Andrea Scaratti is our service engineer and creator of SYSTEM IP LV, we talk to him about getting a 20-year-old die casting machine Industry-4.0-ready and supporting customers during unpredictable times – among other, every-day challenges.
"We unpick the problem to offer a practical solution – I can’t remember one time when this hasn’t worked"
An interview with HPDC Service & Customer Care specialist, Andrea Scaratti
Welcome Andrea. You’ve been at Italpresse Gauss for some time now – have you always been on the service side?
Yes, I’ve worked here for 21 years! I joined as part of the research and development team, mainly focused on our supervisor and digital solutions. Then, about 8 years ago, I moved onto the service and customer support side of the business.
Throughout that time, I’ve gained a really deep understanding of the challenges customers face, performance expected, and how they need to connect and manage our machines – essentially all the interfaces necessary for a successful casting cell. Together with my engineering experience, this gives me the complete picture I need to help customers achieve their goals.
What kind of requests do customers come to you with?
It can vary dramatically, from a new installation, special cycle request or helping a customer improve data collection capabilities for deeper process insight, to a supervisor upgrade that ensures a particular customer can keep using their 20-year-old die casting machine and make it Industry 4.0 ready.
You mentioned ‘special cycle requests’ there, do you get asked for these a lot?
Yes, it’s very common. And I suspect we will see a lot more over the coming months as our customers look at how best to respond to unpredictable market conditions and profit opportunities.
We had one from a major car manufacturer recently where they wanted to significantly alter the speed of injection cycle. It required a modified programme that involved extensive analysis of machine data and process parameters as well as factors such as safety settings etc.
So, are these more bespoke customer requests the hardest to handle?Not necessarily. In fact, our set up here at Italpresse Gauss is very well suited to this scenario. We don’t have rigid silos between divisions so we are easily, and quickly, able to discuss and share ideas with the mechanical department and wider technical personnel. Our longevity in the business also means we have an extensive project ‘back catalogue’ to draw on.
Coupled with the performance data we can access remotely from our machines – with customer permission of course – and the in-house software development and technical engineering expertise we have, this means we’re able to be very responsive when requests like that come in.
Have you ever had a request that you couldn’t fulfil?
Only when we’ve identified a more appropriate answer.
As example, we recently worked with a long-term automotive parts customer in China who came to us requesting a switch out of their 30-year-old HPDC machine’s PLC. They wanted a much broader – and remotely accessible - range of digital capabilities including real time data collection, injection curve analysis and comprehensive task control and troubleshooting based on live information.
They did not actually need a new PLC to achieve these specific objectives. It would not have been a cost-effective answer to their challenge. Instead, we installed our IP LV supervisor control system which unlocks these digital capabilities and delivers the wider range of casting and equipment performance analysis parameters needed, without the expense and associated disruption including unnecessary downtime.
This example sums up what we do. We unpick the problem to offer a practical solution.
You’ve talked about solving new production challenges for customers. What about troubleshooting?
We are set up to get to the route of the issue quickly and, almost entirely these days, remotely. However big or small the problem.
One customer recently contacted us because they could not get mains power supply to their machine. A quick call and a request to remote access their machine later, we were quickly able to see that there was a disconnected port switch they hadn’t seen – this was triggering safety controls, in this case disabling power. It was a quick fix that potentially saved a lot of lost production downtime.
Another customer asked us to investigate why scrap rates were increasing despite the fact that the injection process was working perfectly. Using remote data analysis we found it was a faulty sensor feeding inaccurate pressure readings back to the control panel, then we also modified their software to set new thresholds and alerts that will allow the customer to more easily spot such issues moving forward.
Not everything can be fixed in this way, of course. In the case of hardware failures…like leakages, shortcuts or broken parts…software is not the solution. Good field technicians, locally deployed, are. That’s why we still put as much emphasis on our field teams and their expertise as we do with our digital research and development.
What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on?All projects can be interesting for all sorts of reasons.
Here’s one that stands out. We had a major customer who had 6 HPDC machines they’d originally bought back in about 1995. After years, they wanted to introduce new robots, a new furnace and a whole raft of new ‘smart’ capabilities. They thought they might need to buy new machines to achieve the level of modernized production they needed.
They didn’t. By changing the PLCs and supervisors in each machine and providing the necessary engineering support to install, test and modify the end solution, we were able to deliver the capabilities they needed at less than 10% of the costs involved if new machines had been required. It’s very satisfying to be able to help customers in this way.
And finally, what’s the biggest trend you are seeing right now in terms of what customers are asking for?
Digitalization. Without a doubt. What’s interesting though is that this doesn’t mean the same thing for all our customers.
I’ve already talked a lot about customers upgrading the supervisor on their old casting machine by using our IP LV System. The reason being that this enables them to monitor, analyze and control a much wider range of injection and performance parameters via an internet connection, without needing significant hardware replacement.
For some this result is the end objective. A digital make-over for a trusted machine. Increasingly though, customers want to gain an in-depth understanding of how all their die-casting equipment is working – not just their die casting equipment.
Our flexibility is important here. It enables us to be respectful of, and adaptable to, our customer’s existing infrastructure. If they already have a data manager in place for instance, we look at how we can adjust or modify the PLCs and/or supervisors on our machines to make sure data is supplied as needed.
For customers who want to start analyzing process data, and don’t yet have this capability, we have another option. Through Norican’s Digital Lab we have the ability to provide an IoT gateway device called Norigate which allows data from any machine in the die casting process (not just ours) to be collected, time-stamped, standardized and encrypted for analysis using our Monitizer suite of digital solutions. Everyone is heading in a digital direction, but it’s not for us to dictate each customer’s destination. It’s our job to make sure they get to wherever they want to go as efficiently and effectively as possible. That’s why I never get bored of what I do.