Concept and Objectives

CONCEPT

The FLEXICAST Project presents knowledge-based technologies that aim to follow the way to transform the conventional (batch-by-batch) foundry process into a flexible (mold-by-mold) process. The proposal technologies will be applicable not only to new cast iron foundry lines, but also is readily available to be retro-fitted to existing plants. The specific objectives are:

a) A cast iron production cell. Together with melting, treatment and pouring sub processes in a cast iron production cell is essential and imperative. We propose to install the melting shop closer to the pouring system kept closed on the mould carrousel, while the transfer and treatment ladle is removed. The widespread adoption of new melting shop as an operating process is in itself fostering the reation ofe even more powerful induction-plasma power supplies, versatile melt control technology, high-power density furnaces, temperature control systems, nodularization systems (magnesium vapour), inoculation systems, and automated pouring systems.

b) Integration of Artificial Intelligence-based Control System. The objective is to develop a software platform. This can help us to the prediction of local structures, phases and ultimately the local mechanical properties, to asses casting quality in the foundry. In this point, also, three specific methodologies will be studied and improved: DTA analysis and on-line microstructural analysis and X-ray for on-line inspection.

Objectives Flexicast

c) A robot cell for automated metal finishing processes.

d) Demo pilot plant in real industrial settings in order to demonstrate a clear breakthrough using project development in comparison with the state-of-art solutions. Some results are:

a) Cast iron manufacturing cell represents, at least, 30% energy reduction in comparison with conventional meltins systems.

b) Drastic reduction melt temperature scattering during molding process. Reduce metal trasnport (No trasnfer and treatment ladles).

c) Overheating reduction.

d) Reduce rejection of casting pieces.

1: Scientific and/or technical quality, relevant to the topics addressed by the call 1.0 -Profile of SME foundries in EU: The cast iron foundry industry produces cast parts for automotive, agriculture, heavy truck, material handling, power transmission, off-highway vehicles, etc. (in transportation, energy, aerospace, and manufacturing industry, 90% of the manufactured products have cast iron parts). However, since most of the companies in the cast iron industry are SMEs, they lack resources to perform their own R+D. Today, SMEs do not generate technology, they acquire technology from equipment and material suppliers, and others. In the best cases, R+D activities have to be carried out in parallel with the activities of daily production. A quick analysis allow us to deduce that:

1-    SME foundries tend to be only effective in providing relatively narrow spectrum of product types, iron grades and series sizes. In the production, single piece and short series castings, and new alloys and rare product types, are considered rather as technical and economical problems.

2-    Foundries generaly use semi-mechanised moulding methods. From control/decision-making point of view, the automatic molding/pouring lines are rare in SME’s.

3-    Foundry process are actually pulse timed according to the “natural bottleneck”: the delivery of each melt batch. In general, current technology comes from foundries supplying automotive cast parts, characterized by few products, large series, and strict control within a very narrow margin of variability. It is not an appropriate technology for customized products, small series and frequent change of material.

4-    Various ICT tools and modern technologies, most oriented to design (3D based CAD/CAM, pattern making and casting simulation) are utilized in industry, however there are very few tools dedicated to quality engineering, processes and production.

5-    Foundry intellectual capital is retiring due to effect of labour market changes of the last years. It is not by casualty that casting industry has been decreasing all over Europe, while increasing in other regions of the planet, at the same time that markets have remained constant, when not growing because of improvements in materials. Our SMEs are working in the new global economy, and are competing not just in local or national terms, but globally. So if they are to succeed, and fulfil our dreams for them, we must take action to invest in their future now – with efforts and lifelong learning to meet that challenge. If SMEs can seize the opportunities of FlexiCast results, EU future is full of potential.

The goal of the project is to develop solutions that are applicable to the entire foundry industry. Such a foundry would be able to:

1-    Increase flexibility, this would mean ability to serve wider customer and product base including single casting, test, small and large series castings with different product types, sizes and iron materials.

2-    Increase agility, This could allow superior response and delivery performance.

3-    Economically and environmentally sustainable businesses with the systems approach offered by implementing lean and green methodologies.A more sustainable approach for iron casting SME’s is compulsory. FlexiCast project is fully aligned with the R&D priorities identified in the Strategic multi-annual roadmap of the Factories of the Future PPP (prepared by the Ad-hoc Industrial Advisory Group of EFFRA).

 

OBJECTIVES

The FLEXICAST project presents knowledge-based technologies that aims to follow the way to transform the conventional (batch-by-batch) foundry process into a flexible (mold-by-mold) process. Real change in the flexibility and agility of a SME iron foundry requires considerable changes in foundry production processes. The proposal technologies will be applicable not only to new cast iron foundry lines, but also is readily available to be retro-fitted to existing plants.

Many efforts are being made by the EU community and special measures are being taken to promote SME1 to overcome the crisis. In this sense, in recent years, EU funded several projects2. On the one hand, SmartFoundry project has promoted the improvement of competitiveness of European SME foundries through consequent implementation of information technology. Edefu project, consists on investigating with scaled prototypes, new technologies of heating, development of new materials to improve the heat insulations, new designs and recovery systems of residues. On the other hand, Foundrybench project has raised the awareness of opportunities to reduce energy for energy efficiency improvement in the foundry sector. However, very little efforts have been devoted to the development of innovative cast iron foundry processes: cast iron tecnology, equipment and control/decision-making tools. The FlexiCast project’s overall goal will take as its point of reference the following technological concepts:

1-    Physically approach melting process to the point of pouring on the carousel molds.

