ZOLLER – From machine manufacturer to digitalization enabler
Measuring Successful Digitalization
For ZOLLER, the design of digital transformation has two-fold significance: over the past decades, the company has evolved into a systems provider for fully automated tool measurement and provision. ZOLLER offers cutting and machining solutions that shorten customer-side setup cycles and minimize downtime.
Greater productivity, enhanced quality, secure processes – together, they equal efficient, future-proof manufacturing. That’s the promise ZOLLER makes to its customers. To keep that promise, the company must deliver a synthesis of machinery and software which fulfills maximum expectations regarding consistency and availability.
In the beginning, there was the interface
Today, the company’s clients can be sure they will get connected, digitally consistent data processes – from CAD/CAM system programming to tool preparation, setup and calibration and on to machine-side tool provision.
This means that clever tool data management must be one of the foundations of smart production as defined by ZOLLER. A core element of this integrated tool data management is the software “ZOLLER Tool Management Solution”, or ZOLLER TMS for short. The software offers interfaces to all major CAD/CAM systems. By integrating the tool management suite with their respective CAM systems, users gain direct and simple access to the tool data they need for programming purposes. Incoming setup and usage information from the CAM system is transmitted directly to the ZOLLER TMS and used to plan and prepare downstream digital production.
Until a few years ago, however, no interface existed between the ZOLLER TMS and CATIA software. “We know that creating an interface to CATIA V5 was a demanding goal because tool management in CAD/CAM systems is usually organized differently than tool management generally”, says Marco Windisch, Product Manager for CAM interfaces at ZOLLER, in explaining the origins of the company’s collaboration with CENIT. “That’s why we consciously went looking for a partner with CAD/CAM knowhow and an awareness of what defines intelligent tool management”. As an established CATIA partner with deep expertise in digital manufacturing, CENIT was the right choice for ZOLLER.
Because collaboration literally started from scratch, it was important to both enterprises to define the decisive cornerstones of the digital workflow they were after. This begins with the CAD/CAM system – in this case CATIA V5. As a first step, tool data for the generation of the NC programs are extracted from the ZOLLER TMS database. Once the programs have been created, all manufacturing-relevant information is collated in a tooling sheet and transmitted to the ZOLLER TMS, making the information needed for production preparation and manufacturing available.
Focus on optimal data management
Right from the beginning, this goalsetting meant that the future CATIA-TMS interface had to permit optimum data exchange possibilities in both directions. “When programming the integration, we initially focused on three main use cases: data import, data export and a checkup functionality”, explains Ralph Werner, Project Manager Software Services at CENIT. During import, tool data were to be transferred from the ZOLLER TMS to CATIA and made available for programming. The output of the programming – the tooling sheet – was then to be exported to the tool management software. The third use case, the so-called checkup functionality, involved reconciling the tool data in CATIA with their counterparts in the ZOLLER TMS. Changes to the tools contained in the tool management system were to be synchronized with the data in the existing CATIA documents.
From the outset, user-friendly interface integration with CATIA was a key aspect: the user should be able to interact with ZOLLER TMS directly from CATIA, without having to switch applications. CENIT therefore implemented a new toolbar in CATIA which permits easy one-click access to the main applications “ZTI import”, “ZTI export”, “ZTI checkup”.
As the collaboration between ZOLLER and CENIT progressed, new milestones were reached in which the interface was expanded to other important functionalities. These included transfer of technology data from CATIA, e.g. cutting speeds and feed rates. During import, the user can define the current machining group – an aspect that further increases performance and ease of use.
Initially, the CENIT solution enabled exchanges of tool properties with reference to basic information like diameter and length, but decisive new functions were added during the course of the project. “Both sides quickly realized that we had to give users a way to transfer actual tooling contours from ZOLLER TMS to CATIA. CATIA does provide a parameter-based mechanism for generating simplified representations that approximate the tool to a certain degree. But these don’t fully correspond with real-world tool geometries and don’t let you image complex tools with any great accuracy. For real collision analyses and reachability checks, you need precise geometry representations. To let users work with actual CATIA 3D tool geometries, we therefore had to enable transfer of 3D content from ZOLLER TMS to CATIA. After all, it’s very important for ZOLLER’s clients to be able to see and simulate the real tool during programming,” explains Ralph Werner, CENIT.
Forward thinking benefits the customer
Looking back on how their collaboration developed, both enterprises see that the initial interface programming project has evolved into a true development collaboration: for one thing, the continual optimization and expansion efforts are planned, logical steps aimed at enhancing the performance of the software solution. For another, they derive from the development dynamic of ZOLLER’s clients, and thereby of the entire industry. “In working with our customers, we always strive to implement their integration expectations quickly and reliably. That means that we were guided by their specific requirements. But we also wanted to think ahead and create superior functionalities that give our clients the means to fully exploit the potentials of optimal data provision, within the wider context of digitalization”, says Marco Windisch.
Today, this aspect gives the development collaboration even greater significance: as global leader of the industry, ZOLLER had always based its reputation on making its clients’ production more efficient. As digitalization moves forward, the company’s sphere of activities is expanding: above and beyond optimal, integrated tool management, ZOLLER wants to assist its clients in implementing topics such as the Digital Twin or Lot Size 1. Witness a current project in which CENIT is supporting ZOLLER: Documentation of tool usage times in CATIA. Here the user first simulates the manufacturing process in CATIA. CENIT then processes the simulation results and determines tool usage times. Finally, the data is made available within the ZOLLER TMS. Such information can be used for greater precision in production planning. As Marco Windisch explains: “The expensive thing about machines is having to retrofit the tools. The more information you have on what tools have been in use for how long and which ones you will have to replace, the better you can adjust production to your orders situation. Tool planning and production setup – these are core considerations particularly for the Lot Size 1 concept.”
A partnership that has stood the test of time
Even if the Digital Twin and Lot Size 1 don’t play center stage for all of ZOLLER’s customers, many businesses are hard at work driving digitalization and process integration forward. For some, this development includes a shift to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform by Dassault Systèmes. “Here too, we want to offer our clients the full benefits of integrated tool management. In addition to continued development of CATIA V5-TMS integration, which makes an integration between the 3DEXPERIENCE platform and ZOLLER TMS a major topic for us”, says Marco Windisch in describing the challenge. “With this project too, it was clear to us that we would again rely on our collaboration with CENIT. The results of the previous projects speak for themselves”, he adds. CENIT’s Ralph Werner is similarly appreciative: “Of course we are very pleased that we’ve been able to maintain a successful collaboration with a company like ZOLLER GmbH. For us it’s certainly an exciting task to join ZOLLER in opening up paths toward process digitalization for client businesses“.
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