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Forklift operators transferring liquid metal from furnaces to the diecasting machines have secure access to this real-time data via a tablet, to ensure optimal fill levels are maintained.

Digital Dosing Optimizes Aluminum Diecasting

Jan. 12, 2021
Alupress is operating a pilot program for real-time reporting of sensor data to monitor furnace fill levels, with analysis-based indicators to time, alloy, and volume requirements.

Addressing high-volume demand for automotive aluminum diecastings is more than a logistical or technological challenge: it’s a data-management issue, and now an automotive aluminum diecaster is piloting a data-driven technology package to improve productivity at its plant in Hildburghausen, Germany.

Alupress, which also has operations in the U.S. and Italy, has adopted the Monitizer® | Refill Monitor to optimize the supply of molten aluminum to its dosing furnaces. Developed by StrikoWestofen in partnership with the Norican group’s in-house digital lab, the process control package uses sensor data to check furnace fill levels continuously against the metal consumption of the diecasting process. Then, it presents the analyzed data as informative online dashboards that show clearly, in real time, when each furnace will need refilling, with which alloy and how much metal will be required.

“When we heard about Monitizer | Refill Monitor we could see it offered an innovative solution to a number of practical challenges we face,” explained Enrico Sonnefeld, head of maintenance at Alupress Hildburghausen.

“Our melting furnaces are located quite a distance from our diecasting halls. To accurately check the real-time fill levels of our 32 dosing furnaces takes time, and the logistics involved mean there is always a risk of refilling with the wrong alloy, overfilling, or underfilling. As well as being unproductive, these factors can also result in undesirable stop/starts, for instance if melt is not ready, downtime and also problems further down the line with casting quality – in particular if fill levels have dropped too low.”

As part of the pilot program, eight of Alupress’ dosing furnaces have been connected to the Monitizer | Refill Monitor solution, including five StrikoWestofen Westomat furnaces and three from another furnace supplier.

“This was actually one of the things that impressed us about this innovation,” Sonnefeld added, “because the data collection mechanism used is supplier agnostic, we can connect any of our furnaces to Monitizer | Refill Monitor. We also didn’t need to have any pre-existing digital infrastructure or IIoT experience.”

A noteworthy feature of the system is that the dashboards are completely customizable, to show at a glance the information that is going to be most valuable to the particular foundry. This includes setting color codes – green, amber, red – to indicate priority actions required. The level of customization is something already has been advantageous to Alupress.

StrikoWestofen development engineer Florian Kulawik reported: “Alupress has configured its dashboards to display overall furnace fill level as a percentage, and also the exact time left until the furnace is at 40% capacity, as refilling before this point produces optimal results in terms of melt quality and for continuous production.”

He continued: “Clear, color-coded indicators change as the threshold is reached. The dashboards can be accessed in the melt shop and are displayed on a dedicated monitor in the production hall. The forklift operators responsible for transferring the liquid metal from the melting furnace to the production hall also have securely authorized access to this real-time data via a tablet in the vehicle, to ensure optimal fill levels are maintained.”

The pilot project is ongoing but Alupress already has seen the benefits of real-time data monitoring. “Since the solution was installed our dosing furnaces have been in continuous use because at any single point in time, we can see what’s needed to optimize the process,” Sonnefeld noted. “What’s more, because the solution is completely scalable, we know it will be an easy job to expand the number of furnaces, old or new,  connected as and when required.”

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