This story is also available from: Advanced Manufacturing

Increases in order size and quantity led Wisconsin-based auto parts manufacturer Felss Rotoform to expand operations through a new dual robot machine-tending cell.

The continuous process improvement goals of the company, meant that the new cell had to be safer, faster and more flexible than their previous manufacturing cells. To address the complex nature of the automation, Siemens was contacted due to their track record in innovation and unique expertise in integrated robotics and control technologies.

They weren’t disappointed. Six months after approaching Siemens and systems integrator VMRA, Felss Rotoform found themselves operating a digitalized, integrated manufacturing cell that was quickly breaking productivity and profitability records. The results include:

  • Production increase - Felss Rotoform’s initial goal was a 48-second full cycle turnaround time for each individual part in the new cell (far faster than any of their older cells). The innovative design and implementation of the VMRA and Siemens solution sped the complete part production process up to 38 seconds , an improvement in efficiency of 20 percent.

  • Profitability gain – According to Chad Due, Electrical Controls Engineer at Felss Rotoform, “This new cell can produce in two shifts what would previously take three to accomplish. This allows us to produce 600 additional parts over a 24-hour period. In addition, profitability for the cell has increased by 13 percent.”

  • Downtime reduction - Once the new cell was implemented, downtime went from days to hours for complex changeovers and, for typical scheduled changeovers, what used to take eight hours to perform now takes just 15 minutes.

Siemens and VMRA Automation Integration

How It Was Achieved: Unique Integration Skills Partnered with Innovative Technologies

While reviewing requirements for their next generation robotics cell, Felss Rotoform had several goals. First, they wanted to boost productivity by deploying new high-speed PLCs to achieve shorter full-cycle turnaround times for each individual part. Second, they wanted to explore a more advanced safety solution that assured better control of who was entering the cell. In the older cells, a machine could accidentally be turned on when a maintenance person was present in the cell, placing that individual at risk for injury. To avoid this, Felss Rotoform wanted an automated process to guarantee the cell was vacant once the cell was restarted.

Third, they wanted more flexibility for cell changeovers, which would allow them to test and provide a more diverse product range for its customers. The older cells required the entire cell be reprogrammed each time a new process was performed, which could take days to execute.

These goals set the bar high for Siemens and VMRA, but the pushing the performance envelope is exactly what drives both companies. According to Kyle Weise, VMRA marketing director “VMRA and Siemens are both always looking outward for the next level of digital manufacturing to help our customers improve productivity and shorten time to market, which enables them to be more competitive.”

Richard Parkhurst, Siemens Account Manager, knew VMRA would be strongly positioned to accomplish Felss Rotoform’s goals. “Some integrators perform strictly software development and others are more skilled at building and assembling the hardware. VMRA brought a combination of all of the necessary skills and expertise including robotics and safety engineering capabilities,” he said.

VMRA recognized Siemens products were critical in helping Felss Rotoform achieve their goals by providing the speed, reliability, flexibility, and safety required. For example, an Ethernet-based Siemens PROFIsafe digitalized communications backbone was designed into the cell to control machine and perimeter safety. Safe communication is provided between the various PLCs and robots. PROFIsafe relays status information from the devices inside of the cell to the main PLC and provides a big advantage over older technology because both standard and safe communication take place via a single bus system. This avoids cumbersome, hard wired I/O, as a single Ethernet cable is all that is required to transfer update data. Instead of having to run physical wires, the data update task can be accomplished through a configuration in the TIA Portal. Thus, the PROFisafe system is easy to run and connect, which reduces commissioning overhead, and easy to modify if changes need to be made.

All sensors and actuators within the PROFIsafe solution can be freely programmed within the distributed safety concept, regardless of their I/O station. This flexibility allows operators to switch off actuators selectively . Other advantages include failsafe communications, advanced diagnostics and hot swapping capabilities which help to reduce downtime.

Siemens SIMATIC S7-1500 PLCs, with built-in PROFINET interface, also played a major role in increasing operational speeds. The high-speed backplane bus with its high baud rate and efficient transmission protocol yields a crucial performance advantage over non-Siemens equipment for fast signal processing.

Another unique feature is that the HMI development tool (WinCC) is built in, making it easy to cross-reference tags from the PLC to the HMI. Simple tasks like renaming a variable in the PLC won’t break its connection to the HMI, which happens in other programming environments. “I really can’t over-emphasize how huge an improvement TIA Portal is over every other PLC development environment I’ve used, and I’ve used all the big ones,” he said.

Fast Testing & Traceability

Felss Rotoform immediately saw benefits beyond their core goals. Big automotive manufacturers are always looking to test new products. They count on their suppliers to assist them in the testing process. Those suppliers who are the most responsive in the testing phase are often rewarded with new business. The new VMRA and Siemens manufacturing cell was designed with product testing in mind. It can run six different new parts numbers in a week, which takes an entire month on another cell.

For manufacturers like Felss Rotoform, traceability plays a key role in reducing operational costs. The new cell is also much more advanced in its ability to trace potentially defective parts. If the production of a defective part can be traced to a specific time or machine, then the issue can be quickly isolated and the problem solved before any significant replication occurs. If a defective part is shipped and found by the customer, it could mean a return of an entire shipment. Sending out defective parts can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues.

Next Step: Grow The Digitalized Applications

The success of the VMRA-integrated Siemens solution prompted Felss Rotoform to invite VMRA and Siemens to participate in future automation and digitalization-related projects. Kyle Weise says the partnership with Siemens has been fruitful and unique. “When we partner with Siemens we don’t just buy a component and then it’s ‘on us’. Our strong technological relationship includes comprehensive training, technical capabilities and ongoing support of Siemens, which makes a big difference and is critical for project success.”

In addition, the new system will incorporate predictive analytics to send an alert to the master control of a cell to indicate potential issues. “The new system tells you what needs to be replaced and what type of part the system needs. You scan the part before you install it and it tells you whether it is the right part for that machine,” said Vancina. Felss Rotoform looks to Siemens and VMRA to advance their digital manufacturing with solutions like better maintenance tracking and predictive analytics, that enable them to be more competitive.

To learn more about how Siemens manufacturing automation solutions can help digitalize operations and boost operational efficiency contact VMRA.

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