A digital transformation
A new 250 million-euro Rittal plant in Haiger is embracing the principles of Industry 4.0. It represents the company’s largest-ever single investment, which the company claims will enable them to establish the world’s most advanced manufacturing facility for its new compact and small enclosures. Smart Machines & Factories reports.
The plant’s highly automated production processes – working in conjunction with the neighbouring distribution centre (GDC) – enable seamless order fulfilment, guaranteeing ongoing availability of standard products and accessories.
Rittal says it is putting Industry 4.0 theory into practice. The provider of solutions for enclosures, power distribution, climate control and IT infrastructure (as well as corresponding software and services) is creating a smart factory which the company claims will become the world’s most advanced production plant for compact and small enclosures:
“The plant will be fully aligned with highly efficient Industry 4.0 principles,” states Professor Friedhelm Loh, Owner and CEO of the Friedhelm Loh Group. “The new manufacturing site will also safeguard future competitiveness for our customers and our own business. The total investment of 250 million euros is a positive statement in terms of the regional economy and the 290 jobs at our Haiger plant. We have quite consciously decided to proactively shape the future with the local people who made us what we are today.”
The new factory halls cover 24,000m2 of floor space and will soon house more than 100 high-tech machines. Around 9000 AX compact and KX small enclosures will be manufactured every day, processing approximately 35,000 metric tons of steel annually.
Manufacturing in a smart factory
The equipment will be highly automated, producing individual items which are then assembled with exceptional efficiency.
In the past, individual steps such as cutting to size, edging, welding and painting were transactional, sequential and independent of one another. In the new era, all workers, machines and materials will be increasingly integrated into the manufacturing execution system.
At the end of the process, the individual assemblies are automatically merged and a QR code is applied, for easy identification and onward processing by the customer.
Both the machines and handling systems communicate with each other and with higher-level control systems via modern industry 4.0-capable communication networks.
Materials and components will be moved using 20 automated, guided vehicles. Packaging, marking and transfer to the distribution centre are managed automatically. Knowledge-based “learning” systems will enable predictive maintenance, preventing faults from occurring and minimising downtime.
Automated order management and fulfilment will guarantee the ongoing availability of standard products and accessories in the nearby global distribution centre, creating an end-to-end digital process chain – from configuration and engineering on the part of the customer, to shipment of the end-product.
A new world of work
The new era of industrial manufacturing will also usher in major changes for the associated manpower.
There will be fewer strenuous manual tasks, such as lifting and carrying; instead, the focus will shift to controlling, monitoring and fine-tuning processes.
“The expertise and capabilities of experienced employees are one of the keys to the success of smart factories: systems can only learn and gain intelligence if they are taught systematically by humans,” explains Professor Loh.
Rittal highlights that it proactively develops the digital skills of its workforce through training courses held at the Loh Academy.
The new technologies will bring improvements to the working environment as a whole. The Haiger facility will be quiet, clean and energy-efficient. For example, waste heat from the new paint shop will be recovered and reused, e.g. for degreasing components or for heating the factory halls. Efficient use of water is also a high priority. Process water is managed within a closed-loop system, where it is cleaned and reused.
Digital value creation
Rittal will be manufacturing its new AX compact and KX small enclosures at the new plant. Digital transformation has created new challenges in terms of the products themselves, the operating environment, and its availability. Rittal has therefore rethought and redesigned this offering inline with the imperatives of Industry 4.0.
The company provides effective support for the entire value chain for the production of panels and switchgear, from engineering to ordering to automation. Its digital product twin delivers high-quality data for the entire design, configuration and manufacturing process. This approach for the new AX and KX range echoes the successful launches of the Blue e+ cooling units and VX25 large baying enclosures.
The Haiger facility is a pilot for the real-world implementation of Industry 4.0 and will act as a role model for Rittal’s international operations.
The company says it will also be a pioneer and reference for its own products and services in terms of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Blue e+ cooling units further increase energy efficiency and are integrated into the monitoring and energy management systems via the IIoT interface. The entire machine park permanently provides data from the control system and the current operating states.
Production systems in the new factory deliver an on-going source of actionable data on their operational status. In future, this information will be collected by an on-site edge data centre and analysed using powerful applications developed by sister company Innovo.
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