December cover story: Making the connection

Houghton web1-w
Houghton web1-w

Officially launched at Seco Tools’ recent ‘Inspiration through Innovation’ event in October, Houghton International’s new FluidTrend software takes Industry 4.0 principles and applies them to metal processing fluids. Dave Tudor reports. 

Officially launched at Seco Tools’ recent ‘Inspiration through Innovation’ event in October, Houghton International’s new FluidTrend software takes Industry 4.0 principles and applies them to metal processing fluids. Dave Tudor reports.

After successive years of strategic investment and growth, Houghton International sits at the top of the industrial metalworking premier league – a position evidenced by Kline & Company in a 2010 report that named the company as the world’s largest supplier of metalworking fluids.

There are more than 2,200 different products in Houghton’s vast portfolio, spanning everything from neat and soluble cutting oils through to wash chemicals and rust preventatives. Formed in 1865 and headquartered in Valley Forge, Philadelphia, Houghton is operational in 33 countries around the world. In the UK its Trafford Park, Manchester production and laboratory facility underpins a $50 million turnover, 257 employee business.

In recent years, the importance of high quality metalworking fluids and their effective management has been recognised as a key factor towards optimising productivity but this hasn’t always been the case. In the not too distant past, cutting fluids were undoubtedly the poor relation in the equation; a long way behind machine tools and cutting tools in the pecking order.

Houghton’s FluidTrend software

Today, it’s a different story. The importance of a premium machine coolant is paramount and the benefits are clear: a high quality cutting fluid not only extends the life of the machine and cutting tool; it also reduces the number of additive treatments required alongside waste disposal – benefiting production, the environment and the bottom line.

“Many of our customers are high profile OEMs and tier one companies where effective Fluid Management of key process fluids is essential,” reveals Houghton’s commercial and country director (UK & Ireland) Lee Bowditch. “In fact a significant percentage of our business in the UK involves fluid management through our FluidCare service. Indeed, we have 136 members of staff permanently located at customer sites looking after fluid maintenance, stock management, fluid monitoring and lubrication. Clients using FluidCare include Rolls-Royce, GKN, Honda, Siemens and Bosch.”

Before exploring the merits of the new FluidTrend software, it’s important to note that it forms part of the total FluidCare package, which is a combination of manpower services, products and equipment. FluidCare is clearly Houghton’s jewel in the crown and a principal differentiator in the marketplace.

For smaller businesses however, where a holistic, permanent management role is not required, warranted or justifiable, fear not. Houghton also offers FluidSupport packages where it undertakes ‘man in a van’ site visits on a periodic basis, taking care of HSE compliance, regular cutting fluid maintenance and support, and staff education. Around 140 FluidSupport accounts are currently active so it represents a sizeable chunk of Houghton’s overall business.

Born in the UK

Nothing in the industry is gaining momentum quite like Industry 4.0 and Connected Manufacturing at the moment and Houghton has developed FluidTrend with this in mind. Particularly significant is the fact that this is a UK-driven initiative from Houghton, developed in conjunction with its digital marketing partner and software developer, Warwick-based Formation Media. Although born in the UK, FluidTrend is generating much interest globally from other Houghton sites around the world. The transition from concept to completion has taken just six months.

“We’ve seen a huge demand from clients needing access to data to drive efficiencies throughout their respective businesses,” Mr Bowditch affirms, “and FluidTrend was developed as an extension of our FluidCare services to provide that capability.”

As it resides in the Cloud, FluidTrend can be accessed via a mobile phone/tablet app or any web browser. A key aspect of its operation is that it provides live data and reporting functionality through a customer portal. This of course benefits the client, but because it’s cloud-based, Houghton has access to the information as well, enabling it to make recommendations as and when required.

“FluidTrend runs on a ‘localised’ cloud server based infrastructure,” advises Martin Gordon, managing director of Formation Media. “That means the user will be accessing a server, via the strictest security encryption protocols, relatively local to his or her location geographically. Houghton stipulated from day one that the system needed to be fast in operation and we’ve achieved that – less than half a second to pull up a report on the FluidTrend platform.”

