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W. Althaus AG: Automation in panel building and switchgear construction

There is still much room for improvement in panel building and switchgear construction. W. Althaus AG, based in Switzerland, has scrutinised and automated every process as far as possible. What made their strategy so successful was the consistency of the data along the entire process chain – from engineering, through production and up to including testing. Rittal systems were instrumental in supporting W. Althaus AG because they helped to ensure maximum data availability.

“Due to the additional optimisation opportunities along the process chain, we have achieved an efficiency gain of around 20% in production alone over the last two to three years.”
Walter Althaus, owner of W. Althaus AG

Completeness of data is paramount

In hardware engineering, the solution is first developed that is used to ideally implement the customer’s requirements. Electrical planning is performed using Eplan’s Electric P8.

Following electrical planning, the experts at W. Althaus AG create a virtual prototype enclosure in Eplan Pro Panel. The quality of the prototype depends largely on the availability of data for all the components used. This data must also include mechanical dimensions, electrical connections and commercial information. The data can be downloaded most easily from the Eplan Data Portal, which currently includes around 480,000 article and device data records from over 60 well-known manufacturers, directly into the local Eplan database at Althaus. Rittal systems are part of that. Control and switchgear systems can be made standardised and modular with enclosure systems from Rittal.

Direct control, using engineering data

Today, panel building and switchgear production are usually still characterised by a great deal of manual work. However, at W. Althaus AG, the highest possible degree of automation was also sought in production. Routing for the cable assembly is realized directly in Eplan Pro Panel, for instance.

Automated assembly of terminals

In addition to cable assembly and metal processing, the mounting of terminals on top hat rails is another labour-intensive production step. This was the reason behind the idea of automating placement of the terminals on top hat rails, which culminated in the Athex terminal assembly machine. The assembly machine may accommodate up to 6,000 terminals, depending on the equipment, and mounts these on top hat rails automatically. It can even label terminals directly. The Cutex cutting machine complements the assembly machine ideally. It can cut top hat rails automatically to the proper length and directly label them.

In turn, both machines can work directly with the data from the Eplan project. The combined use of the two automated machines can greatly reduce the number of manual working stages in this segment of switchgear manufacture. Althaus' owner estimates that the company can increase productivity by as much as 50% when describing the potential benefits offered by automated assembly.