“We’re Bringing Digitalisation to Vacuum Clamping Technology”

Answered by: Dr. Kurt Schmalz, Managing Director of J. Schmalz GmbH

Dr. Kurt Schmalz, Managing Director of J. Schmalz GmbH
The Schmalz Smart Block records and transmits real-time data for the optimization of the clamping process.

This year’s LIGNA demonstrated how companies can use digitalisation to implement individualized, economical production. How do you help machine manufacturers meet the demand for networked systems?

We do so by using our expertise in the area of vacuum automation: we have been developing intelligent components that generate data and therefore allow for functions such as energy monitoring or predictive maintenance for quite some time now. For example, our compact ejector SCPMi can increase the performance of an automated gripping process by up to 10 percent. For us, integrating intelligence into our vacuum clamping system of woodworking machines is a logical next step. That is why we are currently working on an intelligent vacuum block. In a technological study, we connected this Smart Block to the system and, in this way, helped the manufacturer develop an efficient and safe machine for wood working.

You presented the Smart Block for the first time at LIGNA 2019. What advantages does this system offer?

It transmits data via Bluetooth interface to a higher-level controller in real-time, making it visible within the digital manufacturing environment. Then, for example, the machine can calculate the wear based on the current vacuum level. This allows the user to schedule preventive maintenance as needed, which results in a significant drop in unexpected downtime. Moreover, the vacuum block knows the serial numbers of its wearing components and can display these numbers as needed. This makes it much easier to purchase spare parts.

If we put predictive maintenance to the side for a moment, how does the direct connection between the machine and the Smart Block generate added value?

One concrete example: When the Smart Block reports the vacuum level to the machining center, the machine knows when the wooden board is secured in place and can start automatically. If it registers an incorrect position or detects that the active vacuum block is incorrect and not suitable for the process in question, it will not continue. The operator simply needs to configure the vacuum block in order to make this possible – no complicated laser or camera technology is required. The CNC machining center can also adapt its milling to the clamping situation for optimum performance. To do so, it can determine which lateral forces the system can hold securely based on a combination of the surface composition and the vacuum level.

Can you tell us some of the specific advantages that the digital transformation offers in terms of vacuum clamping technology?

Based on our experiences with our smart field devices, we know what an important role intelligent vacuum components play when it comes to automation. With our technological study, we are integrating the vacuum block into a digital environment and allowing it to use process-relevant data in the controller, in internal company systems or on external cloud platforms. This data can be used to continually optimize the workflow – shorter production times, less downtime and more efficient production planning are just a few advantages of this smart technology. The monitoring of the suction capacity of the vacuum block results in improvements in performance and a significant increase in machine safety across the entire process.

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