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Take-off for TDM

Swiss aircraft builder Pilatus standardizes production processes and introduces digital tool data management

For planning and implementation of the production processes at the Swiss aircraft builder, Pilatus Flugzeugwerke AG, TDM (tool data management) is an important element. More than 6000 individual tools for component production are recorded and documented in the tool management software, along with technology data. Whether stock, storage location or planning data for programming: everything can be called up at the push of a button – even within other systems.

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TDM Team at Pilatus
Involved in launch of TDM at Pilatus (from left to right): Torben Hesse (Key Accounts, TDM Systems), Walter Keiser (Head of NC Programming, Pilatus), Dirk Weiß (Key Accounts, TDM Systems), Marcel Aregger (Head of Technical IT, Pilatus), André Mühle (IT Application Engineer, Pilatus), Marco Christen (Team Leader for Flexible Production System) and Claudio Riefoli (Tool Room Co-ordinator)

Continuous innovations accompany the product creation process at Pilatus (Stans, Switzerland). In this regard, the Swiss aircraft builder stands for leading technology and meeting production deadlines. However, this target can only be achieved if all processes - from development to production - are checked, optimized and standardized permanently. The basis for this is provided partially through product lifecycle management (PLM). At the same time, in order to provide standardized essential tool and technology data for the production process as well, Pilatus has used the tool data management software (TDM) from TDM Systems GmbH since 2008.

TDM is seamlessly integrated into the PLM system via a standard interface. The aircraft builder uses SAP, as ERP software, which is likewise connected to TDM via an interface.


Central tool database replaces Excel & Co.

Prior to the introduction of TDM, the world of manufacturing looked completely different. Often, the necessary transparency was missing, particularly in the provision of tools and production resources. "Tools and consumables, like indexable inserts, were kept in the drawers of employees as intermediate stock. A lot of things happened on demand", says Walter Keiser remembering the status quo prior to 2006.

For the team headed by Walter Keiser, Head of NC Programming, and Marcel Aregger, Head of Technical IT, this was reason enough to search for a suitable software solution in 2006. The main aim was to create an integrated solution that comprises both production planning and order planning in SAP as well as the production procedures right up to the machine. "At the beginning, an analysis of all the processes was made", Walter Keiser remembers quite clearly. "We examined which processes run well in planning and production and which run badly. With the results, we then defined specific requirements and workflows together with the technical project managers from TDM Systems. The result was a specifications catalogue of more than 100 pages." Particularly important to Marcel Aregger was the high level of integration in upstream and downstream systems: "The basic system must be able to communicate with the upstream and downstream systems, so an isolated solution was out of question." With TDM, Pilatus ultimately discovered the best solution in terms of functionality and communication with other systems.

The outstanding project co-ordination by Mr. Großmann from TDM helped us right from the outset. Any impasses were quickly resolved in most cases. Without him, it would probably not have taken this relatively short amount of time to get started with TDM.

Marcel Aregger

Head of Technical IT at Pilatus Flugzeugwerke

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More than a test flight

Too Crib at Pilatus
A place for everything and everything in its place: Tools and components are stored at Pilatus in computer-controlled vertical lifts (shuttles). Staff scan their pass at the TDM terminal to log-in and then select the desired component at the click of a mouse button.

"The most important element within our process chain is production", emphasized Walter Keiser. Here, the complexity of production is enormous; most of the structural components are produced by the aircraft builder itself. Pilatus has the necessary expertise, whether in the machining of complex aluminum components or in the processing of sheet metal or CFK. However the majority of, aluminum is machined at the factory in Stans. The structural components for fuselage, landing gear and wings are fully manufactured at 14 CNC machining centers. Approximately 6000 productive individual tools, adapters, indexable inserts, etc. are fitted to about 1300 tool assemblies. Special tools and frequently used tool assemblies are stored on hand in the magazine on the machine. Everything else is either removed or stored as a tool assembly. The production means that are not required go into the Kardex Shuttle, an automatic vertical lift cabinet. Anyone who needs something from here now must login directly to the TDM Tool Crib software using his batch card. The tool is booked to the stored machine or cost centre via the staff ID and is only then available for retrieval.

Data is stored centrally in the TDM database all, the latest tool and technology data, cutting parameters and also feed and speed settings. Co-workers in the tool preparation department know at the push of a button where everything can be found and whether a drill can be reground or not. Thanks to TDM, the whole tool cycle has been made transparent. Evaluations about stock levels in the warehouse and at the machines as well as the frequency of use provide information about which tools are needed the most and which gather dust on shelves. Even communication between production and planning staff works better now. Each tool is recorded and documented in the proper manner with the correct and uniform description. "Production is standardized, improvisations are ruled out", Walter Keiser is happy to say.

