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16 September 2019

These days, you can get just about anything online. Want a tasty meal, cooked to your requirements and delivered fast? Yes, you can get that online. But what about a DIN-rail assembly with, perhaps, a side order of a customised enclosure? You can now get those online as well, says Peter Croucher of Weidmüller UK.

Terminals, often lots of terminals, play an important role in virtually every automation project. But, let’s face it, designing and assembling terminal rails isn’t the speediest of tasks. Leading terminal manufacturers have worked hard to make things better, but there’s a limit to what’s realistically possible, so terminals continue to take up a disproportionate amount of time in the design office and on the shop floor.

These issues are made all the more challenging by current market trends, with purchasers of control panels asking for shorter and shorter deliveries, but at the same time expecting increasingly competitive prices. When it comes to terminals, these two demands appear at first to be irreconcilable. It seems that the only way to achieve fast deliveries is to carry a lot of stock so that the terminals needed for a job are always immediately to hand, but on the other hand competitive pricing can only be achieved by running a lean operation, with a minimum of cash tied up in stock!

What’s the solution? As in so many cases, digitalisation provides the answer. A leading terminal manufacturer now provides a service whereby complete DIN-rail assemblies and even small customised enclosures, with or without terminals or other DIN rail mounted components, can be ordered online. They’re delivered in just a few days, ready for immediate use and guaranteed to be correct to specification. Since no further assembly is needed, it really is a case of just connect – for the terminals at least! 

Let’s look in a little more detail at how this online ordering service works and the benefits it provides. At its heart is a configurator, which is simply a small piece of software that the user downloads and installs on their computer. In this particular example, the configurator runs under the Windows operating system and requires only a modest hardware specification and an Internet connection to function correctly. The configurator has full access to complete, accurate and up-to-date information on not only the manufacturer’s terminal products but also a wide range of electronics and automation products and users can work with this to develop their DIN-rail designs. 

Alternatively, they can develop their terminal rail designs in almost any of the popular third-party electrical CAE systems, such as EPLAN Electric P8 or Zuken E3, and import them directly into the configurator. Once such designs have been imported, they can be fine-tuned in the configurator using the manufacture’s detailed knowledge of the available accessories and re-exported back to the CAE system to ensure that the design data is always accurate and current on both platforms. In fact, if the CAE system supports it, the configurator can even supply the data needed for the terminal assembly to be rendered in 3D.

And the configurator is much more than just a passive design tool. It incorporates intelligent wizard functionality that checks the user input, whether this is entered directly or from a CAE system, and makes sure that only permissible configurations are specified. If it finds a mistake, it warns the user and, where possible, suggests a correction. This ensures that, when the assemblies are delivered, there are no nasty surprises because of incorrectly entered or incomplete data.

Users of the configurator can, if they wish, choose to have their rail assemblies mounted within an enclosure, and the enclosure can be customised with cutouts and drillings of almost any shape and size. As further bonus, the configurator can also be used to order fully customised enclosures, even if they don’t include rail assemblies.

Once the configurator user is satisfied with their designs for rail assemblies, enclosures, or both, they can submit them online and receive an instant quotation, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – no need to wait for the sales office to open. If they’re satisfied with the price, the user can then place an order with a few mouse clicks and it will be ready for delivery within four or nine days, depending on the level of service selected. It’s worth noting also that this service isn’t just for quantity orders. Any number of rail assemblies and/or enclosures can be ordered, from one upwards.

So, what are the benefits? The most obvious are that the design process for terminal assemblies is streamlined, which reduces the amount of costly engineering time required, and that the time to build the assembly is reduced to zero, which represents a very significant cost saving, as well as freeing up time for the more complex engineering tasks. 

There are also other benefits. As we’ve seen, the design is checked automatically so that the risk of errors is virtually eliminated, and that most dreaded of problems – forgetting to order a small but vital component like an end plate or cross-connection – simply cannot occur. Equally, there is no over ordering. 

Typically, small components and terminals are supplied in multipacks, which often means a few are left over at the end of the job. In a perfect world, these would be returned to stores to be used on another job, but in reality, they’re likely to be lost or discarded, which is money wasted. With a pre-built assembly, in contrast, there are never any items left over, and users pay only for what they need. 

In addition, the design data is always complete, accurate and up to date, truly reflecting the product as supplied. Last, but by no means least, the service is fast with the rail assemblies and enclosures reliably delivered by the promised dates.

With all of these benefits, why would anyone dive into the kitchen – sorry, workshop – and cook up their own rail assemblies? In reality, it’s hard to think of good reasons. Configured-to-order assemblies and enclosures save time, money and frustration, and the configurator integrates seamlessly with modern digitalised design workflows. It’s not hard to imagine that soon this will be the default way to buy terminals. 

So why not try out the future today? All you need to do is to download the free Weidmüller configurator and you can instantly start enjoying the compelling benefits that we’ve discussed in this article.

For more information you can visit the information website or email on 0845 094 2007.

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