Standardization and digitization are the key to success

Control cabinet manufacturers are constantly facing growing challenges – increasingly shorter delivery times are expected while maintaining high flexibility. With the COMPLETE line, Phoenix Contact offers a system consisting of technically advanced and coordinated hardware and software products, intended to optimize all processes in the manufacture of control cabinets.

Ever-increasing technical complexity, production volumes in pieces, with shorter delivery times, growing international pressure from competitors and on costs, a changing demographic with an increasing lack of competence – manufacturers of the control cabinet are more than familiar with these challenges. As in many other areas, it has also become increasingly clear here that challenges of this magnitude cannot be solved by implementing individual measures. It’s time to do a complete overhaul and completely reconsider their processes.

Effective communication is the catalyst

For comprehensive process optimization, it is absolutely crucial that the entire process chain is examined, from the original project idea to commissioning, including all internal areas, suppliers and customers. Communication between all involved areas and actors is crucial. Here, too, digitization offers unparalleled opportunities.

New design and further development of existing products usually begin to take shape properly in the early project phase. This is the crucial moment in the overall process – this is where the course is set. The choice of the products used not only determines the functionality of the application, but also affects purchasing, assembly and commissioning.

The most influential change in the development environment is the efficient use of available data, software and interfaces. Modern CAE planning systems such as those available from e.g. EPLAN, WSCAD and Zuken support electrical planning, documentation and data transfer – which affects all subsequent process steps.

Data is the new gold

Without digitally described products, CAE software cannot function effectively. It can take enormous efforts to obtain or create these data records if it is not possible to access stored data when developing a new product. Depending on which system and which calculation method is used, it can cost thousands of kronor to create master data for a new component. For more complex products such as a control system, it may take a full working day or more to program individual CAE macros.

Digital technology can take advantage of providers that provide all the necessary data records for download in standardized form such as eCl @ ss as well as other commonly used CAE formats. This reduces the time spent researching, creating and maintaining data from several hours or even days to just a few minutes.

After electrical planning, the bill of materials and documentation must be ready, print files must be created for labeling and the products must be ordered. This is as far as the functions of most CAE systems can offer – but with the help of standardized interfaces, additional tasks can be done efficiently.

The planning and marking software PROJECT complete from Phoenix Contact checks the created terminal line and complements with necessary accessories automatically and supports the creation of print files for control cabinet marking.

The connection to the online store means that information about price and delivery time is already available in the planning process and with just a few clicks, basic process steps are completed much faster and errors are avoided.

Lean procurement and logistics

Phoenix Contact also offers a service that will be of interest here: ready-made terminal blocks completely equipped with the individual function each customer wants and delivered as ready-made units – this reduces the costs of purchasing, logistics and assembly for the manufacturer of the control cabinet.

Even when different business and organizational models require different production processes, the effect of the decisions made in the development stage is also clearly felt. Even with manual production of very small volumes, one can take advantage of the possibilities of digitization when digitally controlled workstations use data from CAE systems to quickly and smoothly control semi-skilled workers through the assembly process in the control cabinet.

Workplace based on Pick-by-light developed by Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the laser pointer-controlled control cabinet unit from Blumenbecker GmbH & Co. KG located in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany are just two examples of this. Here, too, digital preparation always occurs before automation.

Impact of standardized products

Control Cabinet Manufacturing 4.0 – ISW (Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units) at the University of Stuttgart conducted a study in 2017 and reported, among other things, that as much as 66 percent of the total time to manufacture a control cabinet consisted of connecting products and as much as 12 percent for marking the control cabinet. Only these two elements illustrate the high optimization potential for well-informed product selection and intelligent workplace design.

Fast, tool-free connection technology allows wires to be connected in record time. When it comes to numbers, in an average control cabinet with 500 wires and 1000 connections, about two hours and a quarter can be saved with push-in connection technology instead of screw connections. With process optimization, the cable processing work is reduced even with small automatic units instead of conventional hand tools and saves an additional two and a half hours per 1000 contacts.

The same also applies to marking of the control cabinet.

Here, process optimization, commissioning, printing and marking process are accelerated if print data is already generated directly from PROJECT complete as part of the development work and the deviation has been reduced to a minimum through multiple use of the same marking material

Summary

This shows how important it is to have a holistic view of the overall process. The foundation for process optimization is laid during development when planning systems and products are chosen. When used efficiently during purchasing, logistics and production, standardization and digitization release potential of varying size along the entire process chain, which in its entirety significantly accelerates the overall process and reduces process costs.

/ Håkan Öbrink, Product Manager ICE Phoenix Contact AB Sweden

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