2-    Melting at minimum temperature and pouring at maximum temperature possible.

3-    Adding adequate inoculants (and nodulisers) at the right place and the righ time.

4-    Replace technical staff kowledge by artificial intelligence-based control system.

5-    Avoiding steps without added value in production.

6-    Keeping rejection to a bare minimum.

In the present global scenario of recession, cost effectiveness has a crucial role to play. All foundry processes generate a certain level of rejection that is closely related to the type of casting, the processes used and the equipments available. The rejected casting can only be re-melted and the value addition made during various processes such as melting, moulding, fettling and heat treatment, etc is lost irrecoverably.

The results of FlexiCast project will produce an advanced cast iron manufacturing methodology, with improved energy efficiency, and will allow foundry industries to reduce the high CO2 emissions and energy consumptions associated with their day to day activity and increase economic and environmental benefit. The FlexiCast project will contribute to drive Europe in a reference and leadership position on the energy efficiency at the international level.

The specific objectives are:

a)    A cast iron production cell Melting shop has to be able to deliver any amount of any iron grade at a short notice (even in small quantities). This is not a feasible requirement for typical batch melting process. Indeed, an almost inverse solution is needed. Selected raw materials are fed into various small capacity melt furnaces. Then the melts are treated in controlled proportions. We believe that together melting, treatment and pouring subprocesses in a cast iron production cell , and remove transfer and treatment ladles are essential and imperative (Fig nº 1.1). The widespread adoption of new melting shop as an operating process is in itself fostering the creation of even more powerful induction-plasma power supplies, versatile melt control technology, high-power density furnaces, automated charging systems, temperature control systems, nodularization systems (magnesium vapor), dynamic and multi-inoculation systems, and automated pouring systems. The ability to use various smaller furnaces for comparable productivity, faster melting, easier and more reliable chemistry adjustments, less oxidation of the melt, less manpower and much improved charging safety is significant. Cell production is a model for workplace design, and has become an integral part of lean manufacturing systems.

1 In June 2008, a Communication titled the Small Business Act (SBA) for Europe was adopted. This recognized ‘the central role of SMEs in the EU economy’. A review of the SBA was released in February 2011: it highlighted the progress made and set out a range of new actions to respond to challenges resulting from the financial and economic crisis. 2 Collective Research Project Coll-CT-2003-500279-2. SMARTFOUNDRY (www.smartfoundry.org) EU’s Intelligent Energy-Europe programm. IEE/07/585/SI2.50040. FOUNDRYBENCH (2009-2011) (www.foundrybench.fi)

b)    Integration of Artificial Intelligence-based Control System. (different analysis methods, and cast iron technology knowledge). Foundry process is defined by a particularly high number of subprocesses, by dependencies between the process parameters and variables, and by numerous elements of uncertainty (i.e. chemical components that do not appear in typical analysis, even in very small quantities, but with significant effects on final microstructure), which affect the stability of any subprocess applied and, consequently, product quality. The particular demand is to keep process variability

Fig nº 1.1. Towards a new approach: cast iron manufacturing cell within controllable margins and take appropriate decisions to adapt cast iron manufacturing system improving its robustness. The objective is to develop a software platform which basically consists of 3 elements: data mining, data processing with integrated soft and hard computing methods, and process control unit (decisions tools). Moreover, this can help us to the prediction of local structures, phases and ultimately the local mechanical properties and real geometrical dimensions of cast irons pieces, to asses casting quality in the foundry. Actual systems are not able to control processes according to this demand because they are not able to account for the complexity of foundry processes in all respects. Consequently, the level of innovation developed is remarkably high; it will raise new boundaries for the design of intelligent manufacturing processes. Based on the current demands in the metal casting industry for advanced and “intelligent” computing architectures, the project focuses on the implementation of an software platform that integrates Data gathering and Statistical Process Control Systems, Artificial Intelligence Systems (decision-making tools) and Sensors/Devices (among others: melting and pouring temperatures, chemical composition, DTA parameters, sand parameters, quantities and velocities of inoculant agents), in order to control the new cast iron manufacturing cell. In this point, three specific methodologies will be integrated and improved: differential thermal analysis, on-line microstructural analysis and X-ray on-line inspection approach. The design of an automation samples pick-up cell in order to avoid the manual intervention of operators and have a on-line control features of the material resulting from casting process is another goal.

c) A robot cell for automated cast iron manufacturing processes. It is focused on the automation based on robotics for foundry process improvement. We propose to develop an affordable system having the versatility to perform an automatic test samples pick-up cell. Also, the project aims to use an innovative COMAU dual arm robotic platform, which will almost totally eliminate the problems in fettling and finishing of castings, including small quantities. The equipment will have the flexibility to carry out all of the four most important operations, fettling, studs grinding, flash removal and surface upgrading. The low scalability and flexibility of actual industrial robot systems require long time for re-programming and adapting the robot cell to rapidly changing circumstances. This still represent a crucial obstacle to the diffusion of robot based applications in SME in general, and specifically in SME foundries.