The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

New Rittal plant
Innovation – Rittal

Making Industry 4.0 a reality

Manufacturing 4.0. The new plant in Haiger represents Rittal’s biggest investment in its history. It manufactures enclosures that are attuned to all the requirements that come with digital transformation – the new AX/KX series. The highly automated plant itself is also firmly embedded in the entire digital value chain. Here’s a first glimpse into the inner workings of the new production facility.

Text Jan Flegelskamp ––– Photography Michael Koch

Virtually silently, the vehicle rolls through the workshop, with not a driver in sight, or even any kind of remote control. It knows what it has to do and steers itself. Atop the flat transporter sits a pallet of preassembled and wrapped components for a compact enclosure – the new AX. The driverless workhorse carries its load to a roller conveyor leading into the warehouse. Workers repeatedly cross its path and can’t resist gazing at the sight – after all, this is new territory for everyone.

The Rittal plant in Haiger was planned from the ground up on a greenfield site. Completed within just under two-and-a-half years, it is packed full of cutting-edge technology and linked up to the massive Rittal data network. Spring 2019 is ramp-up time for the world’s most advanced plant for compact enclosures.

“We’re getting the machines up to speed just now – networking, coordinating and fine-tuning them,” explains Plant Director Oliver Poth, who has helped to shape the entire construction process. Through the window of his office, he looks out at the completed production line, which churns out 9,000 enclosures a day at full capacity. His eyes brim with delight as he reports just how much data the machines share with one another behind the scenes. “This is Industry 4.0 in action,” Poth declares, visibly proud.

A sign of confidence in Germany

The laying of the foundation stone on 19 August 2016 set the wheels in motion for implementing this ambitious project. Construction work was still underway when the biggest system was integrated – the paint shop, through which every enclosure must pass. This is where they get their robust outer skin, whether in standard grey 70/35 or another colour of choice. More sections were added in April 2018 – logistics and machines.

With the build now completed, the 24,000-square-metre site is home to more than 100 high-tech machines and plant components. The production area is split over two levels and the plant also has a 1,000-square-metre staff area complete with showers and changing facilities, affectionately known as “the rucksack”. Just under 1,000 staff members in total work at the Haiger site – on the production line, in the warehouse, at the logistics centre and in the administration wing.

The people are one of the reasons Rittal has made the biggest investment in its history in Haiger – pouring more than 250 million euros into the new production site and the adjacent logistics centre. Rittal’s decision to build its plant here is a strong vote of confidence in Germany – and indeed the local region of Central Hessen – as a place to do business. Carsten Röttchen, Managing Director International Production at the company, is clear that the outstanding skills and qualifications of the local workforce were a decisive factor. Over the past two years, Rittal has trained 55 members of staff as plant operators here. Even a highly automated plant can’t run without people.

“This is Industry 4.0 in action – networking all the machinery.”


Oliver Poth
Head of the Haiger plant at Rittal

"We operate three shifts when at full capacity,” Plant Director Poth points out. People and machines work hand in hand here to manufacture a new generation of compact enclosures – the AX and the KX. The AX is set to replace the AE, the classic Rittal enclosure, more than 35 million of which have been installed since 1961 on everything from ski-lift stations to container ships. It’s no wonder the manufacturer is already talking about the “neuen Original”.

“We have built this plant to make sure our customers across Europe can get their compact enclosures within 24 hours,” explains Röttchen. “Our thought process starts and ends with the customer – this plant improves the logistics of everything, from configuration and ordering through to delivery.”

 

Modern switchgear manufacturers don’t use compact enclosures the same way they did even ten years ago, let alone 50, when the first AE rolled off the production line. Today, digitalization is the dominant force shaping the environments where enclosures are used and thus switchgear production itself. More electronics call for more cables and wires for networking. “We are expanding the system with the AX, with fewer different parts and more installation space boosting flexibility,” Mr. Röttchen explains.

The improvements made to the product slot neatly into the digital supply chain. Customers can access high-quality 3D data via the Eplan Data Portal as early as the configuration and ordering stage to help create their AX or KX in the Rittal Configuration System. The product’s digital twin takes shape during this process, giving enclosure manufacturers a useful reference resource for their machining systems further down the line.

  • The plant in figures

    The plant in figures

    How much did it cost to build it? How many enclosures can be produced per day? How large is the plant?

    9.000 enclosures

    leave the plant each day when it is running at full capacity. They are sent either to the adjacent high-bay warehouse or out on delivery.

     

    100 high-tech machines

    and plant components were brought into the plant and networked with one another over the course of the process.

     

    24.000 square metres

    is the size of the production area at the new facility. It covers two levels and has an employees’ annex.

     

    1.000 Members

    of staff work at the Rittal site in Haiger, either in the plant itself, the administration department or the Global Distribution Center.

     

    250 Million Euro

    million euros is the sum the company invested in developing and building the new plant and adjoining logistics centre – the biggest investment in the history of Rittal.

     

This digital twin is also referenced in the unique serial number that, along with all other details, is easy to match up to the enclosure thanks to engineering and the QR code. Orders are placed in the Rittal online shop, with the data for the series models immediately forwarded directly and automatically to the Global Distribution Centre (GDC), which is also fully automated. Customers can compare the availability of products while they are placing the order.

“Since the plant is linked up to the entire data flow between the customer, sales, production and delivery, it becomes part of the digital order and delivery process,” Röttchen points out. “That means better availability for our customers.” The machines at the plant are also networked together themselves and are continuously sharing data. While this is essential for current production processes, it also means that artificial intelligence can be used in the future to compare data against templates in real time and anticipate problems before they happen.

“The production system in Haiger means better availability for our customers.”


Carsten Röttchen
Managing Director International Production at Rittal

Hence it isn’t just the products that are new – the production technology itself is also state of the art. Take, for example, the machinery used to process the huge coils that form the basis of each enclosure – it is a composite system comprising a laser cutter and various stamping and stacking processes that work in parallel to manufacture the preliminary product. This speeds up response times. “Thanks to the latest production technology, we are much more flexible and can respond much faster to customer requirements. This futureproofs the plant long-term and ensures the products it manufactures are of a high quality standard,” Röttchen adds.

The automated guided vehicle has now offloaded the workpieces it was carrying and the package is rolling down the conveyor between the various machines, headed for the high-bay warehouse. The transporter, meanwhile, is already on its way to the next job.

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