Text Barbara Sawka ––– Photography
A wiring schematic spans 320 pages on average, while the average wiring process takes 54 hours – accounting for 49 per cent of the total production time. This is extremely time-consuming for most switchgear manufacturers. It ties up manpower, which means there is plenty of scope for efficiency improvements.
Elpex AG in Kirchberg in the Swiss canton of Bern certainly sees it that way. Founded in 1989, the company manufactures panel building and switchgear solutions for the food, automotive and construction industries and also for mechanical engineering and automation companies. In 2016, Elpex set about modernising its production operations. First came the Eplan Electric P8 and Eplan Pro Panel Professional engineering tools, then a Rittal Secarex AC 15 cutting centre, which helps improve quality, minimise cutting waste, lower costs and speed up the entire process. Elpex increased this speed further still in 2017 by purchasing a Perforex BC 1001 HS. At the beginning of 2020, a Rittal Wire Terminal WT36 (for 36 different cross-sections) joined the team.
WT24 and WT36 versions of the compact, fully automatic wire processing machine are available. They can process up to 24 and 36 different wires respectively, with cross-sections ranging from 0.5 mm² to 6 mm², on a fully automated basis without any changeovers. Cutting wires to the required length, stripping and crimping require no manual intervention. An optional printing system is available that prints in either black or white on the wires.
The controlled classification system optimises the transfer of wires processed in this way to downstream steps. It consists of a 13-box storage system with wire rail magazines and can accommodate up to 1,300 wires. “The user interface is well structured and provides a good overview of the wire currently clamped in the machine. You can also see how much wire is left on the spool,” explains Oliver Hirsiger, who regularly works on the WT36. “And it feels completely different now that everything happens automatically,” he adds.
Wire processing for panel building and switchgear manufacturing applications is eight times faster with the Wire Terminal WT. What’s more, fully automatic production ensures continuously high quality.
Consistent data retention is key to maximising the efficiency of automated workshop processes. The machine has appropriate interfaces for this purpose, which ensures data from construction planning with Eplan Pro Panel can be seamlessly transferred for use in wire processing. Alternatively, this data can also be entered manually, directly on the machine. Although Eplan is used for project planning, data is still entered in the WT36 from an external source.
Automation represents a big step for Hirsiger and his colleagues. “In the past, we either had to do everything by hand or have it done externally. Now, thanks to these three machines, we can do everything ourselves and follow every step along the way,” says Hirsiger appreciatively. His colleague Oliver Curty agrees: “The machines do almost everything themselves!” And he should know, because he uses the Perforex, the Secarex and the Wire Terminal on a daily basis.