13 March 2020

Say Goodbye to Static Processes: RTLS in Electronics Manufacturing

To make the same part as often as possible – this old mantra of production planning has been outdated for a long time. Modern technologies to digitally connect IT systems and real processes in the factory aid in increasing productivity and flexibility in equal measure. An example: The use of real-time locating in electronics manufacturing.

Black material boxes are the distinguishing feature of Fürth’s production concept.

It is an unspectacular object that symbolizes the transition to Industrie 4.0 at the Siemens Electronics Factory in Fürth: black material boxes. Thousands of them are used in the factory for almost all material transport duties. In these boxes, components are brought from the warehouse to the assembly stations and finished goods are transported to the shipping department. The inter-factory transports between Siemens locations also relies on them. Over 2,000 boxes circulate within the factory alone.

Low volume / high mix production

Fürth occupies a special position in the group of factories run by Siemens Digital Industries: low volume per type, but with a high product variety – ranging from high-quality electronic components for industrial use to complex systems with a high degree of engineering. Significantly higher flexibility at comparable costs – that is the formula focused on by the factory.

The challenge: Low volume / high mix production.

However, the demands from the markets have changed considerably. The increasing product variety is the result of more and more specific customer requirements. Whereas in the past, a “one for all” product was accepted within certain limits, tailored solutions are needed today, which are also optimized in terms of price for the respective industry or application. Classic mass production cannot answer these requirements.

Industrie 4.0 production in Fürth

Black boxes instead of interlinked conveyor technology, highly qualified professionals instead of inflexible automation, dynamic self-organizing structures instead of pre-planned cycles: all these are characteristics of a modern Industrie 4.0 production like the one in Fürth. At the various assembly stations, a multitude of products can be manufactured. The material flow takes place dynamically with materials getting to the distribution station by tugger train and from there by trolley to the workspace – if need be, all over the hall. In the future, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) will take over this task autonomously. And a full automation can only be found in individual, specific work steps – for example, in the SMD placement of printed circuit boards.

Where are my boxes? Simatic RTLS provides the answer in realtime.

But, as is often the case, solving a problem leads to another challenge. Handling the black boxes turned out to be difficult and/or prone to errors in practice. For instance, employees have to identify the correct stack of boxes on the basis of the accompanying documents – as the boxes can hardly be distinguished “at a glance.” An order can also consist of two stacks, which the employee possibly might overlook. The consequence: a repeated journey to the distribution station, which costs valuable minutes. Add to this that the Fürth factory planners are not even that sure whether the set routes are optimal.

SIMATIC RTLS for a smart material flow

A new technology that Siemens has had in its portfolio since 2018 now helps here: a real-time locating system (RTLS) operating wirelessly. SIMATIC RTLS consists of three system components. Transponders such as the SIMATIC RTLS4030T are attached to the moving objects – such as means of production, goods, transport systems, or the actual products –  which are used for position detection and possess a unique identification number. Via a wireless network of RTLS gateways, these transponders are recorded at short intervals and the position determined in the form of two- or three-dimensional coordinates.

With SIMATIC RTLS, we can take our digital transformation to a new level.

Lorenz Rappl, Factory Manager

This application – the locating of boxes by employees – already brings such high savings that the return on investment (ROI) will be achieved in less than two years. There are other application ideas, though, that can be implemented with SIMATIC RTLS. Because like a wireless LAN, RTLS is an infrastructure that can be used for a multitude of use cases. In Fürth specifically, two other scenarios are being analyzed: route planning and AGV coordination.

SIMATIC RTLS consists of transponder on each and every box (small picture, left), and a gateway infrastructure serving several use cases (right)

SIMATIC RTLS – key to productivity and flexibility

The acceptance among the employees is high, reports Sebastian Dietel, RTLS project manager at the Fürth factory. On the one hand, SIMATIC RTLS has become an important tool to avoid unproductive work steps. On the other hand, the functions and the visualization were not purchased ready-made, but instead specifically adapted to the requirements in Fürth. The employees on site also have the opportunity to provide feedback and make suggestions for further development.

Considering additional use cases: Factory manager Lorenz Rappl, project manager Sebastian Dietel and software specialist Hans-Jürgen Hufnagel (from right to left)

Factory manager Lorenz Rappl also confirms the benefit of the system: “With SIMATIC RTLS, we can take our digital transformation to a new level. Because a digital twin is only worth something if it corresponds 100% with the actual processes.” Then there are new opportunities for analyzing and optimizing operations. “The real-time locating by SIMATIC RTLS thus represents a key to higher productivity and flexibility,” states Rappl.

More on the Internet: www.siemens.com/simatic-rtls

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