We can be leaders if we participate

In this month’s issue there are some great stories whereby I report on our local foundries not only investing in new equipment, but also in using technology that is now available to analyse, and as best possible, eliminate defects in castings before they get to the customer. Most foundries have process data on their production procedures available but putting it to meaningful use within the company is a challenge to many.

Striding ahead and making a statement to foundries worldwide is Atlantis Foundries. They have partnered with machine learning specialists and data solutions provider DataProphet to use artificial intelligence to their advantage and ultimately add meat to their bottom line.

“Modern foundry operations are generally well connected, with the PLC systems operating machinery recording many process variables. These data systems are usually tied together, with the measurement results often stored on some server (somewhere!). Some modern efforts are now using many small transducers on discrete measurement points to gather plant-wide data. This is referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) and this distributed architecture has resulted in a proliferation of measurements within industrial plants. However, such IoT devices are not required, and many PLC systems are more than sufficient to gather the required data,” said Dr. Michael D. Grant of DataProphet.

Dr. Grant is not saying that you must throw out any IoT activity or developments that you have already implemented or have by default. Rather he is saying that you need to explore the avenue of using this process data that you already have by integrating it into an Artificial Intelligence (AI) plan, and then use the intelligence results demonstrated by your machines.

Further improvements are achieved through deeper integration of robotic process and automation to operate your foundry or manufacturing facility at maximum efficiency. Atlantis Foundries have by all accounts become a leader in this field, and management needs to be commended for embracing this new technology to not only improve on their processes but to satisfy their customers.

After witnessing these groundbreaking developments in our foundry industry I then attended a conference on industrial and automated 3D coordinate measuring technology and 3D testing, which was specifically aimed at the foundry industry. An international speaker from GOM, one of the leading companies in the world operating in this space, along with his local counterparts presented information on the latest developments in optical measuring technology for the foundry industry. Additionally, local automotive OEM representatives presented examples from the day-to-day practice and showed how integrating optical measuring systems into the entire process chain helps you shorten development times, improve production workflows, and thus enhance your company’s profitability.

The conference had been widely advertised and promoted, was free to attend, so it was with great surprise and disappointment that out of the 80 odd delegates that were there I could identify only two from a foundry and they were both from the same foundry. And there are no prizes for guessing which foundry they were from. It was even more noticeable because they are from Cape Town and the conference was held in Johannesburg, where the majority of the foundries are situated. Last year a similar scenario played out for the Metal Casting Conference, held in March 2017. Some foundries sent more than a few delegates but the actual number of foundries attending was minimal as compared to the government, university and supplier delegates.

I am not sure why these attendances are so low. Is it apathy? Is it that the foundries are too busy to afford the time for staff to learn or are they simply not willing to send any staff members? Whatever it is, it needs to be addressed because come golf day time you are guaranteed a sell out.