The series production of switchgear from batch size one involves a high degree of customisation - something that can only be done with the latest IT technology. At Blumenbecker, Industry 4.0 is not just a vision of the future, it has already become a reality. Having access to a centralised data cloud for networked and flexible production stations is therefore a major plus-point. Each sector can now be supplied with the data it needs. The data cloud prevents data redundancies and ensures rapid and transparent knowledge-sharing within the company. Man, machine and software are in constant communication with one another and this helps ensure that each switchgear unit that leaves the factory is of exceptional quality.
In the material logistics department the 'receiving area' registers at least 6,000 products a day from outside suppliers. After being scanned-in with their article number the items are allocated to a specific order, in this case a switch cabinet. The material is then placed in a bin and transported by conveyor belt to a high-bay warehouse unit of four stacking towers, where it is sorted accordingly.
The materials allocation system now uses virtual job cards for the first time. These cards with their QR codes contain the information that the packers need to assemble all the components required for a particular project and then stow them on to transport units. In the case of larger switchgear assemblies this may initially only involve a sub-batch containing the parts for a terminal box, for example. The virtual job card is then affixed to the transport unit before the latter is dispatched to the actual production line.
The sheet-metal processing centre handles around 6,000 different mounting plates, door panels etc. every year. The construction plans for these components are fully digitised. A staff member first scans in the order from the virtual job card and the monitor screen then presents an overview of the parts involved. A push of the button then issues a command to the CNC machine to start processing the sheets. Any tool changes needed are done automatically. All the machined components for a particular switchgear assembly then undergo a visual inspection before being marked for the next production sequence.
The conductor cables to be fitted to the control panels are also produced automatically. The virtual job card is read into the software and the procedures required are transmitted to the processing machine and immediately executed, including the formation of cable sequences and bundles. Process and product monitoring is carried out at the same time.
As each switchgear assembly comprises a number of different function groups – a function group can for example consist of different components such as electric contactors and auxiliary relays – all these components have to be combined together in an appropriate way. The assembly tables used for this operation are set up to the right and left of each operative. Each table is provided with a work surface that is in turn divided up into square zones. Once the virtual job card has been read-in a monitor screen shows how many of these zones are relevant for the particular order in hand. The operative can now pick up any given item from the consignment, scan it in and obtain immediately on the screen, and on the work surface in the form of a flashing red hatched area, clear information identifying the zones in which the item is to be placed. This is then scanned in turn so that the software receives confirmation that the right component has been placed in the right place, which contributes significantly to process reliability. This operation is repeated until a function module has been completed, which is also indicated by a visual signal. A printout of the relevant consumables is then produced automatically.
When all the function modules have been installed and the switchgear has been completed the unit undergoes a sequential switch-cabinet test in the form of a tabular-format inspection cycle. The operative responsible again scans-in the virtual job card that is now affixed to the switch cabinet. Software specially developed for this purpose retrieves the information needed for the cabinet in question from the cloud and loads the required test sequence program, which is then processed step by step. Each inspection stage is also time-monitored and statistically evaluated so that any recurrent errors can be immediately identified and rectified during the production process, if necessary. The results are finally written up in a test report.
As many of the switchgear units produced in Germany are ultimately destined for export it is extremely important for machinery and plant manufacturers to have accurate information on any installed switch-cabinet components that require an export licence. Here too Blumenbecker customers are given valuable support in that each switch cabinet that leaves the Beckum works is checked for licensable components. Where appropriate an automated customs declaration is then made, all export-relevant information is transferred to the customs system, the master data and article numbers are matched with the customs system and a record is kept of the export checks undertaken. As an authorised exporter Blumenbecker has been issued with an AEO certificate (Authorised Economic Operator) for this role.