Efficient CPS Tool Chain Integration

Challenges and Solutions

A new trend in industry is to offer production services on a digital marketplace, with the vision to minimize the overhead needed to create and organize production chains. While computational power is getting cheaper every year, the backend processing is still relying on expensive machine tools – for example to create metal parts via milling. The investment cycle for such machines is completely different from the rapid changes in information technology. Especially SMEs use the machine tools for decades, which binds a large amount of equity capital. A solution to prevent that new trends in manufacturing become disruptive for lots of SMEs is to integrate legacy machine tools into digital production chains. Hence,the main goal of the LegInt project (short for LEGacy INTegration) was to develop and verify the necessary toolset to support is integration. LegInt developed a “shell” that augments legacy machine tools through a set of interfaces to embed them into an advanced Cloud Manufacturing environment. This shell contains hardware and software components, and its potential has been demonstrated in practice using legacy numerical controlled milling machines. To enable the integration of legacy milling machines into digitised production chains LegInt uses Function Blocks,
which represent features to be created by milling processes. The DIH at fortiss provided their open source framework Eclipse 4diac and the necessary expertise to enable the product designer to describe complex milling processes with parametric Function Blocks. The contributing SME FormTec brought the knowledge and skills to generate traditional numerical control code files on the fly from the Function Blocks via a driver-based system.

DIH Support

CPSE Labs provided the ideal setting to bring together the necessary partners to realise the LegInt ambition: the SME FormTec with expertise in cutting technologies and software development, and two universities in Patras and Cranfield as additional technology providers for monitoring and cloud systems. The CPSE Labs DIH at fortiss offered Eclipse 4diac for distributed industrial control based on the Function Block standard IEC 61499 and provided necessary technical training and consulting. For SMEs such as FormTec realizing research activities alongside the daily business is a challenge. The CPSE Labs funding enabled FormTec to devote time and effort to evaluate Eclipse 4diac, and the DIH also supported the consortium to demonstrate their results at the 2017 Hannover Fair to connect to potential new customers and initiate further exploitation activities.

Impact/What’s next

The LegInt results allow to adapt large investments in machine tools for future digitised usage. FormTec estimates that over 1000 companies in Europe running expensive legacy production milling machines in the range
of several billion Euros can benefit from the technology or at least parts of it and constitute potential FormTec customers. The results of the project build the base for consultancy and individual solution development for this
large customer base, and is a foundation of a new branch of business of FormTec with an expected potential of additional revenue of 0.5M€ over the next five years.