On Tuesday 26th January, we had the great pleasure of taking part in EPLAN’s event – Panel building, Made smarter. For those of you who may have missed it, we have put together a brief overview and captured some of the questions asked:
Going back to 2017, the former LCA Controls was bought and renamed LCA Group by five shareholders who could see the potential in the business. However, whilst it did show promise it was severely lacking investment and the business practices were outdated.
After taking on the business and seeing how the team operated, one thing became abundantly clear – we had a productivity issue. It was not that people weren’t working hard or they weren’t skilled, it was the fact that it required so much effort to reach the desired output, simple tasks were too time consuming and the ability to scale up and down was impossible due to inefficiencies.
Looking in more detail at what was happening; we had designs being made using outdated tools, these were often passed to the manufacturing floor before they were complete and then changes were made on a whim, and drawings would be updated retrospectively. There was minimal wire prep completed and the testing and inspection was being done against schematics. Whilst this is a classic approach for a lot of engineering organisations – we could see there were improvements we could make.
After lots of research Alan Sheppard (Managing Director) and Paul Griffiths (Operations Director) visited the Rittal Innovation Centre in Germany and its safe to say they were extremely impressed. They could see the capabilities it could offer the business and made the decision to purchase the following:
- Upgraded to EPLAN Pro Panel software
- Smart Wiring
- Perforex LC laser machining center
- Wire Prep machines
- Assemblex and LT1000 trolleys
However, upon purchasing the equipment and new technology, we ran into our biggest barrier – the fear of change from our existing workforce. They were concerned that we were trying to replace people with machines and there were also skilled engineers who believed it was quicker and easier to complete jobs by hand as that is what they knew best. So, in addition to working with them to explain and demonstrate the benefits we embarked on a fun challenge: Man v Machine.
This video was created with Rittal to show customers and the internal teams the advantages the Perforex LX laser machining center could bring.
Once we had gotten over the initial resistance and the teams were using the equipment we hit another barrier. We realised that all we had done is automate our mistakes, which ironically our skilled engineers had previously been removing at the point of manufacture. The issue came down to the fact that we had upgraded to the EPLAN Pro Panel but had not invested in the proper training to ensure proper utilisation. We assumed because we had been using previous EPLAN software that we would be able to figure out how to use it. How wrong were we… it resulted in us going back and completing the training and then educating our customers on the new design process.
Overall we have seen a positive impact upon the automation implementation – gross margins have increased 8% and earned pound per hour has increased 47%.
Here we have answered a few of the questions which we didnt get to answer on the live stream:
Q: Do you offer the service to prepare panels for other panel builders?
Yes, we have several clients who we support on panel preparation, be that just cutting the panels or partial build or fully sub-contracting to us. Please contact us if you would like to discuss this further.
Q: How much additional design time goes into putting the details into set up the laser cutouts?
If you are using EPLAN for design, there is an output file to download, so very minimal. If you want to use the machine ‘manually’ you can redraw fairly quickly using the software provided on the Perforex workstation itself, most direct draw input takes 20-30 mins.
Q: What percentage of panels that you build do you use the Perforex machine on?
We are now well above 98%, our process only allows for exceptions in some very certain circumstances – usually because the machine can’t physically cut it (e.g. panels with sloping roofs).
Q: Can you tell something about the EPLAN training needs to get to optimal level – how many hours on average, how is the training organised?
The P8 course is 3 days and the PROPANEL is another 2 days. We have one engineer who we put through the EPLAN certified engineer, which is certainly more effort and includes a lot more modules, but in reality only one person needs to do that.
Q: What do you do with build only projects – do you still use the Perforex machine?
We make a judgement call on how much to automate these ‘build to print’ projects. There are quick ways to import some details into EPLAN or direct onto the RAS equipment which can allow you to gain a big element of the efficiency without fully redrawing, especially on the Perforex and Secarex machines – such as DXF imports.
Q: How many employees does your panel building team consist of? Not the engineers – in order to understand the size of your investment.
We employ about 20 people in the workshop, these are the technicians actually building the panels.