In the previous part of our series you learned about the experiences of an Italian control cabinet manufacturer and how harmonised processes have noticeably accelerated their performance. But there is still untapped potential in the future of control cabinet construction. Efficiency can only be further increased if solutions interact.
Conventional control cabinet construction requires a great deal of manual work - an obvious source of errors. And not only that: Manual activities require a lot of time and coordinated production processes. The work steps of project planning and design of the circuit diagrams alone account for more than 50 percent of the workload. If one adds up the many manual steps involved in mechanical assembly and wiring, these activities account for over 70 percent of the total working time and are thus the biggest time wasters identified by the "Control cabinet construction 4.0" study published by the University of Stuttgart.
Individual solutions are called for
Anyone who wants to further increase efficiency in control cabinet construction in the future should therefore take a holistic approach. MM Maschinenmarkt spoke about this subject with Dr. Christian Dülme, head of Weidmüller’s department for automated control cabinet construction: "Only the interaction of automation solutions and assistance systems with perfectly harmonised components will offer potential for optimisation in the future." It is important to understand the correlations between what you want to process and what you use to process it. In Dülme's opinion, this requires solutions that are tailored to the individual requirements of the customer. “It is necessary to provide advice that enables customers to obtain the consumables of the future, i.e. terminal blocks or markers, that are precisely tailored to their systems and tools, when selecting and integrating this solution into their process".
Anyone who wants to offer tailor-made solutions in control cabinet construction must be able to draw on a broad portfolio. Christian Dülme puts it in a nutshell: “We offer our customers the entire bouquet of solutions.” For instance, Weidmüller plans to expand its focus on full automation in addition to conventional hand tools and semi-automated solutions. “We will be able to offer tailor-made solutions for every customer – depending on their throughput and general production conditions.”
In reality, the production processes of individual companies are quite different. Depending on the concept, different requirements apply. Control cabinet manufacturers can select solutions for work preparation and separate the respective production steps; or they can choose the traditional one-piece flow, i.e. one man, one control cabinet. For Christian Dülme that means: “We take the entire value chain of control cabinet manufacturers into consideration and identify ways to optimise individual process steps. This does not necessarily mean that control cabinet manufacturers with the same output require the same solution.”
Sound decisions require key data
Companies who want to improve efficiency in the factory can only do so with the help of key values. Comparable key data can be used to evaluate different workflows. This is the only way to make sound decisions – and not to weigh the pros and cons of each solution based on a gut feeling. Weidmüller' s approach is called Workplace Solutions. It allows control cabinet manufacturers to select the right solution for them: manual, semi-automatic or fully automatic. These solutions are constantly being enhanced in Detmold.
The current focus of attention: Weidmüller's first fully automated solution within Workplace Solutions. It is called ‘Klippon® Automated RailLaser’ and is a system for fully automated marking of pre-assembled mounting rails. Printing each marker individually is therefore a thing of the past, time-consuming downtimes such as breaking out separate markers after printing, assigning the marker to the respective component, further production steps and follow-up costs are avoided. Christian Dülme summarises the time and cost savings that can be achieved: “Depending on the configuration, it takes around 40 minutes to install a mounting rail with a length of about one meter. With our new laser, it takes just five minutes.” This is a huge increase in efficiency, which the Weidmüller expert puts at up to 90 percent. “Of course, this depends on the customer’s throughput.” The use of such a system would certainly pay off if the customer had to print about half a million markers a year.
Semi-automatic cable assembly as a start
The path to full automation is not only sketched out for marking, but also for cable assembly. Weidmüller promises a return on investment of just a few years to those who take the first step and opt for semi-automatic cable assembly. This entry-level solution for full automation promises efficiency gains of up to 80 percent. “This is because it is a digitally controlled process that reduces the probability of errors,” says Christian Dülme, underlining his assessment. “In addition, it is possible to place additional demands on the technician on site and thus achieve a better output very quickly.” Although one may discuss the scale of efficiency improvements on a case-by-case basis, Christian Dülme believes that one thing is undisputed: “The realised efficiency gains are much higher than those of the pure component analysis of earlier years!”
Setting sails in the doldrums
Technical progress is not the only factor that will shape the future of control cabinet construction; a wide variety of factors will have an impact on the industry: Lack of skilled personnel, international competitive pressure, variable batch size production and, of course, digitalisation. The conventional product distribution will quickly reach its limits. This is why control cabinet manufacturers need competent partners to guide them. “We want to offer our customers a compass that helps them to find an optimal path and shows them how to proceed. This path consists of solutions on the one hand and consulting services on the other,” is how Christian Dülme describes Weidmüller's offering. “We therefore offer Connectivity Consulting in addition to classic sales channels. This solutions is based on a team of experienced practitioners from design and control cabinet construction, who are not only familiar with the whole universe of our products, but also offer practical support - for example in design for the integration of digital data or in control cabinet construction for process optimisations with lean management approaches.” In times of full order books and a simultaneous shortage of skilled workers, such consulting services are particularly valuable. For Christian Dülme, the current economic downturn also has benefits. Then it is time to set sail for the future: “Control cabinet builders now have the opportunity to get to grips with their processes again.” His advice: Control cabinet manufacturers should prepare for the future, for the time when the economy recovers. Then, “they will have a completely different scalability and a robust process setup.”
Full automation often leads to less flexibility in production. However, fully automatic solutions combined with corresponding assistance systems promise a viable way of compensating for limited degrees of freedom. The aim is to determine the ideal combination of full automation and assistance systems. “We are working hard on this topic – also together with other companies,” reveals Weidmüller expert Dülme: “Even in the future, there will be no fully automated solutions that are as flexible as humans.”
Full automation in control cabinet construction is by no means just something for the big players. Efficiency has not yet been exhausted across all process steps. The control cabinet manufacturers of the future must continue to optimise their processes. In general, not only new technical solutions matter, but consulting services will be called for too. The focus is in the interaction of solutions.