Automating Control Panel Assembly
Control panel manufacturing is traditionally a labor-intensive process with few options for automation. Most operations are done manually, including engineering and lay out; punching and drilling the back panels and enclosures; cutting, stripping, crimping and labeling the wires; installing the components; and wiring the panels.
Existing engineering documents are often manually modified for new projects, resulting in long quoting cycles. Often, revisions occur during production, and all documentation, such as drawings, schematics, bills of material, 2D and 3D layouts, and various lists and instructions, must be manually revised at once.
Panel manufacturers use various software programs to produce these documents, but these programs are rarely integrated with each other. For example, the schematics may be drawn in a simple CAD system; the bill of material is done in Excel; the 3D model is drawn with Solid Works; and the component pricing resides in an ERP system that has little or no connectivity to the engineering system.
As a result, it’s difficult to maintain revision control among these myriad documents as changes are made to the product. Large amounts of time are spent maintaining the project documents, and the risk of quality errors in the finished product is high.
Building a control panel assembly starts with the following steps:
Manually positioning each component on the back panel.
Measuring, marking and taping their locations.
Punching or sawing holes for the components.
Manually drilling and tapping holes for mounting hardware.
All these steps represent a large amount of labor. Of course, off-the-shelf enclosures are an option, but they can be expensive. And, if the standard enclosure has to be tweaked, that’s an unplanned cost.
The next step is wiring the panels. Traditionally, assemblers are in front of the work, pulling wire from small spools or picking precut wires from a tote. Also at hand are stacks of labels; loose terminals and ferrules; and handheld stripping and crimping tools.
For each wire, the assembler goes through the following steps:
Read and mark the schematics. (The risk of missing a wire or misreading the schematic is high.)
Pull the wire from a reel, cut it, and strip both ends.
Crimp terminals to each end.
Label the wire.
Insert one end, route the wire, and insert the opposite end.
Aside from mechanical assembly, wiring accounts for the largest share of labor in a control panel project and presents thousands of opportunities for error.
New technologies have just been introduced to address each of these challenges. Working together, these technologies could save control panel manufacturers thousands of dollars in assembly costs.
On the engineering side, ECAD P8 and Pro Panel 3D design software from ePlan automate many of the mundane tasks in control panel design, and they output accurate data for subsequent manufacturing processes. The software’s database architecture creates an engineering environment in which all models or documents for a control panel project are simply representations of the same database.
This ensures that any changes made are reflected consistently in all outputs, even when multiple engineers are working on the same project. The software improves continuity in the process chain, ensures consistency in data management, and facilitates engineering workflows.
To produce sheet-metal enclosures and back panels, Kiesling USA has introduced the Perforex CNC machining center. The machine automatically drills, taps and mills sheet metal panels, doors and welded enclosure bodies. It can also drill, tap and mill power rails.
The machine safely cuts coated or painted steel, stainless steel, copper and aluminum. It can also handle synthetic materials, such as Pertinax composite.
The smallest machine, the model BC 1001, can handle flat sheets up to 2,200 millimeters long and 1,500 millimeters wide. It can handle enclosures up to 1,200 millimeters long, 1,500 millimeters wide and 1,200 millimeters tall. The largest, the model BC 2007, can handle flat sheets up to 3,400 millimeters long and 1,600 millimeters wide. It can handle enclosures up to 1,200 millimeters long, 1,600 millimeters wide and 1,600 millimeters tall.
The machine can reduce the cost of control panel production by up to 30 percent compared with manual methods. Because the machine is faster to set up than manual methods, lead times can be shorter. The machine also produces higher-quality holes and cutouts than manual methods—rework is not necessary on painted or stainless enclosures.
For wire preparation, Komax offers a variety of fully and semiautomatic technology. At the basic level, the Kappa line of benchtop machines automatically measures, cuts and strips wire in a wide range of thicknesses.
At the advanced level, there’s the Zeta line of machines, which can automatically measure, cut, strip, mark, crimp, splice, tape, bundle and even insert wires. A Zeta system can automatically process entire kits for wiring up a control panel.
The Zeta 633 can process up to 36 different wires at once without changeover. It can be equipped with eight different processing stations and two ink-jet printers. It selects the wires automatically, cuts them to length, marks them and terminates them. Termination possibilities include insulated ferrules or compacting and solidifying stranded wire ends with ultrasonic or resistance welding.
Wires for back panels or enclosures can be produced and kitted in the ideal order. This optimized order is maintained until the wires are installed in the cabinet, so assemblers can wire up the cabinet quickly and orderly without missing any wires.
With the Zeta 651 or 656, one or both ends of each terminated wire can be automatically inserted into a connector or electrical block—in that same ideal order. If only one end of each wire is inserted into a connector, the Zeta can simultaneously chain-bundle the free ends for easy handling later.
With a fully automated system, panel manufacturers can eliminate the logistical steps of:
Preparing cutting lists from the parts lists.
Preparing wires and terminals according to the cutting list.
Producing single leads with an automatic cutting and stripping machine or an automatic crimping machine.
Stocking the leads.
Selecting specific leads from stock.
To provide engineers with a complete system for control panel manufacturing, ePlan, Kiesling and Komax are working together. Pro Panel can export layout design data to the Kiesling Perforex milling center and the Komax Zeta harness assembly machine. In the software’s 3D environment, engineers can lay out their panel design, align and position components exactly, follow spacing requirements, and automatically calculate wire lengths.
By automating the entire process of designing, machining and assembling control panel manufacture, engineers can cut overall labor time by 30 percent to 60 percent, lower material costs, increase quality, level the load on the production floor, and standardize production processes.
For more information on wire processing equipment, call Komax at 847-537-6640 or visit www.komaxusa.com.
For more information on control panel manufacturing technology, call Van Miller, North American sales representative for Kiesling at 612-282-0727, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.kiesling.net/EN.