The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

Experience – Engineering

Precision second by second

Industry 4.0. Intelligent, efficient and perfectly equipped for the future – to manufacture its new star enclosure, the VX25, Rittal is transforming its Rittershausen plant into a highly networked factory of the future. We visit the visionaries who are driving forward innovations for their customers.

Text Thomas Schmelzer ––– Photography Michael Koch

Carsten Röttchen, Technical Managing Director at Rittal, takes great strides as he leads me through the manufacturing facilities in Rittershausen. To the left of him, sparks fly from the automatic welding systems as the robot gripper arms do their work behind safety glass. On the right, there is the hum of the profiling system presses, punching profiles with millimetre precision into the metres of sheet steel, joined by dozens of castors. Step by step, this creates the stable frame sections of the enclosures.

Röttchen is a happy man. As usual, production is going to plan. And, also as usual, the employees working with the machines are delivering perfect Rittal quality. However, at a certain point during the tour of the factory, Röttchen stands still, looks across the room and says: “In one-and-a-half year’s time, things won’t be the same here.” And he’s right, too.

The reason for Röttchen’s observation is already rolling off the production line – the new Rittal VX25 large enclosure system. This is a logical enhancement of the existing quality – making the best even better. Intensive discussions with customers, a large-scale, scientific usability study and years of development work have all resulted in a completely new product that is based on the proven virtues of its predecessor, the TS 8, and hones these even further.

“For this type of newly developed, ­cutting-edge product, we naturally also needed new production systems,” explains ­Röttchen, while near him the finished steel profiles roll off the line into a container. “We took the opportunity to bring the entire production facilities at the Rittershausen plant up to the very latest standards – making us fit for the future with Industry 4.0.”

Redevelopment during ongoing operations

This is a project that is truly something else. Once the redevelopment work is over, the VX25 will be manufactured in Rittershausen on profiling systems each measuring over 70 metres in length. Thirty of the 70 new welding and handling robots have already been moved into the production facilities. “We’re investing 70 million euros here to manufacture the VX25 with the maximum possible levels of efficiency and quality,” says Röttchen. This is all happening while regular TS 8 production continues unabated. The result is a highly complex redevelopment project that is taking place in the midst of ongoing operations.

To ensure things run smoothly, Röttchen – together with his team and Norbert Peter, Plant Director at Rittershausen – has drawn up redevelopment plans, requested calculations of models and repeatedly worked through the various redevelopment scenarios. Even so, he knows that such projects constantly present fresh challenges in practice. “There’s probably as much chance of everything going to plan as there is of winning the lottery,” he says, laughing.

“We’re committed to driving forward innovation for our customers and we do not stop at anything to achieve this goal.”


Carsten Röttchen
Technical Managing Director at Rittal

Röttchen speaks from experience – he knows all the ins and outs of mass redevelopment processes such as that in ­Rittershausen. Before he joined Rittal, he brought a number of production plants in the automotive industry up to the very latest technological standards. During that time, he amassed a wealth of experience. He says one of the huge challenges in such processes is that the flow of materials constantly changes during a redevelopment phase that lasts a number of years. Furthermore, he adds, adaptations need to be made to the building such as new support structures and alterations to foundations.

That everything is going so smoothly is something that Röttchen and Peter say is first and foremost thanks to the staff. They have always been flexible and willing to do extra shifts at weekends. This is not ­something to be taken for granted, says Röttchen. “It deserves our utmost respect.”

 

Putting Industry 4.0 into practice

In the Rittershausen manufacturing facility, he has now arrived at the point where the old and new systems meet. Two profiling systems stretch out before him – on the left, the old one, and on the right, the new system in power pink. “In principle, the new system works in a similar way to the old one,” explains Röttchen. It, too, punches, rolls, bends and creates robust profiles with millimetre precision from the vast coil of sheet steel for Rittal enclosure frames. Yet, just like the VX25, the new production facilities have also been refined. Hundreds of sensors monitor the manufacturing process. For example, the new flexibility means that rivets are added automatically to the frame section, which is then cut to length and prepared for welding. “And with the sensors, we’re systematically implementing our vision of Industry 4.0 and making our quality control even more efficient.”

When the redevelopment is complete, the entire factory will operate according to Industry 4.0 principles. “We want to introduce a fully automated, fully networked production system here,” says Peter. An ever-increasing number of processes will then run fully automatically and with continuous monitoring – from the customer order all the way to the finished product. The software in the warehouse detects what parts need to be reordered. Thousands of sensors monitor each production step. “As a result, we can eliminate errors and work even faster,” adds Peter.

Europe in 24 hours

Hypernetworking is the logical response to the growing complexity in production. Rittal will shortly be offering a 24-hour delivery service throughout Europe. To keep this promise, each production step in the highly complex value chain needs to be just right. The vision is clear: “If a customer in Italy orders ten VX25 units, our manufacturing execution system here in Rittershausen is notified directly and fully automatically and then starts production autonomously,” says Röttchen.

The networked and intelligent machines automatically know when they require maintenance and send appropriate signals. This works because an artificial intelligence system in the background continuously evaluates data from the sensors, thus optimising both production and maintenance.

The employees at the Rittershausen plant are the key support for this change. They continually learn how the new systems work and how they can be controlled. The relevant further training sessions are booked solid for weeks ahead. More than 250 people have registered already, says Peter. “Anyone wishing to do further training with us enjoys the best conditions,” he explains.

For customers, the Rittershausen transformation project offers two-fold benefits – the optimised product and the innovations in production. Tracking where exactly a VX25 order is in production at any given moment will soon be as normal for them as the enclosure’s tailor-made quality. “We’re committed to driving forward innovation for our customers,” says Röttchen, adding: “and we do not stop at anything to achieve this goal.”

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