With 50 years of experience in industrial automation, W. Althaus AG specializes in the development of individual solutions for industry. A full-service enterprise, the company offers a comprehensive solution package comprising a wide range of services in concept and system consulting, software and hardware engineering, switchgear construction, assembly support, commissioning and training.
Even today, production in control engineering and switchgear construction involves a lot of manual work. However, W. Althaus AG uses automation in its production to the highest degree. Data based on a virtual prototype created in engineering is automatically made available for production integration. This forms a basis that makes single-batch and just-in-time production possible. The advantages of these automated processes for customers are clear: shorter planning and assembly times, greater procurement security, consistently high quality of workmanship, resource conservation through reduced material usage and cost savings from more efficient value-added processes.
One example is that routing for the cable assembly is implemented directly from the CAE system (Figure 10). All the data is already available in electrical planning and virtual prototyping; it is used to directly control fully automatic machines for cable assembly. The result of this is completely automated creation of wire bundles with a connection for direct installation in the switchgear.
The company also relies on automation for machining the metal parts of the control cabinet. The data for machining housing parts such as cabinet doors, side panels, roof panels or mounting plates is also generated directly from the CAE system and can then be used directly on the modern machining centers as production data, for example, for laser cutting technology.
Alongside cable assembly and metalworking, mounting clamps on top-hat rails and the subsequent labeling is another labor-intensive production stage that still requires a lot of manual work. W. Althaus AG has also completely automated these processes with its in-house development of a terminal fitting machine (images 8 and 9). This machine automatically cuts the top-hat rail to size and has a loading arm that removes the appropriate clamp from a magazine, prints it with a laser marking system and then snaps it into place on the top-hat rail. The machine also works directly with the data from the CAD project.
The final testing of the switchgear was also automated with the development of a proprietary, universal test system (image 11). Testing against valid standards and regulations is about 60-80 percent faster with the automatic test system compared to a conventional, manual test, and on top of the time savings, the automated test procedure also boasts greater reliability.
The many optimizations that W. Althaus AG has implemented in recent years have turned it into one of the most modern control systems producers in Switzerland, if not in the whole of Europe. The additional optimizations along the process chain have achieved an efficiency gain of around 20 percent in the past two to three years in manufacturing alone. The next automation step is already being implemented and is focused on automated wiring.
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