Tobias Teeuwen is a member of the academic staff at the Institute for Metal Forming & has been at IBF since 2016. His research focuses on hot metal gas forming of heat-treatable high-strength aluminium alloys & he is responsible for the Servotest Thermo-Mechanical Treatment Simulator (TMTS) installed at IBF. Here Tobias talks about partnering with Servotest to upgrade the control system on their Servotest TMTS system.
The TMTS machine enables material testing in a wide range of forming rates and temperatures and is used intensively for flow curve determination. Our Customers routinely request material data under unusual test parameters, so we needed a machine to do these tests to satisfy our customer requests. The maximum tool velocity of max. 3 m/s makes IBF one of the few suppliers of such high-speed material data under high compressive forces up to 1000kN and at temperatures up to 1200°C. This unique diversity in forming rates, forces and temperatures makes IBF capabilities very attractive to companies which are specialised in rolling and forging, or which produce the machines for these forming operations.
The topic of Modernising the Servotest TMTS was discussed several times over the past years at the IBF. Actually, each of my predecessors faced the questions, if we would like to do a retrofit, when we would like to do it, how it will be done and most important, which benefits will it give. Since severe damage occurred in the computer hardware after 25 years of constant use, the machine stopped operating in 2019 and assessing the modernisation options were passed to me. After contacting Servotest, we got the unequivocal answer that only a retrofit of a Pulsar system will make us capable to operate the TMTS for the following decades. Since the IBF is publicly funded, money is always an influencing factor. We compared the retrofit quotation with the possibility to get a new servo-hydraulic press. We even asked other manufacturers of material testing machines, if they dare to do a modernisation. But the exceptional and unique engineering from Servotest made all other manufactures hesitate. In the end, the only way to go was the retrofit conducted by Servotest itself and we are very pleased that we did.
The situation was similar back in 1994 when IBF wanted something that went further than a standard system. It was not a prerequisite that partners had to demonstrate competence with similar projects, but we asked Servotest in advance if they had ever done a retrofit to Pulsar on a TMTS system. The answer was that our TMTS is one of few which still was operating with the old DCS controller hardware and all the other machines were already upgraded. As mentioned earlier, we approached other suppliers but they looked and said no [ sorry it’s some witchcraft that Servotest did ] we are not able to control this machine. Since Servotest was the only company who was capable of doing the modernisation work it was obvious that we have to lay our trust in them and in the end the trust was well placed as Servotest was able to fulfil all our demands.
In our case, a new machine like we have would cost in excess of €3,000,000 so the controller upgrade was the best value for money solution and the upgrade had been discussed many times during the 25 years partnering with Servotest. This time we had very effective, high quality & high value meetings. Initially we had a meeting in London with Head Engineer, Frank Blows to discuss requirements and capabilities for the TMTS, with follow up visits onsite from Art & Vince. This allowed us to keep the DCS working temporarily but also reach agreement on the software functionality to enable a manual mode of operation, which is unique to IBF.
We definitely trusted Servotest that the whole project would be carried out to our satisfaction. One important thing was that our TMTS machine differs a lot from the other TMTS systems Servotest has supplied to other costumers. Our machine has a unique combination of max. velocity and max. force. This results in a double the number of 3 stage servo valves. Moreover, our machine is mostly operated in manual mode - not with the specimen handling robot and induction heating unit. It was crucial that we are still able to do all tests with the new Pulsar system in the way we did it with the old DCS controller. This made the programming of a whole new operating mode necessary. So, you see, we definitely had to place a lot of trust in Servotest.
Thankfully, our trust in Servotest was to 100% well placed. The whole project was carried out so smoothly and even though we faced extreme complications due to Covid-19 everything was done properly and professionally. All of the programming work on the software was planned to be done on site, directly after installing the hardware components and all the wiring of the Pulsar system. However, the pandemic made it impossible for Servotest software engineers to come to Germany. To prevent delays, we installed a camera next to the machine and enabled Servotest to get access to the machine’s computer via remote connection - with the help of myself, who was sitting permanently next to the machine to describe how the machine reacts to the new programming. Servotest finished the programming work and software adjustments in a couple of weeks, and I can say everything works to perfection. It was such an amazing procedure to get this completed during the pandemic.
Every time I get in touch with Servotest it is a pleasure & I think Servotest are really willing to help. During all the time I’ve worked here as research assistant to this day it has been professional every time and we got what we wanted i.e. the machine to perform how we want it to – so we are very pleased.
Our customers demand custom solutions, so we demand custom equipment solutions. With the upgraded TMTS we can now offer unique combinations of test conditions that our customers want.
We can say that IBF can fulfil this demand only because we have the Servotest machine, otherwise it would not be possible to provide the material data under these unusual test parameters. Servotest was able to deliver this, so this is a nice partnership for machine manufacturer and material data supplier to provide for end customers who are asking for data in high temperature and high-rate applications.
Having such highly specialised piece of equipment it is crucial to have a reliable service behind this. Otherwise, we would have so many difficulties. The machine is well engineered, but it is also at edge of possible so after 25 years of heavy use, inevitably, there will be problems and breakages. But we do have round the clock service from Servotest and the possibility to ask questions. Servotest is always available to help. Otherwise, we would not have been able to have 25 years of use from such a highly specialised system. It’s this combination, it’s not just the machine itself [ – if I’m buying a pair of scissors I don’t need the service behind that, if it breaks down I just get a new one] here the support is crucial. From my point of view Servotest was absolutely dependable and acted with integrity. Otherwise, a project like this with all its complications would not have been carried out so successfully. With such high value equipment, we really demand excellent, flexible support from the manufacturer and that’s what we get from Servotest.
In the end, when the old electronics were finally unsalvageable, it took us less than a year from first discussions to the start of the upgrade work. A year without testing was the real motivation for us to move quickly as we were losing revenue (hard cash) from our customer tests. All people at IBF involved in the modernisation project were amazed by the way Servotest was motivated to fulfil our wishes and to understand our very special needs. As described earlier, our manual way of operating the TMTS was a major requirement for us and not a common thing for Servotest. This and many other unique features had to be delivered and we perceived Servotest to be absolutely open and willing to meet our requirements and in the end, it was absolutely perfection.
This project has really enhanced the reputation of both IBF and Servotest as key partners for metal forming simulation equipment and materials data provider. Each time we can, the IBF and I personally advertise this fantastic machine and its overwhelming benefits compared to other standard servo-hydraulic presses.
Servotest exceeded our expectations in every little aspect. This was exemplified as we had little person to person contact to make such a huge project work so smoothly. Our expectation was for lots of meetings and lots of discussions with a long timeframe for modernisation. However, the quality of this partnership was evident, even though we had so few meetings the discussions were always professional and productive. In the end, despite pandemic, all work was completed in very short time period.
Secondly, Vince was willing to do all the software modernisation by remote for the first time. Both parties made the best of use of available technology by using video conferencing technology extensively. Having the flexibility to do this and not delay the project until the pandemic restrictions were lifted - this was definitely an example of where Servotest exceeded expectations.
Today we have a good working relationship with Servotest. Every time I get in contact with Servotest, they are professional, understanding and willing to help. This makes working with Servotest a pleasure.
The IBF TMTS system is capable of testing at speeds up to 3.0m/s up to 1200°C and 1000kN.
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