Knowing what types of sensors to use and what data to collect can drive connectivity and process efficiency.

Sensor technology is the prerequisite for implementing Industry 4.0. Sensors collect data on process and machine statuses, making it available for process-relevant information services and workflows. However, sensor costs and the variety of possible applications often make it difficult for users to appreciate the economic benefit.

The Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA), in cooperation with the Wbk Institute of Production Science of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) compiled the Sensors for Industry 4.0 guideline to highlight various tools and methods for lowering sensor costs.

“Sensors are the links between the digital and the real world and therefore one of the most important factors in the implementation of Industry 4.0. All higher-level data interpretation systems are blind without the right sensors,” says professor Jürgen Fleischer, one of the guide’s main contributors.

Fleischer says KIT projects show how information can be usefully captured and processed using sensors.

“Data can be captured in the drive components of machine tools to monitor their condition and optimize operation,” Fleischer says. “In ball screws, for example, the axial force and the friction torque on the ball screw nut can be measured. The exact lubrication requirement can then be determined by comparing the results with a model for friction behavior.”

He adds that KIT researchers developed an adaptive lubrication system that uses sensor data to significantly increase the service life of ball screws in tests. And in addition to lubrication controls, different drive components can be monitored by capturing structure-borne noise.

“These signals change throughout a component’s lifetime and allow conclusions to be drawn on the state of wear. The goal is predictive, condition-based maintenance, also known as predictive maintenance,” Fleischer says.

However, implementing algorithms to analyze sensor data and determine relevant features for automatic evaluation can be time intensive. Xeidana software, developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology (IWU) in Chemnitz, performs data acquisition and automated quality control.

The software detects surface defects accurately in real-time using optical sensors (such as multi-camera systems). The data can then be fed back to the production system to enable a quick response if process parameters are breached.

Further examples of real-time capture of sensor data at the IWU include pressing, punching, and cutting forces recorded in forming machine tools.

“You have to identify the point up to which real-time capture makes sense, how the data is synchronized, and which sampling rates are necessary to obtain an accurate process description,” says Dr. Jörg Stahlmann, managing director of Consenses, an industrial measurement technology and digitalization solutions company. “We use 3D step models to understand our customers’ designs and to classify sensor data – such as the expected force and temperature flows – and kinematics correctly.”

“Simulations of components, assemblies, and machines give us a better understanding of the mechanical effects encountered in production plants,” Fleischer says. “We use this knowledge to make targeted use of sensors and to interpret the captured data more efficiently.”

However, not every application requires real-time capture, and there are certain instances where real-time data is not the most efficient.

“Real-time data is often provided by control units which originally collected it to control certain machine actions,” Stahlmann says. This goal does not always overlap with the requirements for the sensor data. Before far-reaching analyses or decisions are derived from this data, it is important to understand which signal is generated in each individual case. For example, in condition-based maintenance, real-time recording is superfluous.

“Condition-based maintenance does not require a rapid response to the collected data. The results of the data evaluation may even be delivered several hours after the data has been entered. Recorded data can be stored in a buffer so that it can be aggregated and evaluated at a later point in time, and the evaluation can be outsourced to a powerful server,” Fleischer says.

“If there is no economic justification, there is no need for real time,” says Dr. Thomas Päßler, forming machines group manager at IWU. “Real-time capture is not necessary for trend analyses conducted over a longer period. It is not necessary to keep all the data; only individual parameters should be generated and archived. In addition, there is little to be gained from capturing data required for management purposes in real-time, including parameters related to the economic efficiency of production, such as how many components of a particular type were produced on one plant.”

The German Academic Association for Production Technology (WGP) also addressed the question of meaningful and appropriate automation in its Industriearbeitsplatz 2025 paper, concluding that “all technical possibilities should be exploited in the economic value creation process, but maximum automation is not always necessary or useful.”

However, real-time sensor data is inevitably necessary for machine, tool, or workpiece protection or process stability.

“Real-time data capture is indispensable when it’s the only way to prevent damage,” Päßler says. “This applies in the case of tool breakage or excessive stress on assemblies such as bearings or frame components. In order to preclude the possibility of any rejects, it makes sense to capture the material properties in real-time with the appropriate sensors.”

Real-time detection can also help prevent damage to workpieces during production and rectify any errors made during setup.

“Errors made during the setup of machine tools or in the NC program can lead to collisions,” Fleischer says. “If these are detected quickly enough, the machine can be stopped, and material damage reduced.”

Scientists at the IWU use real-time monitoring of forces, paths, and stretching on forming presses. Rather than being evaluated individually, these different types of data are fed into Smart Stamp, a software-based analysis module, where they are merged and analysed. By combining data, manufacturers can know if the press is working in its normal range, if the tool is wearing too quickly, or if the ram mounted on the upper tool has a critical tilt that could mar the workpiece.

However, there are points on the machine where it is not possible to mount real sensors, as they would be difficult to access, or installation would be too complicated and expensive. There may be no relevant data available for particular processes and machine statuses. The IWU solution is to use virtual sensors.

