Problem Solved: Control Panel Manufacturing Gets Automated

By Contributed Article | November 11, 2013

Problem Solved: Control Panel Manufacturing Gets Automated

As our economy rebounds, demand for electrical control panels is on the rise to meet the growing infrastructure needs of businesses such as telecommunications, industrial, commercial, and housing. Yet, today’s control panel manufacturing often remains labor intensive: Engineering, laying out the panel, punching and drilling the back panels and enclosures; cutting wire to length, stripping, crimping, and labeling the wires; installing the components; and wiring the panels. Plus, existing engineering documentation is often manually modified for new projects, resulting in long quoting cycles. Then revisions occur during the build cycle and all panel documentation such as drawings, schematics, bill of material, and 2D and/or 3D layouts, in addition to a wide variety of manufacturing lists and instructions, must be simultaneously and manually revised. The process is slow and subject to errors with each revision.

Recently, leading Midwest manufacturers of control panels have become aware of a completely different system from several integrated vendors that truly coordinates all parts of the process, such as schematics, bill of materials, component pricing, 2D and 3D layouts, machining, wire processing, and more.

This new solution for control panel manufacturing is the result of teamwork between Komax Wire, ePlan Software and Services, and Kiesling Maschinentechnik. E-Plan’s Pro Panel software takes the layout design data and exports the information to a Kiesling Perforex machining system, then delivers it to the Komax Zeta automatic wire harness processing machine. In this coordinated 3D environment, a manufacturer can lay out a design panel, align and position components exactly, follow spacing requirements, and automatically calculate and process wire lengths.

The benefits of such a system include:

  • Time savings of 30% to 60% overall
  • Material cost reduction
  • Increase in quality
  • Faster turnaround
  • Production-floor load leveling
  • Production process standardization

On the engineering side, software such as the ECAD P8 from ePlan Software and Service, in combination with the Pro Panel 3D control panel design software, allows the user to automate many of the mundane tasks involved in control panel design and also produce accurate data for the ensuing manufacturing processes, so engineers can use their time to engineer.

For the preparation of the control enclosures and back panels, CNC machining centers, such as the Perforex machine developed by Kiesling Maschinentechnik, are designed for the automated modification of off-the-shelf industrial enclosures as well as drilling and tapping the associated component mounting panel. The Kiesling Perforex system is designed to work on both flat work pieces like mounting panels, doors, and modular surfaces as well as all surfaces of three-dimensional welded enclosure bodies.

For the wire preparation component, the Zeta 633 from Komax Wire is used to measure, cut, and strip the wire to length for wire kits suitable for panel wiring. The Zeta can process up to 36 different wires (without changeover) and can be equipped with up to eight different processing stations and up to two inkjet printers. It selects the wires automatically, cuts them to length, inkjet marks, and terminates them. In addition to standard termination, possibilities can include insulated ferules or compacting the wire ends with ultrasonic or resistance welding. Chain and normal bundle can be defined for each wire in the same sequence. The wires for back panels or enclosures can be produced and kitted in the ideal order.

Traditionally, for wiring the panels and enclosures, wiring assemblers stood in front of the work with several small wire spools or pre-cut wire, unorganized and laying in totes; they also had stacks of labels or a hand-label unit, loose-piece terminals and ferrules, plus hand stripping and crimping tools. They would go through the following steps for each wire:

  • Reading and marking the schematics for the wire they will assemble, with the high possibility of missing lines on the schematic
  • Pulling the wire from one of the reels, stripping to approximate length, then crimping with (hopefully) the correct hand crimper, and labeling one end
  • Inserting that end, routing the wire and repeating the above for the second end

As you can imagine, the above steps, performed after the mechanical assembly is complete, account for the largest share of labor hours and present the manufacturer with thousands of opportunities for error.

The Komax Zeta 633/656 solution also has the capability for automatic insertion into spring-loaded terminal blocks with pull-test verification to make sure the wire is locked into the terminal block. The result: The optimized order is maintained until the wires are installed in the cabinet, meaning the cabinet is wired quickly and in an orderly manner, making missing wires a thing of the past.

This solution is best suited for high-mix, low-volume production common in the manufacturing of control panels. Modules can be custom-configured along the entire length of the machine, and if needed, the machine can be expanded for up to 13 processing stations.

If electronic data is available for all wire processing applications, including cable length, marking, and cable-end processing, the production data can be directly imported over a network, from a database or ECAD system such as EPLAN. If the data is not available in an electronic form, it can be programmed quite conveniently with standard machine software. The manufacturer can also archive relevant quality processing data and ensure traceability at all times.

For more information on this case study, email [email protected].

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