Workplace Solutions How to optimise your control cabinet construction – Part 1

Control cabinet construction makes up a considerable part of mechanical engineering. In times of increasing international competition and rising cost pressure, manufacturers of control cabinets need to coordinate their processes in a holistic and optimised manner. Only then can they react flexibly to inquiries and ensure speedy production even for batch sizes of 1.

A typical scene in the everyday work of a switch cabinet manufacturer.
A typical scene in the everyday work of a switch cabinet manufacturer.
(Source: Weidmueller Interface GmbH & Co. KG)

In our series "How to optimise your control cabinet construction", six complementary articles illustrate the optimisation potential in the entire process chain of modern control cabinet construction: from the planning phase and standardisation approaches to automated and semi-automated solutions. The focus is on the individual requirements of today's users - from medium-sized companies to large enterprises.

Companies that want to ensure their international competitiveness need to design all processes involved in control cabinet construction as ideal as possible. The study "Control cabinet construction 4.0" published by the Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units ISW of the University of Stuttgart, highlights the importance of an optimal design. According to the study, project planning and circuit diagram construction tie up more than 50% of the working time involved in the planning phase of conventional control cabinet construction. Other major time sinks are wiring and mechanical assembly - taken together, they account for over 70% of total working time.

Nowadays, control cabinet manufacturers are confronted with huge challenges. Increasing demands on quality as well as cost pressure coupled with a lack of skilled personnel, increased documentation requirements, small batch sizes and ever shorter delivery times are creating additional pressure.

A certain degree of planning uncertainty is added to these challenges. If, for instance, modifications to the control cabinet structure have to be carried out at short notice, the time required for designing new circuit diagrams can increase unless the measures are divided into functional units. Should the requirements on the control cabinet change after completion of the planning stage, the engineering process is stalled because the system has to be altered during construction. Therefore, it is essential to identify solutions that make processes in control cabinet construction more cost-effective and provide holistic benefits.

The key to competitiveness is to increase efficiency in control cabinet construction.

Optimised processes reduce expenses

Productivity in control cabinet construction can only be improved if all aspects of the process are taken into account - i.e. planning, installation and commissioning. If these time-consuming processes can be streamlined, the cost situation automatically improves. With an hourly wage of 68 euros, the average labour costs for engineering a circuit diagram are particularly high - according to the VDMA (German Engineering Federation) they amount to 38 euros in production.

Standardization and automation, as well as solutions that span across processes, are proven means of leveraging this potential for optimisation. During the design and engineering stages, for instance, it is possible to create function-oriented circuit diagrams, predefine recurring function modules or use prefabricated partial circuits. This reduces working time from an average of 32 to 23 hours - additional optimisation measures such as automated wiring can further reduce the average time requirements by up to three hours. An additional advantage is the quality improvement of the construction.

Practice-oriented solutions

For this reason, the solutions recommended by providers start at precisely these points. Although the individual terminal block or the appropriate tool are important, it is the overall process that determines the outcome. All sub-areas have to be optimally aligned with the overall process. This can be done with the help of a marking software connected to the CAE system that can be used to implement intelligent, automated component marking. It could also be realised with a configurator that supports the user in planning and configuring and, of course, also interacts with the CAE system. Automated and digitised processes that support cabinet manufacturers by providing simplicity, speed and reliability generate benefits and concrete added value.

One basis for the standardising manufacturing processes is the digital consistency of all data. The second part of the series shows how this not only simplifies engineering, but also significantly improves planning reliability.

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