Informed decisions

The software was designed from the ground up to facilitate optimum coolant and lubrication management as well as being EHS (Environment, Health and Safety) auditable. All analytical results from each machine test – such as usage data, cost calculations, concentration and pH – are recorded, stored and displayed on the FluidTrend dashboard, instantly highlighting the condition of the cutting fluid at any time, enabling trends to be identified and reports to be generated via a user-friendly interface.

Its overriding objective is to help companies make informed decisions regarding their production activities across single- or multi-site manufacturing operations. A cliché perhaps, but this literally is the world at your fingertips – secure, machine-specific data available on your mobile phone or tablet anywhere in the world.

FluidTrend’s reporting capabilities are both customisable and versatile, but as an illustration it can produce four standard reports: Top Leakers – machines with the highest volume leaked; Top Users – machines will the highest amount of cutting fluid added; Machine Status – compare the latest results of all machines across locations; and Machine History – take a look at a specific machine’s historic results.

Currently, FluidTrend works with soluble and neat cutting oils, but ultimately, anything relating to a fluid on a machine tool can be recordable and reportable.

“It’s early days for FluidTrend but it will evolve significantly over the next 6-12 months,” Mr Bowditch adds. “I can see a point in the not too distant future where the FluidTrend portal will be the main platform for all business we undertake with our customers – from stock management and the provision of MSDS technical data documentation through to launching new products and online ordering.”

Inputs and outputs

So now we’ve established what FluidTrend does, but how is data is ‘read’ into the system? Principally, there are both manual and automated methods as Lee Bowditch explains: “The first type of application is where FluidTrend is used as a standalone product,” he states. “On each machine tool there will be various ‘points of application’ – for example the coolant sump, a wash tank, a hydraulic tank, or even a centralised coolant distribution system. At each of these points there will be a QR code that is scanned manually by a handheld data logger which is in turn recognised by FluidTrend. The test results are then manually inputted against each individual point of application and stored.”

He continues: “The second method of data capture is through the use of our fluid maintenance management equipment which totally automates the process and may well be the way to go if you have machines carrying out highly critical operations on expensive and technically demanding components. Conversely, the manual data logging method may be perfectly acceptable on less critical applications. We anticipate, certainly with our own customers, that’ll it’ll be a combination of the two.”

Let’s automate

For customers leaning towards total automation, Houghton’s fluid maintenance management equipment comprises three separate pieces of hardware: FluidControl; FluidMix and FluidWorker. All three can be used standalone or collectively, and are designed to interface with FluidTrend.

Houghton’s country and commercial director, Lee Bowditch

FluidControl is an inline analytics system that carries out essential testing on a metalworking fluid and records essential information such as concentration, temperature and PH. If levels start wandering out of spec, FluidControl makes the necessary adjustments automatically.

FluidMix is a pre-mix distribution system that essentially pumps coolant around machines on the shopfloor. Ideal for companies operating centralised cutting fluid distribution architectures, FluidMix can also make coolant concentration level adjustments on individual machines – or groups of machines – at the touch of a button.

FluidWorker requires a bit more explanation because it’s potentially ground-breaking. Lee Bowditch elaborates: “There’s a massive focus at the moment, from a health and safety perspective, around the use of certain chemicals within the industry, particularly with substances like formaldehyde which are classed as carcinogenic, but also boron and chlorinated products.

“As restrictions become tighter and tighter on things like biocides and treatment additives, companies will be forced to look at alternative methods of controlling bacteria in their cutting fluids – and at the end of the day, any water-based system will have bacteria issues.

“FluidWorker is unique,” he enthuses. “It uses UV light to destroy micro-organisms at DNA level, preventing them from reproducing or killing them outright. The technology originates from the need to remove bacteria from ballast water on container ships to prevent foul odours; we’ve worked closely with our technology partner Wallenius to apply it to cutting fluids. It’s a highly precise, scientific process and trials with several of our key customers have been very successful. The key aspect though is that it’s totally safe and operator-friendly.”

Mr Bowditch is keen to point out that whilst FluidTrend is recommended for use with Houghton cutting fluids and equipment, this is by no means exclusive. Technically speaking, as a standalone, manual data capture method only, the software is manufacturer independent and can be used with any cutting fluids.

Houghton International


Houghton PLC

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