SYN] Magazine
#2 | 2019

Wireless Freedom

Digitally networked assembly – flexible and safe

People who talk about wireless freedom may mean working with cordless tools. This is certainly appropriate. However, at Atlas Copco, cordless tools are only part of the freedom that becomes possible thanks to modern platform concepts and networking. The wide range of these solutions starts with intelligent assembly tools that adapt to the individual needs of their operators and continues via the optimization of quality assurance and the easy adaptation and cycle adjustment of entire assembly lines to preventive maintenance with data-driven services.

It all started with battery tools

Over 15 years ago, Atlas Copco started to consider the entire production environment, going beyond pure assembly operations. Following the establishment of controlled tightening systems, Atlas Copco’s next step was to free assembly equipment from cables. At that time, as it is now, greater flexibility was the goal. With smart connected assembly solutions and wireless freedom, we are now extending this approach to all production areas. “Of course, the original motivation for the wireless approach was to ensure better ergonomics for users. Their tools were no longer to depend on an umbilical cord of control and power cables or pneumatic hoses,” says Martin Kutz, Business Manager for Assembly and Quality Assurance Systems with Atlas Copco Tools. “The key advantage of these tools was that they allowed flexible working at any location. We built consistently on the high level of acceptance gained by these flexible tools.”

Modern assembly systems adapt to the ergonomic needs of their operators without compromising on process security. Instead of having to work at fixed stations, workers can make their sequence of operations as individual as possible even with defined processes using our assembly solutions. This has an effect on productivity and process quality as workers can adapt the process to their own ergonomic needs as a result of greater freedom of movement. However, if the process so requires, freedom of movement can also be restricted without having to use fixed cables. We will be presenting these solutions in greater detail in the next issues.

Ground-breaking solutions for production areas

We keep an eye on the market and liaise closely with our customers. We provide support for the analysis and optimization of all our customers’ production steps (“Walk the Line”) and develop new solutions for a holistic, future-oriented portfolio of products and services for production in close cooperation with industrial users. “In addition, we cooperate with universities, standardization committees and specialist associations, start-ups and major IT partners to forge ahead with the development of wireless systems, for example with 5G implementation. For us, Smart Connected Assembly going beyond the joining process itself is already reality. In the next step, we optimize the assembly environment. This means that we consider upstream and downstream processes such as commissioning, maintenance, quality assurance and process optimization in addition to assembly itself. “These areas are key to the efficient operation of an assembly line,” Kutz emphasises.

Transformation of assembly

Quality and efficiency improvement efforts are increasingly focusing on assembly. Especially high flexibility is a key criterion but it is often combined with other conflicting requirements. More and more frequently, production is distributed between plants located throughout the world. They operate in a global production network or with global division of labour. Demand for individual products and faster product development times is leading to a larger number of variants and shorter production cycles. On production lines, it is therefore necessary to change cycle times more and more frequently.

Normally, any production network will have a lead plant or competence centre which defines the assembly requirements for all plants in the network. In this context, communication is often a one-way street. It is not possible to record the technology actually used by the satellite plants without complex audits or a regular exchange of information. This presents a significant risk in view of rapidly changing market requirements.

Uniform production standard for all plants 

Software Tools Talk2 is a solution that allows global parameter sets to be assigned to satellite plants and the results of assembly to be monitored. User management is effected simply via a link to Active Directory, which many people will know from their Windows environment. Martin Kutz talks of digital links with a view to improving process security and quality: “When they have been defined centrally at the lead plant, parameters can be linked to all the other plants. A digital duplicate in the software, imaging the production environment, forms the structure for production and allows central parameter setting.” As a result of the direct link, all the plants follow these uniform requirements. Any deviation is automatically documented by the system and can be read out on a real-time basis together with a time stamp and user information. This applies both globally and locally and not just for a single plant but for all the production lines which are connected to the network. Wireless freedom therefore means that a uniform standard can be ensured at all plants.

Quality management across plant boundaries

ToolsTalk2 provide support for production and maintenance with the flexible, traceable and rapid transmission of settings to production lines irrespective of location. In contrast, the ToolsNet software aims to provide those responsible for production and quality with live information on production quality and production line availability, to visualize trends and to report any deviations proactively to those responsible by push messages. All these functions are managed flexibly via the Internet browser. This improves assembly quality, reduces reworking requirements and achieves higher plant availability thanks to the rapid detection of deviations. While ToolsTalk2 and ToolsNet manage production parameter setting and data analysis, the solution “QA Supervisor” presented for the first time in 2018 meets all the requirements for quality management across the boundaries of individual plants. In this area, Atlas Copco Tools offers mobile devices such as the ST-Pad, testing and production wrenches such as ST-Wrench, the test bench ST-Bench and the wireless transducers in the IRC-Connect series. Wireless freedom means that all the instruments required for quality assurance must be cordless and the results must be made available on a shared platform independent of a specific location. Atlas Copco can integrate equipment ranging from simple torque transducers to complex test benches in a joint server-based quality assurance system such as QA Supervisor and transmit the data recorded using WLAN, Bluetooth and other established transmission standards.

A new dimension: „The Sky is the limit“

In the summer of 2019, we will be combining ToolsNet and QA Supervisor, which will allow all quality and production data to be presented using QA Supervisor. In the near future, we also intend to introduce a joint master data platform which may be accessed by all three applications mentioned above. The central management of master data will reduce updating requirements to a minimum and ensure data consistency. The next development, which is to be introduced in the near future, concerns data-driven services. “Our data-driven services (DDS) detect trends in the tightening process which could have an adverse effect on production by real-time analysis. Customers will be informed about these developments and will receive well-founded AI-supported recommendations for action to assist with problem solving,” says Business Manager Kutz, giving a glimpse of the future of continuous data-driven added value generation.
For the user, the platform for these functions will be an app. This means that it will be possible to provide targeted notifications in the form of push messages for groups of users who normally move around through the production facility and cannot always analyse permanent dashboards in their offices. Via DDS, they will receive well-founded information for even greater production availability, quality and productivity directly on the production line as initial applications for various pilot customers in the automotive and general industry fields show. In addition, an increase in the first-time-through rate, i.e. a perceptible reduction in reworking, has been observed. 
Preventive maintenance with maintenance schemes and the automatic provision of the spare parts required can reduce inventories and operating expenses. With data-driven services, predictive or condition-based maintenance with the analysis of tool utilization data (type of use, tightening operation characteristics, etc) can contribute to the continuous optimization of all maintenance processes.