A further advantage: Despite the diversity, the work preparation team knows at the push of a button where a tool can currently be found, whether it is in the storeroom or installed on a machine as a tool assembly. In this way, double orders are avoided and ultimately costs are saved.


Seven in one go

Currently, there are seven interfaces through which TDM is connected to other systems. It was clear right from the planning stage that the TDM interfaces meets up to 80% of Pilatus's requirements. The remaining 20% were realized by customization. The team headed by Walter Keiser and the TDM specialists made communication between the SAP, SIEMENS NX and Vericut planning systems possible. This means that the NC programs are written and simulated today using up-to-date and correct tool data. "We brought all of the interfaces into operation at the same time", IT specialist Marcel Aregger says. To avoid any risk, the planning phase was therefore relatively long and comprehensive; all of the procedures and potential types of data exchange were defined and simulated in advance. The advantage of detailed project planning: "Introduction was quite smooth. A few problems at the start were swiftly resolved by those responsible for the TDM project."

With tool procurement as an example, it is possible to see how the TDM software, SAP and the tool storeroom now interact: Previously, staff had to fill out order slips for tool requirements. These were sent to procurement, manually recorded and logged in SAP. Today, the procurement of tools and consumables is controlled centrally thanks to TDM. "We do not work with automated orders here. Although minimum stock levels are maintained and reported via the TDM Tool Crib Module, our central procurement department still checks the stock levels once a week and conducts the ordering process", Walter Keiser explains about the procurement process. The exchange of ordering data, including manufacturer and manufacturer code, from the TDM to the ERP software is via the standardized SAP interface.

Tool preparation also works optimally now: The production control system, Fastems, is connected to TDM via a standard interface. With TDMshopcontrol, the software for tool cycle management, tools are prepared according to the job order and thereby made available at the machine in good time. A comparison is carried out automatically between the tools on the machine and the new tool list for the production order. This prevents tools being reserved twice or tools having to be changed unnecessarily. In cases of excessive wear, a sister tool is made available in time.

Simple operation facilitates acceptance

Central Tool Data Management at Pilatus
IT and NC programming departments join forces for central tool data management: Marcel Aregger (left), Head of Technical IT at Pilatus, and Walter Keiser, Head of NC Programming.

Through intensive training of every individual employee, any initial skepticism has since given way to wide acceptance. "Reservations about technical software are high. Of course there were skeptics who preferred to continue acquiring their special drills or indexable inserts themselves", Walter Keiser says. "But TDM is easier to operate than a Smartphone", he reports, "and almost everyone has an iPhone in their pocket these days." Despite the high degree of functionality, it is claimed that the software is easy and intuitive to operate and performs well.

"Quality and productivity go hand-in-hand here", says Walter Keiser, Head of NC Programming. "Designers and engineers work according to fixed specifications. Moreover, they also have the necessary machining know-how." Test runs on CNC machines are no longer carried out; everything must be right from the start. These days, this is assured thanks to the correct tool and cutting data from TDM. With TDM, everyone accesses the same data pool, whether NC programmers, CAM users for production simulation, configuration technicians or machine operators. They also all work with identical, tested and reliable tool and technology data. Once a machine is running it cannot be stopped. There is also no way of modifying or altering programs on the machine. However, if the correct tools are planned and the machining process was simulated, this is generally no longer necessary. "Our processes are standardized, the machine tools run around the clock, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week." And TDM contributes towards more standardization in a huge way.

Pilatus – Niches in market successfully tapped

Pilatus headquaters in Stans/Switzerland
Main Pilatus factory in Stans, Switzerland

Right from the start in 1939, Pilatus Flugzeugwerke AG, Stans, Switzerland, was able to occupy a niche: the legendary SB-2 Pelikan was designed especially for use in mountain ranges. At the end of the 1950s, an extremely sturdy multi-purpose machine followed in the form of the Pilatus Porter PC-6. Specific features: due to its STOL characteristics (short take-off and landing), the aircraft only needs very short runways. With this type of aircraft, Pilatus achieved an international breakthrough. Further niches in the aircraft industry were continuously tapped. The latest example of this, for example, is the PC-12 NG, a single engine turboprop business aircraft, or the PC-21, a training aircraft for military pilots.

Around the world, the Pilatus Group is made up of four business units: Pilatus Flugzeugwerke AG in Stans (Switzerland) and the three one hundred percent subsidiaries in Altenrhein (Switzerland), Broomfield (USA) and Adelaide (Australia). In 2011, more than 1,400 co-workers (over 1,300 in Switzerland alone) planned and manufactured 87 aircraft and achieved a turnover of 781 million CHF.

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