Sustainable metalworking benefits people, planet and profit
When working with metal, the wrong choice of tool or machining strategy can mean the difference between success and failure. Waste, low productivity and scrap components are all signs of an inadequate machining process. These are also signs of unsustainable machining. With the right tools and processes in place, many sustainability gains can be made when cutting metal. But many machine shops fail to realize these benefits.
Metals are the backbone of today’s industrialized world. From the steel in our buildings to the aluminum in our cars, to the titanium in modern airplanes and the copper found in electronics, metals are important building blocks of our economy. And their prevalence is not going to decrease. As governments around the world implement decarbonization plans, demand for renewable technologies will see our dependence on metals continue to soar. In fact, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Iron and Steel Technology Roadmap indicates that global demand for steel will increase by more than a third by 2050.
But, as demand for metals grows, expectations for how metals are purchased, produced, and used in manufacturing will also rise.
Metal production has long been considered a carbon-intensive process. While it is true that the steel industry produces a lot of emissions, the industry has managed to reduce its impact. Green steels, for example, replace coking coal, traditionally needed to make ore-based steel, with renewable electricity and hydrogen. This can significantly reduce carbon emissions during the metal production process.
While recent innovations such as green steel could bring a more sustainable future to the metalworking industry, there are several other technologies that can make metalworking processes more sustainable. Manufacturers need to become more aware of these methods if they are to meet tomorrow’s sustainability challenges.
The right tool for the job
For machine shops tasked with cutting difficult-to-machine metals into the desired shapes, with tight tolerances and optimum surface quality, the right tools and expertise are essential. Specifically, the tool is expected to promote more efficient and less costly machining processes and provide major sustainability benefits.
Component scrap is one factor that prevents a workshop from achieving peak performance. Common situations that lead to scrap include using the wrong tools, human error in machine programming, and undetected raw material variations that cause unpredictable machining problems. In addition, waste has a serious impact on the environment if it is not recycled. In reality, world Bank estimates that the waste produced by industry is 18 times more than the solid waste produced by municipalities worldwide.
If machine shops want to reduce scrap, they need to implement the right tooling setup and cutting data. Failure to follow these factors can lead to uneven tool wear and unpredictable insert tool life, leading to component rejection and, therefore, scrap.
Tool selection is especially key to reducing waste in turning, a common lathe machining operation. Efficient steel turning can be achieved by reducing component scrap and rejects, as part of an effective strategy to reduce production costs in an existing machining setup. The strategy may include optimizing machine utilization or selecting more reliable tooling solutions, such as the insert, to reduce cost per part.
But what are the characteristics of a more reliable tool? Turning shades that provide long and predictable tool life with good chip control should be considered for safe and productive machining. Selecting a tool with longer tool life, combined with greater resistance to wear and heat, can bring tangible benefits, such as minimizing unscheduled downtime or reducing material waste from the part or the carbide insert itself.
These are all necessary prerequisites for sustainable machining. Sandvik Coromant’s commitment to using recycled materials in our turning grades is also an important factor in making our customers’ productions more sustainable. One of the criteria of our development project is to increase the use of recycled materials while reducing waste.
Smooth out pain points
As sustainability awareness gains traction in virtually every industry, so does digital transformation. In a survey of more than 400 global manufacturing companies, 94% of respondents reported that Industry 4.0 has helped sustain their operations during the pandemic. The challenges of COVID-19 have also served as a wake-up call for manufacturers who are slow to implement Industry 4.0 strategies.
The benefits of Industry 4.0 for manufacturers are now well known: it helps managers and workers make more informed decisions, leads to greater productivity, can reduce production errors and promotes higher profits. But a less realized benefit of Industry 4.0 is the crucial role it plays in sustainability.
Historically, plant managers have based their machining decisions on the initiative and experience of their workers. Machines connected through the Internet of Things (IoT), on the other hand, can enhance the invaluable experience of human workers to provide new possibilities for transparency, optimized scheduling and streamlined production. With this in mind, there are a number of digital services today that can help manufacturers implement more sustainable production processes.
A good starting point in any sustainability strategy is to audit the current state of a factory with data-driven insights. This approach can identify several areas of inefficiency that can hamper a machine shop’s productivity and sustainability. For example, if a facility is experiencing premature tool wear, sub-par surface finishes, or high machine downtime, the data collected by the sensors can help operators make informed improvements to their process. machining to reduce waste and increase energy efficiency.
For example, the CoroPlus Productivity Improvement Program (PIP) is a solution to these pain points. PIP is a proven, structured process that can be performed on a single machine, in a process chain, or across the entire plant. To start the process, Sandvik Coromant experts identify production inefficiencies and, from there, Sandvik Coromant installs machine monitoring solutions that provide real-time data insights. This data can be accessed remotely to provide in-depth analysis of a complete production cell, right down to the cutting tool.
CoroPlus PIP can help manufacturers by reducing costs and inefficiencies, but also helps to make the manufacturing process more sustainable. By ensuring machines are running as efficiently as possible and reducing machining time, the program can eliminate waste and reduce energy consumption. And most importantly, the greatest assets – the people on site – will benefit from better working conditions while knowing that the machine processes are smooth, stable and predictable.
A few ill-informed decisions can mean the difference between a productive, long-lasting metal cut and a wasteful machining process. However, as we become more aware of the impact metalworking has on the environment, innovations are being made that can significantly improve industry benchmarks. It involves finding more sustainable ways to not only produce, but also machine metals for people, planet and profit.