Digital end-to-end

Digital end-to-end

Industry 4.0 is now a factor in panel building

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The panel builder Westermann in Minden is trying out new ways of digitalising the planning and production of panels. Weidmüller is part of a support network and with its digitalised product data creates favourable conditions for efficient manufacture of panels in a quantity of one.

The core business of Schaltanlagenbau GmbH H. Westermann, which employs around 70 members of staff, is centred around the development and building of panels for the automotive, wood, oil and gas industries. Besides building conventional panels, the engineering department also creates, at its customers’ request, PLC programmes as well as visualisations and takes care of project planning and global commissioning. Furthermore, the Minden-based company has also included distribution assemblies, cable assembly, project planning, programming and complete solutions in its overall portfolio.

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Each panel is usually developed and produced individually for one machine or system«

Heinz-Dieter Finke, Technical Director at Westermann

One-off items are standard

Panels are usually produced as single units. Technical Director Heinz-Dieter Finke explains: “Each panel is developed and produced individually for one machine or system. And if the system only exists once, the panel too is a one-off.” The effort required by its employees to familiarise themselves each time with the circuit diagrams, cabling diagrams, construction plans and documentation of individual components is accordingly high. This situation is made even more complicated by the fact that no shared digital database yet exists for the different stages in the panel’s life cycle, such as electrical construction, assembly, commissioning, testing, delivery and operation.

Digital pilot project

Weidmüller products, such as maxguard shown here, are easy to configure using the WMC. The digital data is available via standardised interfaces for further processing.
Weidmüller products, such as maxguard shown here, are easy to configure using the WMC. The digital data is available via standardised interfaces for further processing.

The Managing Directors of Westermann wanted to put a stop to this situation. Therefore, the company was happy to respond to a pilot project request for the introduction of a digital workflow in panel building in 2015. Uwe Friedrichs, Commercial Director, recalls: “Through the Weidmüller Academy, we were put in contact with the project ‘Digital in NRW – the competence centre for small and medium-sized companies’. This initiative is part of the ‘SME Digital’ funding priority of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.”

Westermann’s research partners include the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechatronic Systems Design and the University of Bielefeld as well as the Software Innovation Campus at the University of Paderborn. The project “Digitalisation in panel building” is supported by an advisory committee that is composed of representatives from different companies, including Weidmüller. They provide know-how for components, software and processes in panel building.

Goal: consistent data

Digital pioneers: Technical Managing Director Heinz-Dieter Finke (left) and Commercial Managing Director Uwe Friedrichs
Digital pioneers: Technical Managing Director Heinz-Dieter Finke (left) and Commercial Managing Director Uwe Friedrichs

The digitalisation project focuses upon two topics. On the one hand, the project partners have developed concepts for data consistency from project planning through to production, which are now being implemented step by step. Uwe Friedrichs: “As part of this project, we have laid the initial foundations for taking a structured approach to digitalisation. We have learned that in future we must involve our customers and suppliers to a greater extent in order to digitalise the processes.”

Wiring the panel was identified as a suitable test field for digitalisation. This accounts for around 50 percent of the effort that is involved in the process. Westermann’s employees have tested the use of tablets in production.

The aim is to no longer print out circuit diagrams but instead prepare them as digital assembly instructions at the workstation. If the data is consistently provided in good quality in future, even more steps can be supported such as the digital traceability of orders. Uwe Friedrichs: “We want to involve all employees. It is important for us to undertake the changes together and to take internal feedback into consideration.”

Together with the other industry partners, Weidmüller contributed towards the extensive practical experience in the assembly of panels. They were able to use the research facilities as a starting point for their process analyses. A project meeting was held at Weidmüller’s offices. With the provision of the digital twin for its products, the Detmold company is creating the conditions for consistent digital value chains. The 3D data of the terminal blocks can be imported directly into the e-design programme.

Interview with the partners of the project “Digitalisation in panel building”

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