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Norican Group
The Monitizer | DISCOVER is a new, “comprehensive Industry 4.0 system” that makes it easy for users to adapt, configure and master digitalization without expert help.

The Digital Foundry is Here

Jan. 20, 2022
Digitalization offers the most effective way for metalcasters to gain the substantial advances most are looking to achieve, including lower scrap rates, higher productivity, better sustainability and improved equipment utilization.

Digitalization is vital for the future of metalcasters – and for nearly all manufacturers. Simply buying better machinery is no longer likely to deliver very large performance gains. Any foundry operation is a complex one, and traditional manual monitoring, control and optimization methods are delivering smaller and smaller gains. Digitalization now offers the most effective way – often the only way – to find the substantial advances we’re looking to achieve, whether that involves radically lower scrap rates or higher productivity, or better sustainability and equipment utilization.

The fastest, lowest cost way to improve performance

Digitalization will take you away from slow, costly experimentation and rule-of-thumb adjustments. It will show exactly where the bottlenecks are and help to find optimal machine and material settings. With an accurate, real-time-data-based production picture, you can understand your process better; make faster, better decisions; troubleshoot more efficiently – and improve continually over time.

In aluminum foundries, digital tools help to reduce part-load energy consumption for melting and ensure dosing and holding furnaces are always fed with exactly the right amount of liquid metal at the right time. For diecasting machines, you can digitally track pre-defined KPIs, time maintenance actions, and monitor sensor values.

Collecting, tracking, and analyzing shot-blast process data helps operators to spot emerging problems and tackle cost drivers like abrasive consumption, energy use, and excessive maintenance. In the green-sand process, Industry 4.0 tools can be applied at every stage, from mixing sand to shakeout and quality control.

The digital journey

A closer look at a digital journey shows that foundries typically start by applying Industry 4.0 tools to individual machines or processes, and then build out their infrastructure in stages to eventually support their entire operation.

Machine sensors, foundry networking, and edge devices (gateways that process and transmit sensor data) are the foundation stones. The Norican NoriGate gateway easily fits to any machine from any vendor to enable reliable, secure local data collection.

As well as collecting and displaying data, this infrastructure supports machine synchronization, process automation, and more. A green-sand foundry might gain recipe management, molding line monitoring, in-mold cooling time control, or automatic casting sorting.

Moving ahead

A comprehensive I4.0 system like Norican’s Monitizer | DISCOVER is the next step (or the first.) It can collect, combine, store, and visualize data from entire foundries, legacy software systems, and multiple global sites, all in real time. It integrates data, automates variable calculations, and offers secure, cloud-based remote access.

Foundry floor workers, supervisors, and off-site senior managers all benefit from a vivid, holistic digital view of operations via their laptop, mobile, or tablet. They can see how individual machines are performing at the moment, read a batch report from the last run, or monitor each line that’s running worldwide. They can compare live to historical data KPIs, to benchmarks or set thresholds, and get alerts to possible problems: What was the tonnage cast on the last shift? How does it compare to yesterday? And is everything working correctly right now?

Every user should be able to master the digital tools easily, without expert help. That means being able to create and edit KPIs and dashboards without any knowledge of SQL or give sensors meaningful names in the local language.

Unexpected bonuses

Digital insight will help optimize processes to improve casting quality and reduce scrap, lower downtime and shorten cycle times. In turn, that cuts operating costs, energy use and emissions, while improving sustainability – and profitability. Many other benefits follow with a connected foundry: service technicians can check a machine remotely or deliver next-generation prescriptive maintenance driven with remote monitoring, alerting, and instant advice on tap.

MAT Foundry Group – with foundries and machining operations in the EU, U.K., U.S., and Mexico – worked with DISA to track machine performance and productivity in real time by monitoring metrics like tons-poured-per-hour. But its use of digital capabilities expanded quickly, from spotting and fixing technical issues to monitoring dust emissions and implementing predictive maintenance for shot blasting.

The result: valuable staff are free to do more productive work while the database retains knowledge lost as experienced staff retire. In fact, with the cloud database recording how small process changes combine to affect results like casting quality, it rapidly becomes your foundry’s most valuable asset.

The ultimate goal

With a full Industry 4.0 infrastructure and plenty of historical data, it’s possible to deploy systems like Monitizer | PRESCRIBE for dynamic, real-time process control across an entire line. Enabled by Artificial Intelligence and running in the cloud, an Expert Execution System like this makes all foundry processes work in harmony to maintain stable, maximum quality production. 

Now, human operators carry out prescribed interventions like changing machine settings, but in future this can be completely automated. Real-time optimization at the Spanish foundry group Condals led to scrap rates dropping by 39% and 45% for two patterns during production testing with Monitizer | PRESCRIBE.

Of course, digital innovation on its own is not enough. For faster progress and true transformation, it should be combined it with deep process expertise. AI-driven optimization is the best example, previously requiring specialized in-house data scientists, a truckload of new hardware, and a major initial investment – plus years of work to get going. Today, a mixture of application experience, cloud systems, and minimal, easily-installed hardware can produce impressive results within months.

Why now?

Metalcasting digitalization project now carry lower risks than ever before. The reliable technology is delivering strong results globally. Industry 4.0 infrastructure, like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors and gateways that collect and forward process data, is mature and well proven across many industries.

The cloud systems that provide the back-end computing horsepower remove most IT project risk and eliminate previous financial barriers. Security in Norican’s Monitizer platform is solid, with one-way data flows, end-to-end encryption, and cloud applications thoroughly tested for weaknesses by trusted organizations.

There’s no need for a “big bang” project. Foundries can go at their own speed, starting small and building capabilities step-by-step. A monthly subscription is usually all that’s initially required, with little or no need for new, in-house IT or data expertise; shop-floor workers or managers can set up reporting and many other features by themselves.

Almost all new Norican machines are supplied digitally-enabled with sensors and gateways, ready to plug into the network. Entry-level digital tools also are arriving that help new users take their first steps, providing valuable information and easily scaling to a fully-fledged monitoring, alerting and visualization application.

Step on board

Digital foundry adoption has skyrocketed over the past two years, with the pandemic making abilities like remote machine diagnostics invaluable. Leading American foundries like Lodge Cast Iron are going all-in, as are global operators like China’s Huaxiang, Japan’s Morikawa and Spain’s Condals.

Your competitors are adopting digital. Now really is the time to take that first step onboard.

Nina Dybdal Rasmussen heads the Norican Digital unit at Norican Group. Contact her at [email protected] or visit www.noricangroup.com