Real sensors, mounted at different points on the machine, serve as the basis of this technology, and a digital twin in the form of a virtual sensor is created from their measured values. This calculates the values that a real sensor would record at a relevant but inaccessible location.

About the author: Annedore Bose-Munde is a freelance journalist from Erfurt, Germany. She can be reached at

According to a report by Grainger, 59% of metalworking firms are having a difficult time finding and retaining qualified employees.

The combination of a healthy construction market and a solid economy are keeping work pipelines flowing and bottom lines strong for metalworking operations. However, even the biggest business boom can bring its own set of unique challenges. According to a report by Grainger, 59% of metalworking firms are having a difficult time finding and retaining qualified employees, and 45% are struggling with competency levels in their workforce. As unemployment rates remain low and companies often compete for the same candidates, it is critical to find solutions for staffing problems.

Scrap handling systems, fluid recycling equipment, and industrial water and wastewater treatment solutions offer automation opportunities that address the staffing issue and benefit the bottom line.

Automated conveying equipment transports metal scrap from production through load-out with minimal employee involvement. Conveyors also:

Tramp oil separators automatically remove free-floating and mechanically dispersed tramp oils, bacteria, slime, and inverted emulsions from individual machine sumps, central systems, and wash tanks. This equipment:

Mechanical or automatic hydraulic dumpers simplify cart unloading with efficient one-person operation that uses a handheld control to operate equipment.

Employers in the metalworking industry are struggling to maintain production and grow because of worker shortages. As unemployment rates remain low and companies often compete for the same candidates, it is becoming increasingly critical to find solutions to staffing problems. Industry experts offer several explanations for the increasing amount of open positions and the shrinking number of qualified candidates.

• Aging workforce — Citing Forbes magazine, the Arizona Republic reported that more than half of the skilled labor pool in job categories such as machining consists of workers aged 45 and older. The physical demands of industrial production make it increasingly challenging for older employees to remain in the job market as they approach retirement age. Younger entrants can replace them and accept lower pay, but cost savings often come with a comparative lack of experience (and the commensurate lower productivity rate) that many production operations find unacceptable.

• Perception problem — The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2017 that factories can find plenty of people for grunt jobs, such as lifting boxes and sorting parts. They are having much more difficulty finding hands-on machinists, CNC machine operators, toolmakers, industrial electricians, multi-skilled maintenance mechanics, and candidates for other jobs that require aptitude in math plus a couple of years of schooling. They blame this on the perception that factory work still has an outdated, gritty image in the minds of many people who think the work environment in a metalworking operation is dark, dirty, and dangerous. Automation and computerized manufacturing have eliminated many factory jobs that require brawn in favor of positions that demand a more sophisticated skill set.

A report by Grainger listed strategies that manufacturers are taking to face this situation, including the development of apprenticeship programs and college/tech school partnerships. A 2018 article in the Springfield News-Sun reported that some manufacturing firms are boosting wages to compete for candidates. Harvey Tool Company, a provider of specialty carbide end mills and cutting tools to the metalworking industry, identified employed machinists as the best source to encourage today’s youth to join the profession through community outreach and networking initiatives.

Staff reduction could make the most business sense for metalworking operations that need to fill open positions while ensuring their current labor forces stay in place. Automating as many plant processes as possible allows productivity to remain high while requiring fewer workers to get the job done.

Modern equipment in conveying, scrap handling, fluid recycling, and water/wastewater treatment also improves uptime with low maintenance, eliminating overstaffing to ensure that employees are as productive as possible.

Productivity improvements in today’s manufacturing plants and machine shops are typically derived from evaluating machining equipment, operating procedures, and labor allocations associated with process-side activity. Continuous improvement in this area should also include waste streams, which offer several opportunities to address the problem of staffing a plant with a skilled workforce. Removing the human element whenever possible keeps a production line flowing safely and efficiently – not to put people out of work but to retain qualified employees and minimize the impact of a shrinking workforce.

Ineffective processes that are labor-intensive and require constant attention inhibit an operation as business continues to ramp up. Working with an experienced equipment and systems provider to automate systems can help metalworking plants thrive in an environment where attracting and retaining qualified employees continues to be a challenge.

About the author: Mike Hook is sales & marketing director at PRAB, maker of engineered conveyors and equipment for processing turnings, chips, and metalworking fluids. He can be reached at

Miniature motor technologies for medical applications & devices, surgical hand tools and surgical robotics.

In today’s evolving medical device marketplace, technological advances are fueling demand for innovative yet safe and reliable applications. For those involved in the development and manufacturing of medical devices and equipment, the demand for safety and quality brings with it new and exciting challenges.

How does one build equipment and devices that meet hundreds of stringent needs? How does one decide with whom to partner in this far-reaching world of medical device and equipment manufacturing? Where does an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) turn to find motors capable of navigating the many demands of the healthcare industry?

Miniature motors provide the optimal motion solution when it comes to help powering these innovative new devices, at the highest level reducing overall footprint and weight without sacrificing precision and control.

PORTESCAP is a leading global manufacturer of miniature motion solutions, helping put the power and precision in the smallest spaces. You can depend on our engineering experience, application support, and manufacturing excellence for your medical applications, devices, and tools.

