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ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING Electrical engineering for special machinery: Standardised electrical designs into new markets

Mar 8, 2021

Schaeffler Sondermaschinenbau – a specialised machinery construction company – uses EPLAN platforms to standardise electrical designs across its plants in various location. Schaeffler focused on offering customised production solutions to its customer in which software plays a significant role. The article focuses on how EPLAN - EPLAN software and service solutions provider in the fields of electrical, automation and mechatronic engineering – helps Schaeffler customise and standardise while structuring principles and reference designations for industrial systems and helping Schaeffler position itself in the external market.

Schaeffler Sondermaschinenbau, a company focused on specialised machinery construction, standardises its electrical designs across its numerous locations and relies on the EPLAN platform to get the job done. A specialised machinery company with 1700 employees at 13 locations ranks amongst the big players in machine building. However, what’s unusual is that until now it has been serving (almost) only one customer – implying that it must be a client with a major international brand.

Special machinery construction with 4500 projects a year

That is indeed the case. The company in question is Schaeffler Sondermaschinenbau, which develops customised machines and plant systems for the entire corporate group; the Schaeffler Group has around 84,200 employees at 170 locations worldwide and a turnover of €14.4 billion (2019). For this integrated, globally active automotive and industrial supplier, Schaeffler Sondermaschinenbau focuses on assembly systems and testing technology for production lines.

Overall, the special-purpose machine division realises the majority share of the corporate group’s in-house production equipment. Among the most recent highlights are the development and realisation of complex assembly and testing lines for automotive hybrid modules and new electric axle drive systems. And these are just two of around 4500 projects that this Schaeffler division handles annually.

High degree of manufacturing expertise

The remarkable depth of development in production technology has a long tradition at the company. In 1960, brothers, Dr Georg and Dr Wilhelm Schaeffler initiated the founding of a ‘Department for Production Equipment’, which still contributes to its success. As a tier 1 supplier for the automotive industry, the company develops and manufactures very complex products, such as roll stabilisers, 48-volt drive systems and electric axle modules, all of which are produced to the highest quality standards and under intense cost pressures. A high level of manufacturing expertise is a major advantage here. Around 60% of Schaeffler Sondermaschinenbau’s 1700 employees around the globe work in development and design for individually customised production solutions for their customers. Today, the software is also playing an increasingly important role; IT production solutions are programmed for almost all automated assembly technology projects, and the know-how goes much deeper. For instance, the developers created an app for condition monitoring to increase productivity and system availability in demanding production environments.

Opening to external clients

Until recently, the company had designed and released almost exclusively in-house projects for the corporate group – and had plenty to do, as the 4500 projects annually demonstrate. Now, the division will be making its know-how accessible to outside customers. Bernd Wollenick, Director, Schaeffler Sondermaschinenbau, mentioned, “We are opening up new fields of activity and customer target groups.” The focus is on assembly and testing systems as well as processing machines for grinding and honing in combination with product knowledge in the areas of robotics, vision & handling systems and production IT.

Standardising the electrical designs – With EPLAN

This opening up outside the group was just one of the factors driving the standardisation of the electrical design software at the various company sites, such as in Erlangen and Bühl, Germany, and Taicang, China, which is developed in its own way. These locations – and others as well – work with EPLAN platform but use it differently. The goal is to overlay a globally standardised electrical design based on EPLAN. A project team of key users is responsible for the task. Stefan Vietz, an electrical design engineer in Erlangen, said “We are developing a common, harmonised infrastructure on the EPLAN platform, which will enable us to collaborate worldwide. It allows us to utilise our capacities in the best possible way and increase the flexibility at the development sites.”

Code-compliant templates, macros with enriched data

During the standardisation process, the team oriented itself to global codes and norms, particularly EN 81346: structuring principles and reference designations for industrial systems, installations, equipment and industrial products. Sascha Jäger, EPLAN Key User in Bühl, asserted, “We developed codecompliant templates that every employee can understand, including everyone in manufacturing.” Basic information, such as equipment identification and plant/location assignment, are normed, and device management has also been standardised. And it goes without saying that every component is also stored in the ERP system with all its relevant data.

To simplify the design, the team created macros for frequently used devices with a clear goal in mind. “We assigned each device a data set that is as comprehensive as possible. It makes manufacturing easier,” Jäger explained and continued, their maxim, “Whoever needs data – whatever type is required – should get it.” This is taking place against the background that, in the future, more and more external customers will be requesting data, for instance, for preliminary acceptance of systems. Standardisation on the device level also leads to components that can interconnect with a minimum effort. So, for example, a customer chooses a controller or an electric motor from another manufacturer, it’s not a problem. Jäger explained, “The devices are simply swapped out and all of the data of the new components is used.”

3D designs for control cabinets being rolled out

In Bühl, Germany, Schaeffler is already using EPLAN Pro Panel to create three-dimensional designs of the production systems’ control cabinets. In the future, Pro Panel will be used worldwide since its advantages for the company are quite clear. Jäger gave an example, “If the designer places a frequency inverter onto a mounting panel, the drilling pattern is automatically stored, and the data can be transferred to a Perforex system as a DXF file. This saves time in both design and production.” So, end-to-end data continuity is an issue – and when Rittal enclosures are used, this is reflected not just in the enclosure layout but also in the climate controls with Rittal Therm.

Next steps: Automated routing and eView

The next planned steps include transferring the data from the Pro Panel to external wire fabricators. “We then receive labelled wires with conductor end sleeves or finished wire sets. This also saves time and is very efficient, especially for projects using the American UL standard,” Vietz stated.

Right now, the key users are testing the use of EPLAN eView as support, for instance, during commissioning. Jäger mentioned, “The production department or the commissioning technician can call up the schematics on a tablet computer and use a jump command to view the details directly. Then you no longer need to print out the schematics, and the latest data is always at hand.”

Listing additional advantages of Eplan eView, Vietz noted, “The commissioning technician can use the redlining function to mark where they’ve made any onsite changes directly. And three or four commissioning technicians can work on a system at the same time and always have the same documentation status in front of them. This also facilitates communication with the programmers – and not just during commissioning.”

On the right track to market success

Two years after the project’s start, the key users don’t yet think they’ve reached their goals but they’re definitely on the right track. Major steps towards standardisation have been completed. Schaeffler Sondermaschinenbau has positioned itself on the external market, and the first systems have already been delivered to customers outside of the Schaeffler Group.

Courtesy: EPLAN Software & Services

Image Gallery

  • The three-dimensional control cabinet design with Eplan Pro Panel is already being used at some locations. All locations will be working with it in the future.

  • The benefits of eView: the production department or commissioning engineer can call up the schematics on a tablet computer and use the jump command to view details directly

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