Tecopress S.r.l. is an automotive diecaster in north central Italy, supplying light-alloy parts like aluminum cylinder heads, crankcases, bed plates, steering housings, gearboxes, engine blocks, and battery charger housings for diesel, gasoline, and hybrid engines, to OEMs that include Audi, Ducati, BMW, and Volkswagen. The diecaster has adopted a commitment to process innovation and a research-based approach to process improvement.
One of its recent implementations has been an infrared-vision technology developed by Marposs called Total Thermal Vision (TTV). TTV is an advanced surface temperature monitoring system, which Tecopress has adopted to evaluate the condition and performance of diecasting molds. Reportedly, this system’s performance has exceeded the performance of previous monitoring systems Tecopress has used by significantly improving casting cycle time, increasing product quality, conserving production time, and saving production and maintenance costs.
Automotive manufacturers know even the slightest defect in a production system will have an expansive effect on the finished products, an effect that is magnified when product volumes and production sequences are increased. More specifically, it is critical to maintain surface temperatures on diecasting molds to avoid overheating, which may lead to metallization. That would result in cracks and splits in the mold. This costs manufacturers time and money by causing unexpected machine downtimes to replace molds and requiring additional machine maintenance.
Thermographic monitoring addresses these issues by helping to maintain surface temperatures within the optimal range, significantly reducing unexpected breakages and premature mold replacements, and increasing overall machine productivity and efficiency. When applied to diecasting, thermography is an essential tool for monitoring process variables, such as expected temperatures, temperature repeatability, and eventual deviations.
TTV provides constant monitoring of these variables. Tecopress identified the Marposs technology’s potentiality in two important aspects: its user-friendly design and its ability to respond rapidly to different production requirements. It is not imperative for the operator to possess any particular process skills in order to use the TTV. Its touch-screen interface displays all data required to test cycle characteristics, while also allowing technicians to examine the various aspects that distinguish it.
Production manager Massimiliano Raimondi praised the monitoring process that “has enabled Tecopress to closely study the effects that different variables produce on molds and understand to what extent they damage components. Peeling, pitting, bonding and metallization are the main defects that thermographic monitoring has enabled us to reduce, and even eliminate. Using a press equipped with TTV helps us to implement strategies to measure 100% of surface temperatures immediately before and after the lubrication phases, as well as extending the mold lifespan.”
Raimondi also discussed some additional benefits from the TTV adoption. “By capturing images in two key moments we have been able to study any eventual defects in the diecast components. Before the lubrication cycle, images of any critical areas that may be out of range are recorded, and the temperature set in every region of interest is checked. Then, after lubrication, any areas where a temperature, other than expected change, are inspected.
“Any results that do not meet expectations created by simulated casting operations prompt peripheral elements, such as lubricators, thermoregulators, and injection parameters to be examined for inefficiencies, and the required corrective actions are taken,” he added.
In addition to eliminating defects, monitoring the surface temperatures of the mold also has enhanced the cooling and lubrication processes. By reducing cycle times and unexpected mechanical component breakages, and lowering the degree of thermal stress on the mold steel, the overall lifespan of the system has improved.
Plant manager Paolo Bergamini, identified several more benefits to thermal monitoring. “[It] also allowed us to rationalize our use of water and mold release agents, limit the wear on mechanical components, and improve the global efficiency of diecasting processes,” he said. “One important example is a 5-6% improvement in cycle time and a reduction of up to 20% in the use of mold-release agents. This level of optimization has been far higher than expected.”
For Tecopress, the ability to monitor the temperature of the mold continuously during the heating phase has reduced cycle times and, consequently, increased machine productivity and diminished the number of rejected diecastings during heating. The warm-up and set-up phases in the diecasting process are non-productive, and Tecopress sought a way to reduce this as much as possible.
According to Bergamini, “TTV has succeeded in reducing equipment set-up times, as it allows us to identify, on a case-to-case basis, the correct quantity of casts to produce before the press is considered ready for production.”
In particular, TTV has allowed the working life of certain components (e.g., plugs and squeeze pins) to be calculated with precision. Monitoring and analysis has improved and optimized the diecasting process to the point of achieving “zero defects” and avoiding expensive downtimes.
It’s noteworthy that several Tecopress customers are using the TTV thermographic images to demonstrate the superior quality of the components supplied, while others have employed those images as evidence to obtain approval from quality-assurance agencies that certify production performance standards. Other customers use thermographic batch images as part of their production-part approval processes, or to satisfy customer-specific requirements.
“For Tecopress, TTV has proved to be an innovative, comprehensive, and effective solution for increasing molds’ lifespans, significantly reducing waste, and optimizing cycle times,” Bergamini stated. “The working relationship created between Tecopress and Marposs is extremely valuable, as it has succeeded in improving the entire production process while also looking toward the future.”