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Spindle monitoring at the speed of light

Industry 4.0, Internet of Things (IoT). Buzzwords? Sort of. You can’t read any woodworking publication and not see this terminology today, especially from machine builders touting they are IoT ready or they are Industry 4.0 compliant.

OK, so what is Industry 4.0? It refers to the fourth Industrial Revolution where machines can talk to each other and make decisions without human intervention. Some time ago we connected (wired) machines to toolrooms. Then we connected machines to machines to monitor production in the plant. Another milestone was when we could track, in real time, an individual part as it went through production. And thanks to the Internet, now I can know, at the speed of light, what’s going on with just about anything in my plant.

This brings me to spindle condition monitoring.

We now have the ability to sit in the production office or glance at our smartphones and see the health of some of the most important components running on any machine in the plant. A spindle must run perfectly balanced and true. If it fails, we stop production until the problem is repaired. By utilizing a condition monitoring system, we can predict when the spindle is getting ready to fail. We can monitor spindle speed, see excessive vibration, and keep tabs on the heat generated, specifically in the bearings area of each component. We’ve come a long way from putting a hand on the housing to see if its’s hot.

These nanotechnology devices, when run through their comprehensive software, can shut down a spindle in a millisecond if it gets too hot or exceeds pre-determined vibration levels. They can record the events of a crash and most importantly, store this data for use in predicting the life of your spindle.

The computer, by managing the ongoing data collected from each device, will see trends and adjust the prognosticated death of your spindle based on all the variables I mentioned earlier: vibration, speed and heat. These systems, and there are many available, can help the production/maintenance team dominate the downtime necessary to exchange or repair a spindle.

Some of the products available will also help production see how a tool is wearing because as it dulls, it will start to affect the normal or baseline vibration signature that the software is used to seeing from that spindle. It may also run hotter as the tool wears.

Based on the parameters set up on each monitor device the production team can get real time alerts on what is happening. This can be one or all the following:

• A red, yellow, green condition light on the machine itself

• An alert on the computer in the production office, remote or local

• An alert on a smart phone device

• Complete shutdown of the problem spindle

All this data can be sent to the Cloud for viewing from a distant location, allowing remote monitoring from multiple plants. Think of a multi-plant company with key equipment in different geographical areas. Now one person can monitor all of them in real time from wherever they are. All this and we have only scratched the surface of Industry 4.0. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue.

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