Today there is still usually a lot of manual work involved in production processes for control engineering and panel construction. At a time when digitalisation is advancing and there is an increasing shortage of skilled workers, new production methods and engineering processes need to be faster, more precise and more cost effective. The increase in the level of automation and the exploitation of opportunities in today's digitalisation approaches offer a huge boost to increase efficiency. In the field of wiring especially, the many manual activities in mechanical cable processing account for a large proportion of working hours. But what does the implementation look like in practice? André Rose of BN Automation AG speaks with Weidmüller about using the Wire Processing Center (WPC).
In particular, cable assembly, wiring and marking activities in panel building are still time-intensive. Even though there are fully-automated systems used for mass production, these usually only pay off with large unit numbers. For the project business of the panel builder, these are rarely worthwhile. Therefore, many companies look for profitable, assisted solutions. As was the case for BN Automation AG from Thüringen, one of the leading engineering companies in the process industry. BN Automation AG specialises in automation, data solutions and IT.
"We had been looking for assisted cable assembly solutions for a long time", explains André Rose, Head of Panel Construction at BN Automation AG and continues, "through various previous projects at our company, we have also created possibilities to advance digitalisation in panel building and to implement it step by step in production."
For that reason, the company has looked very closely at existing systems on the market and their respective advantages. The aim was to simplify the existing processes.
"But we were still lacking a solution for optimising the time-consuming work steps in cable processing", Rose recalls. "The cables were still more or less assembled, stripped and crimped by hand. This is why we were looking for a guided solution that we could use to perform the entire process in one work procedure."
Flexibility is a top priority for us. We need to be able to assemble wires, cables and cross-sections in a short time and between projects. And this is exactly what the WPC offers us.
The Wire Processing Center (WPC) from Weidmüller bridges this gap between full automation and pure manual work – perfectly coordinated components that are housed on a mobile workstation. The WPC connects proven individual components to a modular assembly system consisting of cutting machines, automatic strippers and crimpers as well as industrial printers.
"We were of course already familiar with some of the products, but it wasn't until we visited the Weidmüller stand at SPS – Smart Production Solutions – trade fair in Nuremberg that we saw them used in combination in an integrated solution approach that enables a continuous workflow. It cuts the wire to length, processes it and finally assembles the wire", explains Mr Rose. "It looked really good when we saw it in action at the trade fair. We then took a closer look at the Wire Processing Center – not only at the mobile workstation, but also in particular at the software and the underlying concept of data consistency".
BN Automation AG were also impressed by the flexible options for use: In particular the possibility of using all WPC components in stand-alone mode as well as in their respective individual functions. Even short-term changes, which are common in the project business, can be performed directly on the WPC. The user has total flexibility to switch between pure manual operation and the software-controlled process sequence in the system approach at any time. Depending on the situation, the user can react quickly and with maximum flexibility to the ideal process sequence.
"The results impressed us very early on. Even at a stage when we were not yet using the full capacity of the WPC", comments Rose gladly. "We first tested how to synchronise and evaluate the data: How do you generate the data, can it be edited in the meantime, how can it be modified, in what way and how do I then bring this data to the workplace for processing? Besides working on the WPC being very practical, this is where Weidmüller's solution impressed us from the very beginning – how easily we can move the data around." The software WPC tool guarantees optimal data consistency. In this way, data can simply be transferred from the planning phase to the WPC. Data can be imported directly from EPLAN or CSV files, and can also be entered manually. This data can then be transferred out of the planning software to the WPC directly via the company's internal network or using a USB stick. Before the transfer, the software performs a consistency check of the data, which means that only 100% mature data is transferred to the WPC. The user can easily visualise and filter the orders on a 15" touch screen display. The intuitively operated software on the WPC navigates the user and guides them through the correct processing in the assembly process. This process can be made up to 80% more efficient with semi-automated cable assembly. When the process sequence is started, the cutting machine and the printer are started simultaneously. Rose particularly praised the cooperative partnership: "The colleagues from Weidmüller supported us throughout the entire development process. Naturally there were teething problems but we were always able to solve these together. We could contribute our feedback, which Weidmüller immediately listened to and integrated into the project. We were really impressed by this".
Sebastian Reike, Product Support Manager at Weidmüller who is supporting the project, also emphasises: "This is how we imagine an active cooperation based on partnership. Implementing this customer project was a lot of fun. We are looking forward to taking the next step and completing more projects."
A further advantage of using the WPC is that it has significantly improved the quality of cables that were previously painstakingly assembled by hand. Whether in the morning as work starts or in the evening during the night shift, the quality of the work results can be kept constantly high throughout the entire working day.
"With the introduction of WPC, the processes in production are already much more efficient", adds Rose. "We can plan better with our resources and specialists. With the modern workplace and digitally-guided work steps, we no longer need to involve our experts in cable assembly, but can instead can assign them to more important projects." BN Automation AG is not a series manufacturer of panels – each of its productions is unique. Each one has a different structure – each one contains different components – each one with different types of wires and cables.
Therefore, they were still hesitant at the start, wondering whether such an acquisition would be profitable with non-negligible investment costs. Today BN Automation AG is convinced that it took the right step.
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