Switchboards may seem like simple products, but in reality, they are very sophisticated pieces of equipment to design and assemble. Switchboards have a complex value chain and are often unique, making standardization difficult.
Complexity aside, Power Equipment Manufacturers (PEMs) are required to build switchboards that can withstand harsh environments and drive critical assets in their customer’s facilities. Additionally, switchboard requirements impose a high level of mechanical and automation expertise. This highly competitive environment puts considerable stress on lead time commitments and margins. In short, the power equipment manufacturer’s job is not an easy one.
Because switchboards represent a combination of electrical and mechanical manufacturing, finding skilled labor to build these complex products can be a daunting task. With skilled labor in short supply, the challenge for Electrical Original Equipment Manufacturers (EOEMs) has never been greater. Time to market is critical, and any delays in the process add cost.
Traditionally, most switchboards are built using AutoCAD software, which is a graphical design tool used for drafting schematics. Despite its widespread use, the 2D process is time-consuming, inflexible, and prone to human error.
Now there is a better way to save time and automate the process. SEE Electrical 3D Panel+ is a 3D solution for switchboard design and manufacturing. It bridges the gap between the schematic design and manufacturing of the electrical cabinet or switchboard by providing professional-grade 3D electrical engineering tools and exporting the key manufacturing outputs for shop floor associates and processing machines.
SEE Electrical 3D Panel+ optimizes your cabinet’s design and manufacturing in the following ways:
Further, it’s the only tool on the market to configure Universal Enclosures from Schneider Electric. It operates as autonomous software (independent from electrical CAD software) or as a SEE Electrical module.
Currently, the majority of PEM shops in North America are doing all their design work in 2D using an AutoCAD tool to generate architectural drawings. But in the design process, many variables can come into play, such as designing heat dissipation zones around a particular component.
“These are the things that customers don’t necessarily think about as they go through the design process,” Brinckhaus says. “They’re just going really quick—they have a deadline and they don’t consider that maybe they didn’t spec it out properly. Then they get a phone call from the shop floor, and they’re informed that now there’s not enough space for heat dissipation. So, they have to re-engineer the whole thing and the panel won’t fit because the place that they sized it for is no longer the right size. And that just creates a whole bunch of dilemmas. With the 3D software, a problem like this can be easily remedied.”
As a PEM places his rails and wire ducts, or even a part like a DMD, or the power supply on his back plate, the 3D system automatically generates the drilling pattern, which can then be exported to the enclosure manufacturer, says Dave Lewandowski, a senior account manager for IGE+XAO, a technology partner with Schneider Electric.
This contrasts with pre-cutting and pre-drilling back plates, a process which does not account for variations in design process as it reaches the shop floor.
“Using the 3D software from SEE Electrical, the customer doesn’t have that problem,” Lewandowski says. “Instead of having somebody on the shop floor with a tape measure, masking tape and a sharpie to identify the drill pattern, they can use a plotter printer. When I explain this to customers they are blown away.”
Sergio Brinckhaus, Director of Technical Services for IGE+XAO, says PEMs spend a lot of time on verification and dealing with errors. Essentially, SEE Electrical Panel 3D + creates a digital twin of the schematic, thereby streamlining manual tasks and eliminating errors.
“Time equals money. But if all you’re doing is spending money because you’re paying somebody’s hourly rate to do manual tests, that cost adds up,” Brinckhaus says. “I went to a power equipment manufacturer’s shop, and they have a labeler, and they were putting labels on the wire one by one. When we show them what the tool can do, which is export all the labels, and then import it into the labeling machine, they can’t believe it.”
The wiring phase accounts for 49% of a panel project. Digitization can assist in reducing the total time while improving overall project quality. With a fully digital design process, the digital twin can be fed with all the data that is required to create the proper manufacturing outputs and documentation.
SEE Electrical 3D Shop Floor is a mounting and wiring assistant dedicated to shop floor tasks. Mounting validation helps follow teamwork and ensures time savings as well as consistency in panels series assembly. Wiring can be auto-generated during the design stage and fed into the digital twin. This data can then be used to automate the wire cutting, stripping and crimping process, reducing time spent on this stage by up to 80%.
“Using the 2D method, problems can pop up between the schematics that have been sent out to be wired on the shop floor where somebody is using a yellow highlighter pen on a schematic full of coffee stains,” Brinckhaus says. “And they’re trying to make heads or tails of it. And then when it gets delivered, the wire numbers are wrong. So, it’s not wired properly, and it doesn’t coincide with the schematics. This causes a lot of extra time, and the cost for the person that you’re paying to fix this or check it can really add up.”
With the skilled labor shortage and pressure to meet project deadlines, it’s no wonder that PEMs are looking for ways to reduce their costs.
“You really can’t cut your bill of materials (BOM) cost because you need high-end material,” Brinckhaus says. “The best thing to do is cut on time, and using these tools is exactly how you do it.”
Another plus of creating a digital twin with SEE Electrical Panel 3D+ is that it allows for flexibility in the design process.
By taking a comprehensive look at each step of a control panel project’s lifecycle, it’s clear there are many benefits offered by digitization. An initial investment, or at least a slight change of habits, must be made during the tendering and the engineering phase by deploying a digital process in which the customer, the tendering office, and engineering participate. Using this approach, one can efficiently create the exact replica of the switchboard to be built (e.g., the digital twin.)
By feeding data into it, you can manage many of the risks that can occur in the project’s lifecycle, and therefore increase quality and competitiveness. By reducing the time spent in the manufacturing stage by up to 49%, companies are better prepared to face the current labor shortage.
The next step should be to evaluate which toolset can be deployed to achieve these goals and enter the realm of automation offered by the industry 4.0.