The combination of expertise in the fields of information technologies, computer programming, modelling, simulations, mathematics, physics and manufacturing technologies has resulted in the development of an interactive database SimulationDB, facilitating the work of foundry engineers. The database speeds up the manufacturing processes of intricate castings, thus improving the competitiveness and efficiency of a given foundry plant both in Poland and on the international arena. The database contains the results of simulations which are later used by foundry workers preparing to handle new orders. The system is also used for educating students, and new employees can gather experience much easier and faster than any time before.
The only one in Poland
The Faculty of Foundry Engineering at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow is the only faculty of this kind in the system of higher education in Poland, and even Europe. The demand for foundry engineers in industry is constantly growing. According to professor Józef Szczepan Suchy, Dean of the Faculty, nothing is impossible for foundry engineers. “Currently, foundry engineering is involved in manufacturing implants for medical purposes, intricate components for electronics, as well as components for cars, in which the proportion of cast components approaches 60%. Besides, aircraft engine components, huge mills for the cement industry and turbine housings are all the production of foundry engineers”, emphasises professor Józef Szczepan Suchy. We can venture an opinion that foundry engineering is now blooming. According to experts’ estimates, the number of manufactured casting products increases yearly by about 2%. At the same time their structure is changing significantly. At present, castings can replace a dozen or even several dozen components that several years ago had to be twisted, assembled, or welded. And so the system SimulationDB becomes particularly useful in foundry plants specialising in the production of tiny elements, as well as in huge plants where complicated simulations are performed, and which sometimes have problems with project management, as well as the management of a vast body of data and information.
Time is money
The author of the innovative solution is Paweł Malinowski, DSc, a graduate of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Automatics, Computer Science and Electronics at AGH UST, who started his work on the development of SimulationDB in 2007 as part of a research work required to complete his doctoral dissertation (at the Faculty of Foundry Engineering). His passionate interest in computer programming and database systems have resulted in the new solution, which has already received a great deal of attention from large industrial companies. In order to design and execute casting operations correctly, one needs to be able to effectively control the processes of mould preparation, metal preparation, and the crucial point when the molten metal is poured from the foundry furnace into moulds and becomes a solid cast. There are several available models which support the development of this technology, but as it follows from the short description above, the amount of all kinds of data and information to be handled in the process becomes really huge. SimulationDB is a tool enabling the storage of simulation records of particular stages of casting processes, and later easy access to the relevant data required to design new processes. Thanks to the system, the manufacturing of subsequent casts becomes easier and faster, and without some errors which arose previously during the production processes.
According to Paweł Malinowski, DSc, the main advantage of SimulationDB is the possibility to store relevant technological data on a single system. “An important advantage is the fact that while storing practically an unlimited number of records in the system, we are able to find very quickly some particular projects meeting pre-defined criteria. We can specify a set of parameters, for example, when we are looking for a cast iron product of a particular weight and size, we press “enter” and within a second we are provided with a list of all projects satisfying the given criteria. On the basis of this information, the process engineer can quickly analyse all available models and design an adequate technological process. Additionally, SimulationDB can be well used in the training of new personnel”, adds Paweł Malinowski, DSc.
Nearly perfect casts
Manufacturing defect-free casts is very difficult, if not impossible. The casting process always gives rise to some micro-defects. “It is our job to minimise these defects, and if possible, to locate them at points where they should be the least inconvenient to the user. The database also contains information about the defects that appeared previously in similar processes, with the use of the same kind of material or cast shape, and under given manufacturing conditions. While designing a new technological process, we can pay particular attention to the stages and locations in which the defects had occurred. Thanks to the information from SimulationDB, we able to come forward with a solution which will help to eliminate or at least minimise the defects in new casts. That is how the database is a good shortcut to a nearly ideal cast”, explains professor Józef Szczepan Suchy.
SimulationDB helps to reduce the manufacturing costs because the casting process becomes quicker, and the stage of cast preparation is shorter. It is worthwhile mentioning that performing a computer simulation of the entire process of moulding a large cast may even take an entire day. So it is important whether a simulation procedure is repeated twice, three or a dozen times while searching for the optimum solution. These several days that we can gain using the database provide an opportunity to reduce the manufacturing costs of a given cast.
The system SimulationDB has initiated a new technological process, at the same time it has reversed its order. Using this innovative solution developed at the AGH UST Faculty of Foundry Engineering, a process engineer does not begin the production process with simulations (which are usually very time-consuming), but only defines the cast features, which become the criteria for searching through the database. After a short analysis of the selected projects (ones which have similar parameters), the engineer is able to design a new technological process based on the knowledge and information accumulated in the database. The system operation is independent of the applied simulation programme, hence it can be used in foundry plants which rely on any simulation programs of casting processes. “A prototype of the system is currently operating in the iron foundry Alstom Power in Elbląg. In the new year, the final product will be put to regular use in this plant”, adds the system creator, Paweł Malinowski, DSc. The patent application has already been submitted to the European Patent Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, where it has been positively verified, and its authors are planning now to establish a company in order to commercialise the system.
Story: Anna Żmuda / Translation: Grzegorz Kłopotowski
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