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„Rationalize manufacturing“

Phoenix: Efficient production of components for overvoltage protection modules

Recently, Phoenix Feinbau GmbH & Co. KG, a company based in Lüdenscheid, Germany, transferred the manufacture of components for overvoltage protection modules to the BIMERIC BM 4500 assembly system. The servo-controlled NC units complete all the process steps fully automatically on a single system and make production more efficient and economical. Of crucial importance for the success of this technological leap was the close cooperation with Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik which provided indepth consulting in the engineering, welding and programming fields. And with the expertise that it now possesses, Phoenix Feinbau GmbH & Co. KG is able to open up further optimization potential with existing products and successfully handle new projects with its BIMERIC BM 4500.

Ordering components, coordinating suppliers, managing transport and logistics, synchronizing production steps – those are only a few of the many tasks that Lüdenscheid-based company Phoenix Feinbau GmbH & Co. KG used to have to complete before the actual production of the overvoltage protection modules. Even though the company was always able to rise perfectly to these challenges and delivered its important components on time and as required, these work, time and cost-intensive activities are now a thing of the past. This is because this long-standing company, which was founded in 1939, manufactures the components entirely inhouse with no outsourcing – and does so on a new BIMERIC BM 4500 servo-controlled production and assembly system.

Targeted rationalization

The components for overvoltage protection are a fixed part of Phoenix Feinbau’s product portfolio. At the same time, the company’s workforce of approximately 700 employees also manufactures metal stamped and bended parts and plastic parts for electronic components at its Lüdenscheid plant. “We have been manufacturing the product groups for overvoltage protection for some 15 years and decided to conduct a rationalization project to get away from the previous manual assembly operations and introduce a uniform, automated manufacturing solution,” explains Dr. Jens Heidenreich, Managing Director of Phoenix Feinbau GmbH & Co. KG. “We also took the opportunity to rethink the entire value chain, analyze all the individual process steps and redesign the product groups.” This approach is also representative of the constant further development and great innovative capabilities of Phoenix Feinbau, which is a member of the Phoenix Contact Group. As a global market leader, the group employs 15,000 employees at ten sites worldwide, where it manufactures more than 60,000 products and solutions for the electronics and automation industries.

Precisely costed investment

The fact that Bihler was chosen for the change of production strategy for the overvoltage protection components was due not only to the large number of Bihler systems that were present on site and had excelled for decades due to their high performance and reliability. “The decisive factor was the BIMERIC principle, which makes it possible to combine multiple process steps on a single system and consequently to significantly tighten up the entire production process,” emphasizes Dr. Sabrina von Hebel, Head of Toolmaking at Phoenix Feinbau. “This was the prerequisite for concentrating the creation of value added here in the company and thus, ultimately, the source of the greatest savings.” In late 2014, the end customer’s agreement to the change of process was secured while, at the same time, the company entered into its first discussions with Bihler. During these discussions, it was possible to determine the performance offered by the new system, the scale of future tool investments and the cost savings that this type of large-scale project, amounting to more than 1 million euros, would ultimately bring. “The fact that the modules were existing products with robust, foreseeable sales figures helped minimize the risk,” explains Heidenreich.

Manufacturing concept redefined

The end of 2015 saw the detailed planning of the process, vigorously supported by all the expertise and consulting know-how of Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik. And the requirements were great – in particular in the fields of engineering, welding and programming. Ultimately, the task was not simply to integrate the previous production workflow on a single system and define the required stations and units. Instead, the entire manufacturing principle had to be practically turned on its head in order to make considerable materials savings in the form of screws and box terminals. “Further challenges consisted in guaranteeing the desired cycle of 60 processes per minute and ensuring that it is possible to switch from one module to another in under 90 minutes,” explains Patrick Hellmich, Project Manager at Phoenix Feinbau. However, thanks to the close cooperation between the companies, it was possible to define a reliable, end-to-end, high-performance manufacturing solution on the BIMERIC BM 4500 that met all requirements in just a few months. “The ideal solutions were identified, even for vital interfaces, for example for stamping the contact bridge and feeding it to the welding tool,” adds Kay Wesendrup, Team Head of the Technology Segment at Phoenix Feinbau.

Patrick Hellmich (left) and Kay Wesendrup did a perfect job of ensuring that all the project’s technical requirements were met.

High-precision production process

At the BIMERIC BM 4500, the production process for the two product families, each consisting of four variants, starts with the infeed of the parts for assembly on the parts carrier. These include screws, box terminals and, depending on the model, a pressure piece or connecting bracket. Equipped in this way, the parts carrier then travels on the conveyor to the other side of the system where the contact bridge, known as a “tulip”, is stamped and bended. This is then fed to the welding unit and welded to the pressure piece or connecting bracket. The tulip is then pressed downward within a tolerance range of a tenth of a millimeter and the gap at its base is calibrated in order to ensure that it functions correctly as a contact part. In the next step, the screw is inserted in the box terminal before the component is ejected and lands on a final conveyor belt complete and ready for use. In this way, approximately 1 million of these components are manufactured every year and protect power supply systems, IT systems, as well as wind and solar power installations, against overvoltages.

Value added for the future

“Production started in September 2017 and, to date, the new system has fully proved its worth and has run without problems,” is how Wesendrup sums things up. “And if adaptations are ever required then our mechatronic engineer is able to complete them in just a few minutes thanks to the programming training received from Bihler.” As a result, the project, which also stayed exactly within the predefined budget and timeframe, is a great success, in particular at the economic level: “The value chain is shorter, reprovisioning and response times are faster and component quality has improved,” is Hellmich’s assessment. “What is more, the actual manufacturing operation itself is now much easier, the cost and effort involved in storage, logistics and communications have been minimized and, last but not least, it has been possible to make materials saving of approximately a third.” Thanks to the BIMERIC BM 4500, it will now be possible to explore the potential for optimization of other existing products. Sabrina von Hebel and Jens Heidenreich both agree: “With the introduction of Bihler servo technology, we have successfully made a technological leap that will allow us to continue developing purposefully in the future. This will ensure our continued competitive advantage and allow us to maintain our production operations in Germany.”

Phoenix Feinbau GmbH & Co. KG is a member of the Phoenix Contact Group. As a global market leader, the group employs 15,000 employees at ten sites worldwide, where it manufactures more than 60,000 products and solutions for the electronics and automation industries.



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