Putting Industry 4.0 into practice

21 May 2019

The new Rittal plant in Haiger represents the company’s largest-ever single investment, enabling it to establish an advanced manufacturing facility for its new AX compact and KX small enclosure ranges. The facility has been designed to embrace the principles of Industry 4.0.

Its highly automated production processes – working in conjunction with the neighbouring distribution centre (GDC) – enables seamless order fulfilment, guaranteeing ongoing availability of standard products and accessories.

“The plant will be fully aligned with Industry 4.0 principles,” said 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.”

In the past, individual steps such as cutting to size, edging, welding and painting were transactional, sequential and independent of one another. The new facility sees workers, machines and materials becoming increasingly integrated into the manufacturing execution system (MES).

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 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.

The new system will involve major changes for the workforce. For example, 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,” said Professor Loh. It is hoped that the new technologies will also bring improvements to the working environment as a whole. The Haiger facility will be quiet, cleaner and more energy-efficient. Waste heat from the new paint shop will be recovered and reused for degreasing components or for heating the factory halls. 

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