With Brush DC motors, Brushless DC motors, Stepper motors, and Linear Actuators, Portescap is here to help find the perfect motion solution for your application. You can count on our low vibration and noise levels, and reduced EMI/RFI emissions, while offering high efficiency, precise motor control, and reliability. Our motors can be found in numerous medical innovations, including infusion systems, respiratory and ventilation devices, pipettes, ultrasound transducers, biopsy systems, lab automation, and more.

With a complete range of sterilizable motor and controls solutions design to withstand up to 3,000+ autoclave cycles, Portescap surgical motor solutions offer industry leading performance and reliability needed to withstand many surgeries. These Slotted Brushless DC mini motors are designed to reach torques of up to 6.5N•m and speeds up to 100,000rpm, excellent heat dissipation, and unparalleled protection of internal components to maximize safety and reliability. Throughout the last few decades, our motors have powered various surgical hand tools including orthopedic drills and shavers, ENT instruments, surgical reamers, bone saws, surgical staplers, and powered surgical screwdrivers.

Portescap offers a comprehensive portfolio of motor technologies and drives for all surgical robotics needs. Our Coreless and Iron Core Brush DC motors, as well as Linear Stepper motors, are well suited for the motion requirements of joint manipulation, articulation, haptics, and other actuation outside the sterile field. Sterilizable Brushless DC motion solutions provide the high speeds, torque, and precision to power any endoscopic, arthroscopic, or orthopedic end effector. Our motors can be found in a wide variety of surgical robotic applications, including: Autonomous and Semi-autonomous Robotic Surgery Systems, Robotically Assisted Surgical Devices (RASD), Smart Hand Tools, and Guidance & Navigation Systems.

Whether you require unique modifications or a complete motor customization and assembly, our motion solutions can be tailored to your needs, including shaft cannulation, ground-up electromagnet design, mounting features, custom gear ratios, and more to reduce assembly costs while providing a power-matched component. Let our industry expert design engineers collaborate with your team to select and optimize the optimum technology for your performance-critical application.

Integrating an automation system supports higher productivity, streamlined management of equipment, workpieces.

Turnkey integration of fully automated manufacturing systems includes input and output cells and flexible or lean automation, depending on manufacturing demands. These systems must also include data management for quality tracking, production management, and machine performance metrics. Technologies such as part marking (pin-stamp or laser) and data readers, cameras, scanners, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are used to safely track all usable manufacturing data and provide it to plant management.

In terms of flexible automation hardware, linear and rotary pallet handling systems are typically used for the automatic loading of machining centers to reduce production costs and permit short-term and flexible responses to changes in market demand. Pallet handling systems are especially well-suited for machining with large payloads, 10- to 15-minute or longer cycle times, and difficult-to-handle parts. Pallet systems also prevent operator functions from having direct negative influences and impeding spindle uptime.

In addition to part handling, system integrators must include machine tools and ancillary technologies that contribute to quality production, including inspection of raw parts, machining data, and laser-marked traceability data. This level of integration optimizes spindle uptime, improves return on investment (ROI), and offers efficient part handling and valuable data collection.

Therefore, the automation piece of a cell or system is best positioned to implement Industry 4.0 initiatives through the collection of production data. Ideally, cell or system software, which supports integrated job planning and process management, is intuitive to use by means of drag-and-drop via the graphic user interface.

“For control system software, we partner with Soflex, the specialist for automation technology control systems,” says Kevin Heise, area sales manager for Liebherr automation, Saline, Michigan. “This has two crucial advantages: on the one hand, the production control software (PCS) is open and suitable for use by a broad range of machine tool manufacturers. On the other hand, the customer gets software that functions from the start and is simple to use, since it has already proved successful for years. Thus, software problems rarely occur.”

Like the entire automation system, the software is modular. Various add-on packages are available in addition to the basic package. To facilitate and customize the collection and management of manufacturing data, the Liebherr manufacturing system (LMS) 4.0 allows customers to choose between individually configurable software packages that meet their requirements.

Production schedule app (PSA) – Determines workpiece flow and production orders, includes production order management. The operator can create production orders for loading unmachined parts considering part type, quantity, and delivery date. The system processes these orders statically (according to sequence) or dynamically (according to delivery date).

Part tracking app (PTA) – Logs workpiece data in a production cell before each workpiece is loaded into the system. Users can easily adapt and configure data structure with an Excel template and can define and generate workpiece lists based on priorities.

Small Magnetic Finishing Machine

Production monitoring app (PMA) – Records production and operating data, allowing data evaluation. System availabilities and downtimes can be determined and visualized so that weaknesses can be detected and optimized accordingly.

Predictive planned maintenance app (PPM) – Allows intelligent maintenance planning and generates maintenance logs. The self-learning system registers wear curves of individual stations and creates intelligent maintenance plans to reduce, plan downtimes.

Large screens and mobile devices are considered for the display and are controlled via the Info Board App. This allows the user to have the operating status displayed on the machine, cell, station, or component, call up workpiece counters, and monitor data remotely.

Vibration Machine, Vibratory Polishing Machine - Qilong,