A lean and green process

A resource- and energy-efficient hardening process takes center stage: The new and fully modular design for induction hardening machines, along with a flexible and compact SIMATIC Drive Controller, helps EFD Induction GmbH conquer new markets.

The main components of the HardLine M machine are two small inductors that move up along the workpiece. Within just one second, the metal surface starts to glow brightly. The process hardens just the part of the workpiece that needs to be hardened, which makes the process very energy efficient. On top of that, induction hardening offers a higher throughput, higher hardening quality, and lower treatment costs than other hardening processes. But for the teams at EFD Induction GmbH, this is not enough: the company is committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and acts accordingly in all its areas of business. Part of this strategy involves designing machines to last; the machines’ high quality, longevity, and flexibility not only offer excellent investment protection to the user but also help reduce resource consumption.

EFD Induction GmbH

For nearly 70 years, EFD Induction has developed induction heating solutions for virtually all industrial applications that require heat, including in the automotive industry, metal processing, aerospace, marine industries, oil and gas, electrical engineering, and power generation. EFD Induction is the world’s leading supplier of heating solutions for the renewable energy sector. Headquartered in Skien, Norway, EFD today has sales and service companies, manufacturing plants, workshops, and product development centers in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

 

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The goal: a machine that is even more efficient than before

The HardLine M is an excellent example of the company’s dedication. It was designed to be especially easy to configure, build, and commission, explains Bogdan Cerchez, head of product development at EFD Induction: “This approach helps us customize the design to specific customer requirements very efficiently. At the same time, we have many options to change the machine setup, in terms of both the process we use and the workpieces we are able to treat. As a result, we can offer a very compact, highly flexible, and high-quality machine with a compelling cost/benefit ratio.” 

By standardizing machine components wherever possible, EFD Induction is able to streamline all processes along the project value chain, says Josef Zeinhofer, head of development for electrical systems and software at EFD Induction: “From sales, where we generate savings through the ability to create machine specifications more easily, to design and assembly, to the commissioning of the machine, where tested modules help significantly shorten commissioning times.”

The foundation: a modular architecture

To achieve its efficiency goal, EFD Induction developed a new machine design from scratch, enabling the combination of individual modules. A central requirement for this modular design was that the solution provide the highest quality and be scalable to meet the needs of price-sensitive applications. For this reason, the machine is based not only on mechanical and electrical design modules but also on a modular automation architecture. “The key point in such projects is that you make an effort to create a well-structured standard for the modular machine so that you can implement the individual projects and designs as efficiently as possible,” Zeinhofer explains.

"Working with the modular design and with standards and options, we intend to shorten project lead times for a HardLine M by 20 to 30 percent."
Josef Zeinhofer, Head of Development for Electrical Systems and Software, EFD Induction GmbH

The solution: state-of-the-art automation and technology expertise

EFD Induction decided early on in the project to bring in Siemens as a partner, both in the selection of the hardware and during the standardization of the software. “We really benefitted a lot from having access to Siemens’ application know-how and being able to work with the Siemens experts to map our requirements and help us transfer the machine and process features into a structured software library,” Zeinhofer confirms. 

EFD Induction opted for the compact SIMATIC Drive Controller as the control platform. The combination of a high-performance SIMATIC S7-1500 TF-CPU and the drive control of the modular SINAMICS S120 drive system saves control cabinet space and is easily scalable thanks to a uniform interface design for controllers of different performance ranges. Depending on the application, EFD Induction can implement different numbers and types of axes for loading and unloading, an additional tempering station, or other machine features – even after commissioning. Thanks to Safety Integrated, machine safety is implemented as part of standard automation, which means that it is also part of the modular machine design. The onboard technology I/Os of the controller enable EFD Induction to implement features such as fast measuring inputs without extra hardware, for example, to monitor tailstock tip rotation. The onboard solution makes the entire design more reliable, says Zeinhofer: “The fewer components you have, and especially the fewer sensors you have to put in the hardening cabin, the fewer components can experience a failure.”

Having to handle fewer components and having a standardized architecture will also benefit the machine users through reduced spare parts requirements. In designing the HardLine M, EFD Induction focused on user-friendliness as a key target. A SIMATIC HMI Comfort Panel PRO right next to the hardening cabin supports intuitive operation and provides all the necessary information on the process and parameters. A separate extension unit with operator controls supports operation in harsh industry environments. For handling applications, Siemens also offers several standard software modules and libraries for the SIMATIC Technology controllers that facilitate application engineering. EFD Induction used the LKinLang library that supports the text-based programming of kinematic motion paths using G-code. This way, users are able to modify their tool program via the HMI.

The result: a lean, green, and truly sustainable solution

All these benefits are on display on the machine in EFD Induction’s showroom in Freiburg, Germany, but, more importantly, they have won customers as well. The next few weeks will bring detailed results to demonstrate whether the expected benefits of the modular design can be turned into tangible savings. “We intend to shorten project lead times for a HardLine M by 20 to 30 percent, depending on requirements,” says Zeinhofer. 

He is confident that EFD Induction will reach this goal: “With the HardLine M design, we can cover the lion’s share of requirements with standards and options. This will help us move projects efficiently through production and free up resources for those projects that really have very specific, custom requirements,” which is also an aspect of resource efficiency at EFD Induction.