To Industry 4.0 …and Beyond

April 12, 2021
Dotson Iron Castings adopted Sinto America’s enVision Process Visibility System for its molding lines, resulting in improved production, less downtime, faster cycle time, better maintenance scheduling, and more.

Industry 4.0 is a vast subject involving technological systems and functions integrated with practical manufacturing applications, but it’s worth noting that some metalcasting operations are well beyond the concept stage. Dotson Iron Castings, the Mankato, MN, producer of ductile iron and austempered ductile iron components is one example.

In simple terms, Industry 4.0 describes a network of machines and processes sharing critical operating data, and at the same time contributing to an expanding volume of data that grows an organization’s control over its activities and opportunities. Dotson has been operating its molding machines, transfer stations and turn tables with Sinto America’s enVision Process Visibility System (ePVS) since 2019.

Dotson and Sinto have a long working history, involving various systems installed for molding, automatic pouring, automatic grinding, and blast-cleaning machines. The integrated data analytics of the ePVS installation allows Dotson operators to visualize the operating conditions in such a way that performances can be evaluated in real time, and potential failures can be recognized and avoided.

The ePVS system makes available real-time analysis of operations on any device, at any time, and at any place. It also allows the operators to adopt predictive maintenance practices, locating hidden liabilities and promoting higher system productivity. At the organizational level, it makes long-term planning more feasible, shortening process or equipment launch cycles, and improving yields, and enhancing communication across the organization.

“At Dotson, we continue to reinvest, redevelop, and recreate what a foundry can be so that we can deliver the best value and quality to our customers,” according to president Eric Nelson. “Sinto’s ePVS, allows us to be the most efficient foundry we can be, by taking our focus off maintenance and putting it on the customer.”

As Nelson recalled, Dotson’s introduction of the system two years ago came with some uncertainty. “Rolling out the ePVS system at Dotson started as a ‘nice-to-have’, … not sure exactly what benefits we would see. What we are really trying to improve on is our ability to not overwork on equipment, from a maintenance standpoint, but really address the equipment and work on it at the right time.

“The first mechanical issue that was highlighted by the system has turned it into a ‘must-have’,” Nelson continued. “We have been able to address concerns well before they create compounding issues in the remainder of the system.  It doesn’t replace our maintenance team, but it makes them much more efficient.”

Sinto America’s enVision Process Visibility System (ePVS) is a data acquisition and process visualization platform designed to make it easy to see what’s happening at any moment, what will happen soon, and what should be done to maximize the potential of a specific production process. It provides real-time data, allowing operators to see and address problems before a failure occurs, for a significant reduction in unplanned downtime. Envision also makes it easy to correlate data and identify patterns over longer periods of time, so that it can predict when recurring maintenance will be necessary, and to replace a default maintenance schedule with one based on real, reliable data.

“I think ePVS is great,” offered Dotson’s maintenance manager, Kenny Elliott. “It gives us advance notice of things that may be wearing out. ePVS is giving our maintenance technicians opportunities to fix things before they break. It is giving us the ability to plan out our maintenance better.

“The analytics program shows me a bright future on what we can do and what the future holds for being able to be a proactive maintenance team rather than a reactive maintenance team,” Elliott added.

One situation Dotson faced began with a warning indication for a “Sand Gate Close” process. After investigating the history of sand-gate closing and several related operations, it was suggested that sand was clogging the sand gate. With this discovery, the operation was able to be fixed before any downtime was incurred, and the process cycle time decreased from 3.9 to 0.49 seconds.

One of ePVS’s most appreciated features is its ability to reveal the “hidden” potential capacity of individual machines or production processes. The enVision’s detailed visual data helps the users gain better visibility quickly, and bring to light lag times, production gaps and unused assets, revealing inefficiencies and opportunities for meaningful optimization – which otherwise would have remained hidden. The ePVS portrays clearly how, when, and where throughput can be increased, and how maximum production can be achieved.

“What we have found with Sinto is that the ability to understand the equipment is critical and really helps us leverage that data we have,” Nelson explained. “We have seen a 10% improvement in our mold production. We have reduced our preventative maintenance time by 18%, which is huge for us, as it is making our techs more efficient. We have also decreased our downtime in that area by 15%.”

He continued: “It takes a lot of money to run a foundry on an hourly basis so any additional capacity we can gain, without adding hours, goes right to the bottom line.”

Dotson set many goals to be achieved with ePVS, including raising production volume without increasing production hours. The foundry needed its cycle time to be at 120 molds/hour to meet demand, and by applying Sinto’s Analytics program Dotson was able to work with a Sinto service technician and data analyst to identify areas for cycle time reductions. The team was able to reduce cycle time by 5 seconds (over 14%) remotely.

By decreasing maintenance and machine issues, product quality improves too. Dotson was able to be more productive in a shorter period of time. Shayne Pribyl, a Dotson maintenance technician working directly with the equipment and ePVS, reported that since the system was adopted, he has seen a direct improvement in product quality as a consequence of the machinery operating more consistently. “Sand quality, molding quality, pattern quality – ePVS helps all of it,” Pribyl said, “in the sense that we can monitor, on a daily basis, the consistency of the machines.

“Producing high-quality, consistent molds while hitting the required number of molds daily, is great,” according to Pribyl. “ePVS can only continue improving everything we are working on. From molding machines to the core room, everything that we can incorporate, the data is there. Being able to grab that data and see it immediately is a great benefit.”

Another improvement Dotson has identified concerns production and line-side monitors. The foundry wanted to improve line-side pace awareness for all three of its molding lines. Using ePVS, live production counts and targets are displayed at operator stations, which led to improved mold output per shift by 5-6.

Working with Sinto’s data analysts Dotson was able to share the workload for root-cause analysis. During one study, Dotson was experiencing intermittently slow mold push-out. A Sinto data analyst reviewed time history and compared that information to interrelated operations. It was found that a cylinder switch needed adjusting to accommodate an interlock with the mold-handling system, which reduced group cycle by 20% and reduced maintenance hours required.

Sinto maintains that Industry 4.0 is paving the way to future successes for metalcasting plants, and points to Dotson Iron Castings’ improvements in production, downtime, cycle time, visual targets, maintenance scheduling, and communication as proof. Sinto’s “long-term technicians have been able to help us quickly see the trends that we might not have seen otherwise,” according to Dotson president Eric Nelson.