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The Magazine

Industrial Automation

Greater flexibility with standard cells

Continental Regensburg will soon be using standard cells in the production of its electronic components. These cells can be easily integrated into a new process and effortlessly adjusted to changing production volumes. TIA Portal is used to program and configure the production process. This reduces engineering effort and makes it easy to parameterize the automation systems.

Modern manufacturing processes differ greatly from those used five years ago. Most production lines have grown gradually and comprise cells from different manufacturers. At the end of a product lifecycle they are normally no longer usable, since they are tailored to a specific process. Until now, that was also the case at Continental, an automotive parts supplier. At the Regensburg plant, the company manufactures engine, transmission, and electrical systems, airbag control units, camera-based assistance systems, sensors, and actuators.

Starting in early 2017, the new Continental production lines at the Regensburg plant will consist of multiple interlinked standard cells. A subprocess is integrated into each of these standard cells. Because the cells feature an integrated design, the processes can be replaced and reconfigured at any time.

Variable interlinking

If a new product requires a different production process, it may just be the cell arrangement that needs changing. As all the cells have the same interfaces for workpiece transportation, the sequencing and interlinking is variable to enable a quick and cost-effective process changeover. If a process changes, it is replaced by another process and the cell can be reused immediately.

"We use cells of different sizes for the various processes," explains Michael Fischer, test engineering group leader at Continental Regensburg. "A nutrunner takes up little space, whereas a dosing unit needs more room as it moves around the cell. The 900 mm, 1200 mm, and 1500 mm cells have capacity for up to five stations, enabling processes to run consecutively. You can be dosing in one station while carrying out a visual inspection in the other, for example."

Flexible from beginning to end

Flexibility is also in demand throughout the entire product lifecycle: "To handle larger quantities, multiple cells and their functions can be configured in parallel and can run automatically," says Michael Fischer. In automotive parts manufacturing, production often starts with low quantities. After the startup phase, the quantities normally increase and only begin to decrease toward the end of the product lifecycle. "That means not all the equipment has to be available right from the start, which would entail a high capital investment. In a staged rollout process, a production line can be fitted with robots during the second phase," Michael Fischer concludes.

Efficient engineering with TIA Portal

What makes Continental Regensburg more flexible is not just the standard components themselves but also the fact that engineering effort has been significantly minimized. In TIA Portal, Continental Regensburg chose a pioneering engineering technology. The decision to use Simatic S7-1500 controllers  and HMI panels from the TIA portfolio, as well as the Engineering Framework, was based primarily on the savings they could deliver in terms of engineering time and cost, as well as their high levels of flexibility for customizing solutions.

Developing the cell automation system operation and control programs is the task of the production equipment software team. Team leader Karl Buckenleib: "The automation parts portfolio and the Engineering Framework enable us to effectively handle complex tasks." Above all, he praises the ease of operation and the shared database.

After just a short startup phase, the increased engineering efficiency when working in TIA Portal became evident for Buckenleib. "We were particularly impressed by the simple integration of the various control modules and components (HMI, safety, RFID, distributed I/O), the SCL programming, the integrated diagnostics, and the easy scalability for our production processes. Another benefit is that TIA Portal is the standard software platform used by our process parts suppliers."

The standard cells enables a lean production and thus represent a step toward Industrie 4.0.
Dr. Markus Fischer, Head of Industrial Engineering, Continental Regensburg



Data for Industrie 4.0

For Dr. Markus Fischer, the head of the Industrial Engineering department at Continental Regensburg, the standard cells enable a lean production and thus represent a step toward Industrie 4.0. "A key aspect is the standardization of data interfaces. It facilitates the transfer of process data to other manufacturing cells and applications such as the production management system."

In his opinion, standardization is also essential so that a manufacturing cell can independently reorder parts form the warehouse and a transport robot can make the delivery. "The standard cell we have developed offers the possibility to generate, collect, and evaluate integrated data via the interfaces. This facilitates functions such as process monitoring, energy management, and preventive maintenance. It enables full traceability of production processes and is important for Big Data," Dr. Markus Fischer concludes.

Picture credits: Siemens AG