Dr Durst, what does digitalisation mean for panel building?
Panel building is a project business – with everything this entails. Orders on demand, tight deadlines and last-minute design changes are part and parcel of the job. Currently, panel building is characterised by manual process steps and various forms of media disruption. While construction and engineering is supported to a large extent these days by CAD/CAE tools, in production and assembly, the printed production folder with its assembly and circuit diagrams is often the central document. Digitalisation offers many opportunities to reduce error rates, speed up processes and at the same time lower costs. But automation solutions also bring new demands with them, for example, in terms of component design.
What does that mean for Weidmüller?
Let’s stay with the example of component design. Over the last few decades, the design of components such as terminal blocks has been continuously optimised in the name of achieving the best possible ergonomics and surface feel during assembly. An example of this is the side grips on our W series. Automated assembly on the other hand has different demands, with robots preferring parallel sides due to the ease of gripping. The age of digitalisation has also brought new benchmarks in the area of product data. Whereas factors such as the optimum insertion angle for connectors or the inclination of the marking surface are redundant or fall within the remit of the operator when it comes to manual assembly, marking and wiring, they are critical for robots. In addition, there are also opportunities for additional service offerings, based, for example, on the digitalisation and automation of in-house production. It is very important to maintain a holistic perspective. Automation in panel building is only successful when components, digitalisation and automation technology are all aligned with each other.
What defined product offerings does Weidmüller already have for its customers?
In terms of component design we are already focusing extensively on “ready to robot”. For example, with our new range of terminal blocks, the Klippon Connect A-Series, emphasis was placed from day one on creating external contours that were optimised for robot grippers. The parallel outer surfaces make it easy for robots to grip them. We see ourselves as a leading supplier in the area of product data and we are continuing to expand this. Today, through the eCl@ss standard, we offer our customers as a matter of course relevant data such as the inclination of the marking surface as the basis for automated laser inscription. The “digital shadow” is a reality for Weidmüller. And finally, we have created a completely new service offering with our so-called Fast Delivery Service for ready-to-install terminal blocks and assembled enclosures, as part of Klippon® Services. What is particularly innovative in this regard is the way that integrating this service in the customer process really creates value.
Can you explain the Fast Delivery Service in more detail?
There are four steps to the digitalised and automated Fast Delivery Service value creation chain. In the first step, the customer configures the terminal block or the assembled enclosure they need in our Weidmüller Configurator (WMC), which is embedded in the eCAD system they are using. The WMC offers many different help functions, such as an automatic check on completeness and plausibility. If any relevant accessory is missing, it is added automatically. In the second step, the customer receives a complete offer including all relevant information, within a matter of just a few minutes. Once an order has been placed, an automatic interface transfers the data from the WMC directly into the Weidmüller systems. This provides the basis for the automatic assembly of the terminal blocks or the processing and assembly of the enclosures. Within just four days of the customer order being placed, the ready-to-install terminal blocks are assembled and then dispatched to the customer. Cabinet builders within Germany can carry out practical tests on their configuration after just five working days.
What benefits do customers derive from this?
In short, the process is quick, simple and economical even when ordering single items. The digitalisation of the value creation chain means that ordering is made significantly easier for the customers and time-consuming repetitions are no longer necessary. They receive an automated offer in just a few minutes. The guaranteed delivery time of four days plus transport time for terminal blocks also enables them to integrate this service into their standard processes. There is no need for complex forward planning. By outsourcing these activities, our customers can concentrate on their core business. And rather than having to deal with several articles, the customer only has to manage one article for each terminal block or assembled enclosure. This reduces complexity and warehousing costs. We have received a lot of positive feedback on our Fast Delivery Service.
Dr Durst, what further developments do you envisage going forward?
For sure, we have not yet reached the end of the line for digitalised panel building with our current solutions. Today’s developments are being driven by a few pioneers but demand is growing rapidly in these times of full order books and an ever growing skills shortage. My assumption is that within the next five years, digitalisation and automation solutions for panel building will reach a wider market. As a partner for automated panel building, we help our customers and partners to profit from the individual opportunities that digitalisation and automation offer. How that could pan out is what we will be showcasing on our booth at the Hanover Messe, through a new live application based on the example of intralogistics. Specifically, there will be an automated assembly machine with a conveyor belt, where, based on the WMC, our panel building components from the Klippon Connect range will be used. Weidmüller is “ready to robot”.
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