Industrial Power Tools: Vendor Perspective (Bosch Rexroth)

To better understand the current status and future evolution of industrial power tools, we spoke to Martin Doelfs, an expert in this area. Martin is responsible for Product Management for Bosch Rexroth Tightening and Welding Systems. He has degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Stuttgart and Michigan Technological University, and joined Robert Bosch in 1992 to focus on the interface between customer, engineering, and sales. Prior to his current position he was Director of the Production Tools business unit in Bosch’s Power Tools division.

Frank Puhlmann: Martin Doelfs, Industry 4.0 is an interesting application of the Internet of Things and Services. Besides intelligent parts that actively drive automation within the factory, what other improvements do you believe the Internet of Things can offer in this regard?

Martin Doelfs: In terms of Industry 4.0, I find hand-held tightening tools especially interesting. Modern battery and drive technology means that the worker is no longer bound to a specific place by cables and hoses. While this may have been the case for consumer and professional tools for years (as can easily be seen in the sophisticated products offered by Bosch power tools) the industry perspective is quite a different story.

Frank Puhlmann: Can you elaborate a bit on this difference? As a consumer, I have been using cordless, battery-driven tools for years.

Martin Doelfs: Sure! First of all we should identify the different industrial use cases. According to the German engineering association (VDI guideline 2862), there are three different cases: Class A covers screw connections which might pose a risk to life and safety. If the connection fails to hold, there is a risk of injury or death. Class B covers a connection that is crucial to functionality. If the connection fails, the machine etc. could stop working. Class C covers the kind of “annoyances” that can result from the failure of a connection, such as a rattling sound from a loose part. If you look at use cases A and B, industrial applications require a controlled tightening process with a well-defined torque/angle curve and speed. Sensors also need to be able to capture the results of the tightening operation. Each tightening operation produces a lot of log data that needs to be captured and transferred to a server for later analysis and storage. If you consider the required level of accuracy and the amount of data generated by just one of these screws and then think of the number of Class A and B screws required to produce a passenger car, it becomes clear that the relevant tool will need to be of a different caliber to your average consumer tool.

Frank Puhlmann: Can you think of any other requirements for industrial tightening tools? As far as I remember, these tools used to be based on air-compression mechanisms in the past.

Martin Doelfs: That’s right. Historically, tightening tools used to be powered by compressed air. Nowadays, these tools have been replaced by electrically or even battery-driven tools. Battery and drive technology have made huge steps towards more power and efficiency as well as allowing for significant reduction in weight in recent years, and this trend will continue. Battery-powered tools also allow more flexibility for a worker. This enables new manufacturing processes which, in turn, directly lead to higher productivity.

Frank Puhlmann:  Do you have an idea of what a new manufacturing process could look like?

Martin Doelfs: I foresee a scenario where workers can move more flexibly on the shop floor, and can do more, and more varied, jobs with a single tool, without having to return to a “base.” If this is taken into consideration when designing the manufacturing process, it should lead to increased productivity.

Frank Puhlmann: Where do you see hand-held tightening tools heading with regards to IoT?

Martin Doelfs: That’s an interesting question. As I said previously, the foremost change I see happening is a new, more flexible process for A- and B-class tightening operations. We can already see more worker autonomy as a result of the controlled tightening process offered by hand-held tools. But, to secure this process and ensure that high quality is maintained, we need to know how and where tools are used (i.e. something is tightened). This information is obvious when dealing with wired tools but more of a challenge for mobile tools. For instance, some tools are not allowed in certain environments (electric tools, for example, must be kept away from hazardous environments to prevent fire). We also need to ensure that we correctly match the tightening log data produced by the tools with a specific part or – at an even more detailed level – with a certain screw in the part. In general, we can distinguish three levels of granularity: (1) Where is the tool in the factory or construction site? In general, assessing if the tool is within or outside a given geolocation is sufficient. (2) If you are working with a larger part, such as an airplane body or passenger car: Which section of the part am I working on? This might require accuracy within a meter. (3) If I have exact knowledge of the screw I’m working on, I can automatically program the tightening tool with the right parameters and process the tightening order, which might be important. So geotracking is a vital functionality to help unlock the full potential of wireless tightening tools with respect to increased productivity at even higher levels of process quality. Combining the above elements is what will create truly “intelligent tools.”

Frank Puhlmann: Intelligent tightening tools – that sounds very promising. I’m interested to know what kind of services you envision for these tools.

Martin Doelfs: As you can already see from the kind of big data that I mentioned earlier, any tightening run produces a lot of analysis data. This needs to be stored on a server and used to assess production quality. If I extend this data with additional process data and have the data available in the backend, I can run automated analysis in real-time and provide action items and tasks to improve process and productivity (for example to allow engineers to analyze tightening runs and detect problems like an oily screw or a missing shim). However, as is generally the case with big data-based services, these ideas are just the beginning. As soon as we start rolling them out, new ideas will emerge and, hopefully, using IoT technology, we will have the means to implement them quickly and easily. In the end, making cordless tools intelligent, having sensor data available in backend systems, and implementing intelligent data-mining algorithms will have a big impact on the way hand-held tightening tools are used in the future industry. Users and suppliers of these tools will need to have the foresight and the courage to try new things and create new solutions. I’m greatly looking forward to the new opportunities they make available to us all.