Supply chain
Taiwan manufacturers use sensor solutions to enhance competitiveness
Chloe Liao, Taipei; Rodney Chan, DIGITIMES

Mainly exported to American and European markets, Cosen's products are representative of the Made in Taiwan vision. Cosen specializes in the production of band saws, which may be unheard of to many people but are fundamental to manufacturing.

Transformed Cosen

"A band saw to manufacturing is like a knife to cooking. The ingredients have to be chopped before they can be cooked," explained Cosen CEO Alice Wu. The first step in material processing, whether for steel bridge construction, machining or high-precision processing, is usually cutting. In the case of any error in the cutting process, production will not be able to carry on.

It is exactly for this reason that manufacturers count on their band saws to stay operable at all times. Furthermore, as the materials in use today improve in quality, band saws are being used to cut harder and harder materials with increasing difficulty. The industry will therefore impose more stringent requirements on band saws, which is also the challenge that Consen has to address now.

Industrial big data analytics expert Jie Li once said each country has its unique manufacturing strength and the Taiwan manufacturing industry has to enable its own differentiating value. Extending Li's point of view, Wu commented on what customers really expect from band saws. They need their band saws to precisely cut all the materials in full compliance with the schedule and quality requirements.

How to relieve customers from worries of equipment problems after they put Cosen's products to use is the value Cosen strives to provide. Accordingly, Cosen is undergoing transformation from a band saw supplier to a service provider that performs equipment health assessment.

According to Cosen, customers' biggest worry is the reliability of the cutting tool on the equipment, which affects the operation of the whole machinery and possibly even the delivery schedule. Customers need to stay aware of equipment conditions and know when the best time to change the cutting tool is. The cutting tool should be replaced before it is completely worn to avoid unexpected downtime.

In view of this, Cosen has added an equipment monitoring system in the controller chassis. The system integrates a data capture module along with a signal processing and conversion module and connects to electric current sensors and resistance temperature detectors. Coupled with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, the system not only enables customers to collect signals generated from the band saw during cutting operations but also allows them to build models based on the data and find the pattern that indicates components need to be serviced or replaced.

Then, the measurements of the stress level at the saw and the frictional heat generated during cutting are recorded and analyzed such that equipment health and product service life that manufacturers originally had no way of knowing now become clear information.

China Steel enhances productivity despite extreme operating conditions

China Steel is the only steel producer in Taiwan capable of making steel from ore to slabs, blooms and billets with integrated production steps. The process of making steel includes the use of chemical processes, steam/electricity co-generation systems and high-pressure gas. Under these harsh working conditions, equipment operating in a steel mill has to be able to withstand extreme conditions such as high temperature, heavy load and high impact while maintaining high yield.

The construction of a steel process plant is a multi-million dollar investment. If any piece of equipment fails, it will seriously affect production not only on the line itself but also upstream and downstream processes. The sophisticated processes from raw material delivery, coking, steel plate and steel bar making to semi-finished steel casting go through a series of massive and intricate pieces of equipment. Their components can easily wear and tear under extreme operating conditions. Without early detection of equipment irregularity, failures are bound to happen and cause equipment shutdown.

Due to the magnitude of the equipment, it will take more time to replace components, resulting in longer downtime. For the purpose of minimizing loss due to unexpected equipment shutdown and workplace hazards, China Steel has brought in smart equipment monitoring and diagnostic systems to assess conditions of important production equipment and thereby determine the best time and method to conduct maintenance.

For instance, like dough made in a central kitchen of a food factory, semi-finished steel is provided to midstream and downstream steel plants as materials for further processing. After being fed to the furnace for softening, semi-finished steel then goes through the rolling mill to be rolled into various types of steel products. The rolling machine applies a very strong compressive force and one component could easily cost over NT$1 million. Damage or replacement before a component's expected service life incurs a major expense to the manufacturer.

Therefore, China Steel has decided to embed sensors in the production equipment to detect the use conditions. The use of equipment monitoring systems enables early discovery of situations such as abrasion resistant plates showing signs of wear and bearings showing irregularity. This is instrumental to maintaining production stability.

Machining tool suppliers leverage flutter monitoring to enhance CNC precision

A maker of machining centers located in Taiwan's precision machinery base has a history of over five decades in refined research and production of machining tools. Its products are being exported to many countries around the world and are enthusiastically embraced by internationally renowned companies. The maker is currently stepping up efforts to transition from a traditional machining tool supplier to a world-leading machining tool brand by steering its developments toward smart manufacturing.

In addition to continuing development of high-quality models and expanding presence in smart machinery, the machining tool maker also endeavors to optimize machining center functionality by looking into issues its customers have encountered. CNC machinery is critical production equipment to the manufacturing industry so manufacturers constantly look to improve CNC machinery performance in an attempt to boost process precision and product quality.

Accurate calibration is crucial to machining precision. Manufacturers have long relied on veteran technicians who have accumulated years of experience to do the calibration. However, such practice is hardly scientific and is also tedious and time-consuming. An oversight in the process could result in loss of precision. Furthermore, veteran technicians will have to retire someday and there is no guarantee they will be able to pass down all their valuable know-hows.

Another factor that affects machining quality is flutter. When a CNC tool performs fast or deep cutting, flutter could occur. Flutter is a type of small-amplitude high-frequency vibration which is barely perceptible. However, not only will occurrence of flutter compromise machining precision but it can indirectly cause damage to important components such as cutters, spindles and bearings. In view of this, equipment makers look to detect flutter early in time to stop the problem from becoming so bad that it diminishes machining quality.

For the purpose of eliminating uncertainty of manual calibration and minimizing machinery flutter, makers bring in sensor technologies to help their machinery tools conduct self-calibration and real-time monitoring, integrating their machinery with built-in spindle calibration and flutter detection. However, a brand new CNC machining tool may cost anywhere between hundreds of thousands of NT dollars and millions of NT dollars. Redesigning such machinery to add monitoring capability will definitely run up costs.

As such, the maker tried to add monitoring modules to existing machining tools, augmenting them with spindle calibration and flutter detection capabilities, to accelerate time-to-market for new CNC machining tools. By selecting a plug-and-play data capture module to complete an easy-to-integrate solution, the maker only had to make small modifications to the hardware circuit, rather than a design overhaul, to complement their machinery with the desired capabilities.

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