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A Digital Revolution is Transforming Foundries Worldwide

Feb. 1, 2024
From collecting data to a more energy-efficient, AI-optimized casting process, digitization is changing the way castings are made.

In just a few years, digital foundry systems have evolved into powerful tools that promise business transformation. The impact is tangible: cutting scrap by up to 86%, reducing downtime, and curbing emissions. Digital insight is the shortcut to uncovering the improvements that can redefine the way you operate, especially for foundries that need to achieve more with fewer resources.

With Monitizer’s Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform, almost any machine from any vendor can be digitized, to present a reliable view of your process in the cloud that will support applications like monitoring, predictive maintenance, or AI-driven process optimization.

The Draxton Barcelona foundry produces complex components for brakes, powertrains, and transmission systems, primarily for automakers in North America, Europe, and China. The modular Monitizer | DISCOVER IIoT platform was deployed there to digitally connect the furnace and pouring unit, plus the sand plant, two DISA molding lines, the entire suction system, and the shotblast machines.

Starting in June 2022, we worked with Draxton to set up the central database, defining variables and the most useful KPIs. Because it is hosted in the cloud, Draxton can access the database from anywhere using any device with a standard HTML browser.

Draxton operators use the tool to monitor production and facility parameters. Each user has applied their process knowledge to create their own personalized dashboard and set up their own queries, so they receive exactly the information they want to see with no need for technical support. They can also configure sophisticated alarms that alert production and maintenance staff to act before an issue becomes serious.

The system also enabled the maintenance team to implement a just-in-time” preventive maintenance program. For example, Monitizer | DISCOVER helps Draxton identify premature wear in furnaces; when any parameters move out of specification, the system automatically notifies both maintenance and production teams.

Previously, Draxton Barcelona struggled to remove a bottleneck caused by insufficient molding sand for the two lines. By analyzing process data, it was possible to vary the sand plant's cycle time to match the amount of water added to the sand plant. This removed the bottleneck and stabilized sand quality.

"Monitizer | DISCOVER has helped us implement and enhance lean manufacturing and predictive maintenance, and we use its information to constantly learn about and enhance different parts of our operations,” said Javier Heredia, plant manager at Draxton Barcelona. “It has definitely helped us improve casting quality while lowering resource and energy consumption.”

Digital system driving resource efficiency

By giving real-time access to data and process monitoring, Draxton’s digital system has also helped the Barcelona foundry significantly improve its sustainability performance. In the sand mixing example above, digital insight helped to optimize the sand-water ratio and improve sand quality, and also to reduce waste and cut water and energy consumption. The result was higher-quality casting and a more sustainable, more efficient process.

As EU regulations such as the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) come into force, emissions measurement is rapidly becoming unavoidable for foundries within the bloc. Digital systems are vital here too, providing a reliable and accurate view of energy consumption at all stages of the process. “DISCOVER's digital process view will be invaluable as we begin our new sustainability initiative,” Heredia said.

The next step on Draxton’s digital journey will be to move toward automatic, AI-driven optimization with Monitizer | PRESCRIBE. Multiple foundries facing shortages in skilled workers or struggling with reduced skill levels have taken this route to help harness the power of AI, to optimize the entire foundry process and drive average scrap reductions by (conservatively) 40%.

AI delivers process improvements

AI and Digital 4.0 processes act as force multipliers, addressing challenges with labor shortages and process deficiencies. But not all digital processes are the same. Understanding how to use AI to master the incredible complexity of foundry processes must come from industry leaders that have successfully solved challenges in both green sand and diecasting.

For example, Monitizer | PRESCRIBE’s sophisticated AI-driven predictive analytics optimize an entire production line in real-time and recommend changes to process parameters that prevent defects occurring. This significantly reduces scrap and emissions while improving profitability. Because it’s built on the same Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) IIoT platform as DISCOVER, foundries can deploy optimization swiftly, effectively and with low project risk.

For example, Japan’s Morikawa foundry started to implement the full suite in early 2021 and, despite Covid restrictions, rapidly progressed to optimization. Initial testing in 2022 showed improvements of 66.6% and 86.9% respectively for two different patterns. The pattern that showed 86.9% uplift was particularly interesting as the foundry had strived for years to reduce its scrap rate without success.

Quick deployment and rapid results

Huaxiang, China’s fifth-largest private foundry, took a “big bang” approach to digitalization, implementing the full Monitizer suite in early 2021 with the goals of stabilizing its process, reducing scrap, improving yield, and minimizing finishing work. Just over a year later, management declared themselves “amazed” at the results from AI optimization: scrap reduction figures from four automotive castings were 86.1%, 57.3%, 46.6% and 30.3% respectively, giving an average scrap rate reduction of 57.2%. The foundry is now extending AI optimization to the rest of its patterns.

Spanish foundry Condals chose a staged implementation, first deploying Monitizer for data collection and monitoring across its three DISA lines, and then putting the AI to work on its rich database. The big attraction? The AI’s ability to optimize an entire process for scrap reduction rather than just working on separate sub-processes and parameters. During testing, Condals saw a 40% scrap reduction and that improvement has continued, with the scrap rate staying at the lower level and still dropping.

A global automotive OEM has also seen excellent results with PRESCRIBE in low-pressure diecasting of light-alloy wheels for premium vehicles. During the commissioning test, following the AI’s instructions for optimal machine setpoints and other process parameters reduced scrap by 29%.

MAT Group is a global casting organization and a digital early adopter that sees AI as a natural progression from the IIoT system that gives its EURAC site in Poole, England, a complete digital view of their production. With the addition of AI, they aim to further reduce scrap and energy consumption, and increase sustainability.

“When you start to reduce your scrap, there’s a significant reduction in scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions,” said Shaun Lindfield, EURAC’s Commercial Director. “Our ongoing project in Poole is vital in helping improve both our process and sustainability. PRESCRIBE’s technology saves you money and makes you more profitable so why isn’t everybody doing this?”

As they continue to improve and mature, digital systems will become even more effective in raising performance. So far, both IIoT and AI tend to be implemented by larger foundries, but they are equally effective for small and midsize operations. For ambitious foundries across all sectors and processes, there’s little doubt that digital is fast becoming the most effective route to success.

Nina Dybdal Rasmussen is Head of Monitizer, a Norican Group technology.