Digitization has the full attention of many companies. However, when communicating digitized information between departments or companies, things often go wrong. Information is ‘flattened out’ in (for example) a PDF, leaving the next party with a lot of work to convert the document into usable data for its own system. At risk of errors and loss of information. As a developer of engineering software and service solutions, EPLAN in Zevenaar supports its customers in breaking down these barriers.
Collaboration within the same software environment increases efficiency
The focus of EPLAN is efficient engineering in electrical engineering, automation and mechatronics. For this, the company has for many years developed engineering software and service solutions. In addition, EPLAN advises customers on usage and how the benefits can be scaled up for use throughout the chain. Roger Scholtes, CEO of EPLAN BV: ‘The chain can consist of various companies that are engaged in their own core business and outsource other matters. Other companies deal with vertical chain integration and keep everything in their own hands as much as possible. The chain then covers the various departments that work together. The same problem and the same solution apply to both types of companies. ‘
Companies that mainly focus on their core business operate in an ecosystem of industrial automation that includes all parties that contribute to the end product. For example, a machine or complete line. This starts with the component manufacturers and runs through the panel builder and system integrator or machine builder to the end user.
Scholtes: ‘All these parties supply their own product (s) to the next link in the chain, whereby the associated data and information are increasingly transmitted digitally. Practice shows that this is not always done effectively because companies work with different software packages or do not know from each other that they are using the same software. As a result, they often ‘flatten’ their information into a PDF, and when they submit it, the underlying data is lost to the next user. It is no exception that it then has to manually enter the data into its own system in order to proceed. A laborious and flawed job. ‘
The solution is both simple and complex: Use the same or compatible software so that data and information can be transferred throughout the chain, preferably in the original format. Account manager Richard van Aalten: ‘EPLAN covers about 70 percent of the engineering market for electrical engineering and mechatronics. In that sense, it is not that difficult and an important part of the companies will already be using EPLAN. Only: they often do not know each other. Companies that do not yet use this software may consider doing so to become a more valuable partner in the chain. ‘ The complex part of the solution is to bring companies together and make them aware of the optimization potential of digitization within the same software environment. Scholtes: ‘Therefore, we facilitate this, which often results in valuable, intensive conversations. The purpose of these is to make agreements on uniform data generation and transfer. The best results can be achieved when companies give each other a behind-the-scenes look. It gives them an idea of the chef, his recipes and ingredients. ‘
When an entire chain truly reaches the point where the entire digitization process and information transfer is streamlined, all links in the chain benefit. In addition to a more efficient way of working with a lower chance of failure, it makes companies less vulnerable. Van Aalten: “By working with different suppliers of the same product, companies can always choose the best party for a specific task, but also fall back on another company if the regular partner has delivery problems. You can also scale up if you need more than a single vendor can deliver within a specified time frame. ‘
Same environment a must
Moreover, today it is almost a must to work together in the same software environment. It has to do with the way more and more companies are developing their machines and controls. Where the structure of the drawing package was previously based on the way the panel is constructed, so-called functional design is increasingly in the spotlight. The functions are designed separately from each other, after which a control system with the relevant building blocks is built modularly. This provides a better coherence with the other disciplines and leads to more efficient overall engineering work. It also provides an excellent basis for configure-to-order (cto). In practice, the switchboard building department is no longer controlled on the basis of complete diagrams, but digitally with wiring strips and numerical control data for mechanical processing of the switchboards. The wires can then be assembled internally or outsourced. All data comes from the digital twin; The 3D model enriched in the chain to validate the design. This also provides data for the following process steps (mechanical machining, wire assembly, assembly, wiring).
The last link in the chain – the end user – benefits from this approach to, among other things, maintenance. In the event of a malfunction, the technicians no longer have to search in folders filled with drawings, but can find out where the error is much faster via digital diagrams and 3D cabinet layouts.
Everything in the house
In companies that prefer to do everything in-house, the data exchange is very similar. The main difference is that data is not exchanged between different companies, but between the different departments. Here, too, the information from the sale appears to be flattened before moving on to engineering. And that while sales already now can easily digitize a number of agreements in such a way that the design department can start immediately. “The latter is a point of attention that should not be underestimated. Practice shows that knowledge is often mainly present in the minds of employees. Now that there is a shortage of well-trained technical staff, the company is becoming more and more dependent on the few experienced people. An unnecessary risk. By embedding this knowledge in the software, companies also have the opportunity to deploy less experienced school students or even people from a temp agency. They then generate the necessary information for the engineering department by going through specific procedures where they simply fill in relevant parameters’, says Scholtes. “It makes a company less vulnerable, less dependent on personal competencies and therefore more competitive. Nor is it necessary to reinvent the same wheel over and over again. ‘
For companies that integrate vertically, EPLAN mainly carries out integration projects where the human side is a challenge beyond the technical side. ‘People want to change, but they do not want to change,’ says Van Aalten. “It is therefore very important that you include them in the benefits of such an integration process, so that they become aware of the possibilities. For themselves – for example more time to really engineer – but also for the company and the customer. ‘
No island solution
For both types of companies, the biggest steps can be taken by working with knowledge partners like EPLAN, all the suppliers involved and the customers. The value chain is jointly examined, improvement points are analyzed and targeted measures are taken to implement these improvements.
“In all cases, the approach is about making information and article flows manageable. This directly implies that EPLAN cannot be an island solution in a business process. The focus is on integration with hardware and software development, CPQ configurator (configure, price and offer, ed.), ERP, PDM, production / panel construction and so on ‘, says Scholtes. “It doesn’t matter if you cut between companies or between departments. Working with EPLAN also gives our customers the benefit of receiving advice from people who have collected best practices from a wide range of companies over the years. They are therefore able to quickly detect and fill gaps like no other. ‘
in the cloud
Finally, both point to the role of the cloud in data digitization and streamlining of industrial automation. The cloud allows you to gather all data in one place and work from there. This means that all parties always use the same data, the latest version of the software and that there is data-pull instead of data-push. Because this cloud is managed by EPLAN and Microsoft, users are assured that their data is optimally protected against any form of cybercrime ‘, say Scholtes and Van Aalten. ‘We receive new subscriptions to the EPLAN cloud every day. This indicates that trust among users is growing rapidly. A good development to lift digitalisation to a higher level. ‘