For W. Althaus, the key to greater efficiency in switchgear manufacture and panel building is automation. In addition, the Swiss-based company is focusing on the end-to-end digital integration of its processes, and is partnering closely with Rittal, Eplan and Phoenix Contact.
Switzerland is famous for its watches, cheese and chocolate. Far less attention is paid to the country’s switchgear-manufacturing and panel-building industry. W. Althaus’s slogan is “Leading in Automation”, and this sums up its secret to success – the enterprise is a proven pioneer in the corresponding technologies. “I think it’s part of our DNA,” states Marco Schneider, CEO, with a grin. For example, flat parts for enclosures have been made with the aid of Perforex machining centres from Rittal Automation Systems for many years. The relatively simple task of assembling terminal blocks on top-hat rails is performed by the Rittal Athex terminal block assembly machine; the Secarex centre is employed to cut wiring ducts, cable duct covers and support rails to the required length – quickly, precisely and reliably.
The anatomy of data
A further driver of efficiency is engineering, which, in turn, calls for high-quality data. For Marco Schneider, this is the essential foundation for consistent, end-to-end processes, and he makes an interesting comparison: “It is a little like the human body. I need to understand anatomy: how is the body structured, how does it work, what organs exist? Once a doctor knows the answers, he can suggest corresponding treatments. It is similar with data. I need them as the fundamental basis for whatever I intend to implement.” And this fundamental basis is to found on the EPLAN Data Portal.
For W. Althaus, close cooperation with others, and development partnerships not just with Rittal but also with Eplan and Phoenix Contact, are key to success. Together, the latter three have formed a technology network known as Smart Engineering and Production. It was launched five years ago, and initial ideas are now being tuned into concrete innovative products. Configurators, engineering platforms, automation solutions for manufacturing and digital assistance systems are all interconnected. Product data are standardised and can be employed from end to end, in engineering, in materials management, and in the product processes for switchgear. Marco Schneider is highly positive about the network: “Partnerships are very important, and not just amongst manufacturers. You also need to identify with user organisations and maintain contacts and communication to identify real-world customer needs.”