How new scannable codes will make every one of Seco's tools traceable
Traceability has long been one of the most important issues for the Aerospace industry. Now the task has just become a lot easier with the introduction of codes on tools that can be scanned with the Seco Assistant app.
To demonstrate how tricky it can be for shop floor workers to select the right tool, Gerrit Kremer pulls out a box containing six near-identical inserts from Seco Tools’ Turbo 16 family.
“It’s quite hard to identify which tool is which when you have them lying around on your table, and that’s where we started seeing the potential for creating customer value,” says Kremer, Seco’s Global Product Manager for Digital Product Service.
The Turbo 16 family is the first range of Seco Tools inserts to be laser marked with the new data matrix identification codes that the company launched in September 2021.
Data matrix symbols look like small QR codes, with black and white cells arranged in a square or rectangular pattern. They can encode a 50-digit number in a symbol that is reliably readable down to 4mm2 in size.
Shop floor workers now simply need to scan the code with the Seco Assistant app to identify which Turbo 16 insert they are holding.
When it comes to round tools, the paper instructions that Seco Tools packs alongside them can also cause problems, as Anton van Oeffelt, Director of Solid Milling, explains.
“Before the real person behind the machine can start programming and using the tools, those papers are very often already gone.”
But now that data matrix identification codes are also laser marked on the JSE510 series of solid end mills, anyone on the shop floor can use the app to access all the necessary information in just a matter of seconds.
Data matrix codes are not new. The American Department of Defense has required them on much of its equipment since 2005, and the technology is well-established in the automotive, aerospace, medical equipment, computer, food, and logistics industries. But they have not yet been widely adopted by the machine tools industry.
The size of the codes means Seco Tools can laser print them on smaller tools such as inserts, or on the back surfaces of larger round tools, rather than on the shank.
The new codes should prevent the waste of a lot of expensive material, by making it more likely that operators are using the right insert or round tool, and that machines are calibrated correctly.
But that’s not all. Seco Tools’ data matrix codes can also identify each individual product with its own code and number, from the millions of units that the company produces each year.
This opens up possibilities in tool setting, traceability, data collection, reconditioning and recycling across all phases of a tool’s lifecycle.
Seco Tools prints the code early in the manufacturing process, measuring the exact individual dimensions of each tool. It then adds that information to a database, linked to that individual code.
This will mean that customers whose processes are too precise to tolerate small variations in size will no longer need to minutely measure inserts by themselves. It will also allow tool calibration to be done automatically by any machine that can read the codes.
Similarly, when larger tools are returned for sharpening or reconditioning, the customer can access the tool’s new dimensions through the code and then calibrate machines manually or automatically without having to measure the tool again.
Traceability is increasingly crucial within the automotive, aerospace, and medical sectors. It prevents the need to recall entire batches when the fault is with only one individual unit, and it also helps to determine legal liability.
“All these manufacturers want to have this traceability in place, so that if something happens in their production environment, they can go back and find out where the issue occurred,” explains Van Oeffel.
The codes could also help Seco Tools and its customers in their recycling efforts.
When cutting tools are worn out, most of the material remains intact, so there is significant potential for recycling.
Data matrix codes will provide an automatic record for customers and for Seco Tools of how many units are returned for recycling under Seco’s buy-back programme, which helps with the company with its sustainability reporting.
The codes will also mean Seco Tools’ recycling facilities will be able to scan worn-out tools to learn their exact material composition.
Keeping track of each individual unit will also provide Seco Tools with data on how long tools wait on customers’ shelves, how often they are used per day or per month, and how they perform on different machines, helping the company to predict orders and tailor production to customer needs.
And it will not just be Seco Tools that can do this. Opening up access to the codes and the data attached to them to customers and their partners will allow deeper future collaboration in fields such as Internet of Things, automation, and sensor technology.
As more and more of the company’s tools are given data matrix identification codes, the possibilities for Seco Tools, and their customers, will only increase.