Extending an area of business with digitalization

Magdeburg based gears manufacturer focuses on revitalising frayed technology

When heavyweight such as a seventy tonne gear is showing its age, it doesn't necessarily mean that the scrap heap awaits. Companies in countries including Uzbekistan, Russia and Bulgaria have opted to revitalise systems of this nature, which, among other applications, are used at places like cement works. Working on location, a team of experts from Magdeburg is making systems like these fit for purpose again and developing micrometre-precision parts. Sophisticated overhauls of this kind are giving gears a new lease of life and making them more effective and efficient.
The success of the approach is plain to see. Today, the inner workings of a gear which was built thirty or forty years ago can be simplified and made considerably lighter. Instead of the 40 tonnes that the gear wheels and other components in some systems once weighed in at, at present, new technological solutions mean a weight of just half that is sufficient. "And thanks to our modernisations, we can also reduce the oil consumption from 1,600 litres to 800 litres, for example, which saves valuable resources," explains Gerhard Krossing, the owner of Magdeburg company VAKOMA Production GmbH. To be able to complete the revitalisation work on site, his employees bring their own production system along with them, which weighs 2.3 tonnes.
The mechanical engineers aren't immune to surprises: over the years, their colleagues in Eastern Europe and Asia have completed repair work, done improvisations, and fitted parts, the use of which was never originally intended. This makes the repair work all the more complicated and requires experience. It is at this point that the digitalisation of the processes steps in. At the Magdeburg Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF, a solution has been developed that can support every revitalisation as an assistance system, recording data and keeping it available for evaluation. "This enables the specialists from VAKOMA to record the measured data very easily. The computer which is connected to the production machine writes out a detailed record," reports Dr Eng. Simon Adler from the Fraunhofer IFF. It includes the record of the processing, deviations from the planned process, as well as key figures concerning the gear that is being revitalised. The system is never overbearing, however, he explains. Its prime use is to gather knowledge in order to be well prepared for future projects and to provide the new teams with something of a set of instructions. The working steps can also be visualised in advance on a computer screen in the form of a simulation. In this way it is possible to optimise the disassembly and assembly of the systems.
Digitalisation is having an increasing impact on the speed of the manufacturing processes at system manufacturer VAKOMA, whose primary focus is on vacuum pumps and high pressure compressors, as well as heavy gears that are used in turbo compressors, mills and ovens in the cement industry. With an export ratio of over 90 percent, the company has made it to the leading group of successful exporting companies in Saxony-Anhalt. “Without a consistent use of these possibilities from the development through to the finished product and the sale, we would never have achieved these successes. We have also been helped along this path thanks to our cooperation with a strong research institute like the Fraunhofer IFF,” explains the managing director.
The Augmented Reality (AR) project has only just got underway. Having come to life through VAKOMA’s desire to be able to configure gears and other systems on a virtual basis and to present the results at trade fairs or training events, developing a comprehensive application is now the goal. The mechanical engineering firm from the city on the Elbe also wants to extend its field of business. It certainly has the work. In Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union alone there are estimated to be at least 200 systems that need to be made fit for future purpose. And instead of having just one production system on the road, the company would prefer at least one other. The considerable weight means keeping transport distances as short as possible. “Our assistance system enables the compressed knowledge and experiences from previous revitalisations to be maintained at the latest level,” explains Adler. This is almost indispensable for new repair groups. The system can provide instructions on when which specific working step is due for completion. These are joined by the working data that has proven to be of value in the past. This means the fitters can find out on site when they can remove unnecessary milling heads or where anti-slip mats have to go into use.
VAKOMA believes it is possible to outsource the branch of their business that focuses on the revitalisation of gears to external service providers in full. AR would then be an ideal companion, and could also be used as a staff training instrument.
In the context of Industry 4.0, the visions of the Fraunhofer IFF and of VAKOMA go even further. Adler believes the gathering of data directly at the gear that is being revitalised to present an opportunity to monitor the system subsequent to the completion of the maintenance work. By fitting appropriate sensors, it would be possible to monitor the maintenance from Magdeburg. In the event of faults, a remote diagnosis would, ideally, be feasible. With increasing globalisation, such a degree of networking would also create opportunities. Industry 4.0 is facilitating the synthesis of the latest information and communication technologies with classic industrial processes, to create so-called "cyber physical systems" (CPS) and "cyber physical production systems" (CPPS). The internet of things and services enables the realization of the autonomous exchanging of information, the triggering of specific actions, and a mutually self-managed form of steering.
Caption: Magdeburg based gears manufacturer focuses on revitalising frayed technology: AR system to assist the work of the specialist employees at Magdeburg company VAKOMA Production GmbH (image rights Fraunhofer IFF)

Author: Klaus-Peter Voigt on behalf of IMG Investment and Marketing Corporation Saxony-Anhalt

Dr.-Ing. Simon Adler
Virtual Engineering
Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF
Sandtorstrasse 22
39106 Magdeburg
Tel.:+49 391 4090-776