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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Turn-around cut in half

Use of COPRA® software at voestalpine

With a workforce of some 3,000 and annual turnover of nearly € 750 million, the Profilform division of Austria’s voestalpine combine, based in Krems, is oneof the world’s leading producers of tubes and profiles. To meet constantly increasing demands in terms of both the complexity of profile structures and reductionof turn-around times within a framework of shorterinnovation cycles, the company opted for COPRA®, the CAD/CAM system from data M Software. This solution enabled it to achieve substantial process optimization and markedly faster turn-around.

From thin-sheet rolling mill to high-tech enterprise
Profilform is one of the four divisions of the voestalpine combine, which employs about 23,000 people worldwide. Back in 1939 a thin-sheet rolling mill was established in Krems, in the Austrian region of Wachau, marking the commencement of rapid corporate development.Through various takeovers and company formations abroad plus the integration of new product groups, a combine emerged that, based on solid innovation, is now one of the world’s leading suppliers with seven production sites. Today the portfolio ranges from precision steel tubes produced by different processes through hollow steel profiles and stop tubes to a wide selection of standard and specialpurpose profiles.
The Krems site alone processes some 300,000 tonnes of steel annually. Customers include companies in virtually every segment where steel profiles are used: the automobile industry, building and HVAC, the furniture industry and shipbuilding. Given such a selection, roll-formed parts have increasingly gained in importance in recent years. Cold forming ranks as a highly productive process for manufacturing steel profiles by the continuous reshaping of sheet metal band by driven roll tools.

”This process enables you to produce a virtually unlimited variety of profile cross-sections”, says Hans Pflügl, head of the profiles and tubes subdivision, pinpointing one of the major advantages.

But in many cases the time invested in the design and production of roll tools, in assembly, startup and trialing of tool sets can be quite prohibitive. Plus, there is the risk of inner strain or deformation in the end-product.

”To make sure we benefited to the full from the efficiency of cold forming,  we started early on to think about means of optimizing profile and tool design and enhancing the quality of the ready rolled profile”, comments Franz Koller of the technology subdivision. On top of this came constantly increasing demands made of the overall design, construction and production process because of a growing requirement for lightweight profiles - meaning more complex profile shapes, shorter innovation cycles and the need for faster turn-around.
From inhouse development to innovative CAD/CAM
As long ago as 1984 voestalpine developed its own CAD software for the design and construction of, in part, highly complex profiles. Five years later the CAD specialists were faced with the decision of whether to continue development of their inhouse CAD application or look for an external solution. A thorough analysis of CAD solutions on the market showed that the fully featured and practice-proven design and production system from data M Software could best match the requirements - especially because, as it fast turned out, this solution was the only one capable of setting up on the existing process automation. The tubes and profilesplant in Krems consequently opted for the COPRA® system from data M, which is based on AutoCAD, the most popular CAD application worldwide.

”COPRA® was integrated into the processes fast and, following a number of phases over UNIX and constantly improved COPRA® and Windows solutions, the latest COPRA® version with AutoCAD 2005 was implemented in 2004”, says Franz Koller of the development buildup to the fully mature CAD/CAM solution.

To get this far it was necessary to convert thousands of drawings and huge numbers of roll data, but that is no problem at all with the new system. In the meantime Krems has ten CAD workstations equipped with the COPRA® solution, and others are installed at its seven sites worldwide.

The all-in CAD/CAM solution
The COPRA® system offers a virtual process chain for the design and validation of tool sets in profile roll forming. Its modular makeup enables it to be matched to specific requirements. The COPRA® RF (Roll Forming) software moduleeffectively supports all steps in the development of open and closed profile cross-sections. It forms the basis of a self-contained process chain extending from design of the profile cross-sections through definition of the individual forming steps to generation of production drawings, parts lists, CNC programs, etc. Quality inspection and testing of profile cross-sections and roll tools are implemented by the optical COPRA® RollScanner and COPRA® LaserCheck.

Says Hans Pflügl speaking of the process chain: ”A multi-stage concept optimizes and accelerates both design and analysis, meeting the needs of our designers for fast creation of a tool set and those of the production supervisor, who can validate the roll forming operation early on.”

Extensive simulation possibilities
In the COPRA® system, Profilform has two software programs for simulation of the roll forming process. COPRA® DTM (DeformationTechnology Module) calculates, speedily and surely, longitudinal deformation as a function of all major parameters such as material properties, material thikkness, roll diameter. The program produces feedback about possible critical zones, enables checks of plausibility and the practicability of the design. Simulation is further optimized by nonlinear finite element analysis in the form of COPRA® FEA RF. Working with data generated by COPRA® DTM, it delivers important information about forces, torque, pressure and strain relationships for the entire product development process, besides presenting designers with a complete 3D visualization of the end-product. In this virtual environment the tool sets that are to be generated can thus first be simulated and thoroughly analyzed for possible later deformations of profile cross-sections.

Self-contained process chain and fast turn-around
With the COPRA® software system and its specific modules for automatic roll tool and parts list generation, voestalpine’s Profilform division has been able to create a process chain that means substantial optimization plus parallelizationof the steps involved in developing a product. As early as the generation of a proposal and a pricing framework for the sales department for instance, COPRA® is used to conduct producibility tests based on the customer’s specification. When a contract is awarded, the technical foundation for all further phases of the process is consequently alrea dyin place. First the individual forming steps, the so called flower, are defined. Next, before simulation and FEM analysis, the roll tools are automatically configured as a function of all relevant machine parameters. As part of the CAD/CAM phase, the CNC or NC programs, setting-up plans, sawing lists and production documents are generated from the CAD data.

”Processes are speeded up a whole lot by simulation of the trialing phase”, says design specialist Franz Koller.

Trials used to be a hands-on business of trying out tools on a machine. But COPRA® FEA RF simulates the roll forming operation by a nonlinear elasto-plastic method of computation.

Adds Koller: ”The powerful analytical functions give us a clear picture of the profile quality that we can expect - we get to see the finished profile and the forming steps in three-dimensional color.”

Success factors of a design solution
The COPRA® total solution has produced lots of utility potential and benefits for voestalpine Profilform.

Koller and Pflügl emphasize in particular: ”The broad functionality of the CAD/CAM solution, accuracy in design, extensive analytical possibilities, faster turn-around despite greater profile complexity, flexibility for special-purpose products, and application-specific possibilities of adaptation.”

The rationalized drawing administration and SQL roll database are further advantages of the COPRA® solution for Profilform, which has now virtually halved turn-around times compared to former design methods.