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Shorter innovation cycles and the individualization of products are leading to smaller batch sizes and thus to a high variance of parts in production. The necessary machine capacities must flexibly and on short notice available, and the skilled workers required for production must be deployed efficiently. This requires increased organizational efforts and increasing automation in order to remain profitable and competitive.
The solution to these challenges lies in the use of production control systems.
A Production Control System for flexible manufacturing cells is an independent software unit that controls and organizes the workpiece throughput and the flow of resources in the flexible manufacturing system (FMS). The controls of processing machines, transport devices and special machines or other equipment of the production plant are connected to the production control system. It activates the individual processes of the plant components (NC machining, transport operations, etc.) and supplies their controls with the necessary information. In addition to the controlling tasks, planning functions and the acquisition of production and machine data are part of the scope of a production control system.
To summarize: a production control system manages and plans production orders, controls order throughput, and organizes the provision of operating resources. As an analogy, we could say that a Production Control System is the brain of a flexible manufacturing plant.
The objective of flexible manufacturing systems (according to the CNC Handbook 31 edition) is to profitably manufacture:
- different workpieces
- with different machining operations
- in any sequence
- in changing batch sizes
- fully automatic, without manual intervention.
In practice, a production control system also has a "human-machine interface" (HMI) component. This usually runs on an industrial PC with a standard operating system (e.g. Windows), also known as a "master computer", although this term is disputed in the technical literature.
Topics such as IT architecture and IT security are very important nowadays. Accordingly, the control systems must be operated on highly performant hardware to ensure the best availability for 24/7 production. Virtual servers or cloud-based solutions in production facilities are becoming more and more common.
On this topic SOFLEX has followed the trend from the consumer sector and thus developed a touch-based user interface that enjoys great acceptance in shop floors thanks to its intuitive operation.
In conventional plants, the parts or part variants to be produced are usually already known at the time of planning. The control system is precisely adjusted to the work steps required for production within the plant. The plant / cell control system concentrates on the automated production of the pre-planned product range with cyclically recurring processes.
Flexible production systems require more. The range of parts to be produced is only vaguely known and limited due to the mechanical framework conditions (machining space, weights, ...). The variance of the parts, the batch sizes as well as the work steps to be executed have no restrictions. The user has the requirement to be able to adapt the workflow independently to the changing part variants and to be supported in the organization of the operating resources to avoid unnecessary downtimes.
Production characteristics for the use of a production control system:
- free-run operation
- small to medium batch sizes (from 1 to a maximum of 1000)
- large and frequently changing parts spectrum
- no or multiple repetitions / year
- complex manufacturing processes (multi-stage machining, various numerous operations)
In these applications, the main advantages of a control system come into play. SOFLEX control systems, with their flexible work plan structures and dynamic calculation of resource requirements, offer the best prerequisites for maximum flexibility.