns, rather than mileage," Bessemer said. "Here, computers can interpret data using magnetic resonance, vibration and temperature to help the processor avoid unplanned downtime and to schedule maintenance at an appropriate time."
"Within the plastics industry, the skilled maintenance people are stressed – their resources have been stretched, and many go from fire to fire," Bessemer continued. "We're helping them be more efficient with their time, because now they can prioritize based on a dashboard provided by the Prophecy sensors." In addition, Bessemer explained, it's often the front of the manufacturing facility that receives the attention, so auxiliary equipment monitoring can be overlooked. "Auxiliary equipment often sits outside the process area, so the equipment is isolated in an area where the maintenance technician may not spend time until something goes wrong. By constantly monitoring the equipment, we avoid the run-to-fail situation. That saves the processor time and money, because the one thing a processor can never make up is downtime."
The ability to monitor auxiliary equipment as it performs offers distinct advantages to plastics processors, including reduced downtime and the ability to plan for routine maintenance tasks, which leads to a smarter use of resources. The three companies interviewed are making great strides in providing data that makes an immediate impact on processing operations by including advanced sensors and software with auxiliary equipment installations.
Process monitoring software providers, such as IQMS, based in Paso Robles, California, also offer controllers that can be attached to existing auxiliary equipment to supply data and coordinate the information with data from other equipment within the facility. And, as mentioned in the introduction of this article, monitoring systems and sensors abound for injection molding machines and tooling. With the addition of detailed information from the auxiliary equipment itself, plastics manufacturers should find themselves with the data needed to run efficiently in all aspects of their operations.