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'Self-cleaning, self-calibrating and fully automated': fluid feedback from Industry 4.0

Mike Farish

Castrol SmartControl is an automated, real-time 'condition monitoring solution'
Castrol SmartControl is an automated, real-time 'condition monitoring solution'

Implementing the Industry 4.0 concept requires the use of a series of fundamental enabling technologies.

These include sensors for data gathering, networks for that data’s instantaneous communication to associated IT processing power, and its immediate analysis to create feedback that can optimise the processes involved in real time and support predictive maintenance scheduling. 

One doesn’t necessarily associate these leading-edge technologies with the literal cutting edge of basic shopfloor machining operations, where high-speed tools in contact with metals are continuously drenched in metalworking fluids (MWFs) to ensure lubrication and cooling.

Nevertheless metalworking fluid management is a critical support activity in manufacturing operations, with direct implications for output, efficiency levels, product quality and working conditions. 

Metalworking fluids used below minimum concentration specification can lead to odours, unstable emulsion, poor performance and impaired quality, leading to resource waste. Fluid stability can be especially at risk from microbiological activity.

This creates a need to monitor MWFs continuously and treat them with additives to keep them within specification. The traditional approach involves a mixture of manual testing and laboratory sampling, which can be expensive and time-consuming as well posing health and safety risks owing to the fluid draining and handling tasks involved. Consequent remedial measures will also be purely reactive.

Risks averted

A new process seeks to solve these problems by applying the principles of Industry 4.0 to MWFs. Castrol SmartControl, from the BP subsidiary, is an automated, real-time condition monitoring solution. It can “maximise the effectiveness and efficiency of cutting fluid management and limit the associated health and safety risks,” according to Mathias Buschbeck, global industrial leader at Castrol.

As Buschbeck explained, the system provides continuous realtime monitoring of fluid condition – its pH, concentration, conductivity, temperature and volume flow. 

He added that it could be modified to work with other fluids. “It can be fitted to any central system,” he said.

MWF users normally operate large central fluid storage systems connected to the machine tools via pipes, with as many as 10 or more machines supplied from one source. 

Buschbeck said that the SmartControl system is connected to the central system via a bypass and that because it is integrated in this way the testing is a continuous process that can operate on a 24/7 basis if required. 

Full networking

The system measures the concentration of the emulsion fully automatically with a refractometer in the bypass operation, while the pH level of the emulsion is also measured. 

The technical capabilities of the system were developed by German mining equipment maker Tiefenbach Control Systems. They include the key Industry 4.0 capability to be networked into wider IT systems. “SmartControl can be connected to another system via an SQL interface or wi-fi,” said Buschbeck. “Data can also be moved via USB stick.” 

The basic hardware is housed in a simple, compact cabinet that requires just a 220V or 110V power supply to drive a 2GHz central processor unit with 80GB of storage.

The consequence, said Buschbeck, is a “self-cleaning, self-calibrating system offering full automation that can be linked to wider customer IT systems. The user gets the information and the system automatically adds what is needed to the MWF.”

The system is already being put to use in industry. “It is being trialled in real manufacturing environments, with earlier versions in use for more than 12 months,” said Buschbeck. 

“The results are accurate, and users know they will be informed if they need to act or when the auto system is acting on their behalf if levels need to be adjusted.”

The system offers a striking example of how – with input from engineers on both the hardware and software side – Industry 4.0 is finally moving from buzzword to practical tool on the factory floor, and allowing previously overlooked fluids to provide a key insight into the manufacturing process. 


Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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