Since 2021 the mechanical locking systems of Winkhaus, a company with tradition, have been manufactured on a unique production system. Given that the cylinders are mostly unique products, the automation of the production system was correspondingly challenging. Correct component placement for each cylinder requires a seamless connection between IT and OT, which is particularly important here.
With a view to ensuring not just trouble-free process flows but simple and safe operation at the same time, automation specialist AST Automation developed the software for the complex system based on INOSOFT’s VisiWin.
August Winkhaus GmbH & Co. KG as a company develops and manufactures state-of-the-art window technology, door locking systems and systems for access organization, including mechanical locking systems. This globally successful company counts security professionals and building owners among its customers, who value the company’s motto of “Always precise”.
Precision is a long-standing tradition for Winkhaus’ mechanical locking systems. They offer user-friendly convenience and protection – both for individual apartment doors and for large building complexes such as airports, hotels, or administration buildings. To ensure a high level of functional safety for the access systems, there is zero tolerance for errors in the complex production process.
To minimize rejects in assembly and ideally eliminate them altogether, increase production quality and speed and be able to produce on a just-in-time basis, Winkhaus placed an order for a system for the coding of locking cylinders with Aumat Maschinenbau GmbH in 2017. Since the production system cannot manage without manual steps and IT and OT are required to work hand in hand, machine manufacturer Aumat brought AST Automation GmbH on board. AST is a specialist in design, retrofitting and software development.
The assembly of the locking cylinders and their mechanical coding at Winkhaus is just as challenging as the locking technology itself. Most of the locks supplied by the manufacturer are unique products. To meet the requirements of such individuality, many work steps had to be performed or verified on a semi-automatic basis to date. If a pin component placement error was discovered, the placement error had to be corrected with considerable effort.
The new system was intended to reduce the amount of manual reworking and increase the rate of throughput in production. The manufacturer’s idea was to optimize the component placement process and automate the filling of the cylinder locks as far as possible. At the same time, however, the customer also valued a high degree of flexibility to enable priority to be given to urgent orders and to allow for sequence changes, for example. The challenge: The smaller the batch, the greater the complexity of production automation.
Thanks to the system from Aumat, all the requirements of Winkhaus have been successfully met. To do so, the machine manufacturers divided the component placement process across four individual machines which are connected by conveyor sections. The core of the system features an automatic filling unit and assembly station along with an empty and a full magazine storage unit – referred to as pharmacists’ cabinets: Each of these storage units contains 1,600 chutes with space for ten transport containers on each.
The process begins with the automatic filling unit. The machine requests an order and fills two empty transport containers each with key and driver pins from the empty magazine storage unit. The filling process can be run autonomously overnight. Component placement errors are automatically corrected by the machine during this time. Errors are initially detected by a fully automated camera inspection of the filled containers. These are then ejected and replaced by new, corrected transport containers with a high priority. This means that personnel can get started on component placement for the cylinders straight away the next morning.
The system transfers the filled containers to the full magazine storage unit in double packs and in the right sequence, from which they are then transferred to the automatic assembly unit. Waiting there is another worker who scans the order slip and inserts the cylinders in which the components are to be placed. The machine marries up the pins with the housing and then closes the cylinders automatically – the end station for the transport container is therefore also affectionately referred to as the “registry office”.
In total, up to 32,000 transport containers move through the system in three different variants in this way. They can be fitted out with up to 40 pins. This results in a high degree of complexity in production, requiring organization and an effective overview. When it comes to large-scale orders, for example for administration buildings, an order often encompasses hundreds of locking systems – errors in component placement would jeopardize the timely fulfillment of the order and involve major costs.
To prevent this happening, the transport containers in the full magazine storage unit must be loaded in the chutes according to the order and in the correct sequence, for example. The prerequisite for this is seamless data tracking in the machine and smooth communication between the individual stations in the system. Since a large number of mechanical operations and data queries run in parallel, the task for AST and Aumat was to create stable and reliable software for the connection between customer orders and production.
The use of four clients which are based on VisiWin 7 HMI software from INOSOFT and communicate with each other enabled Aumat and AST to build the bridge between IT and OT (information and operation technology). It was clear from the very outset here that VisiWin is the optimum choice of tool: “We wouldn’t have been able to manage the project with any other software solutions on the market,” says Daniel Melneczcuk, software developer at AST with responsibility for the implementation of applications with VisiWin.
The VisiWin clients make it possible to reliably coordinate the orders and transport containers in the component placement system. The system operator does not have to tolerate any compromises in terms of performance and always has a full overview of all processes as well. An additional bonus is that just a single HMI is required for the visualization of the system with automation and drive system as well as the display of data.
Thanks to VisiWin it is also possible to seamlessly integrate mobile devices such as USB scanners – a unique selling point, as automation expert Melneczcuk emphasizes. This enables individual transport containers to be identified. Every container has a data matrix code (DMC). When they scan the code, personnel receive feedback from the connected database telling them which order a transport container belongs to and where its place is.
The system features various linear, servo and three-phase motors, and almost 1,000 digital inputs are fitted for control purposes. The incoming data converge in a database. VisiWin provides the interface between PLC hardware, the IT environment, the mobile devices, and the operator, who has a seamless user experience thanks to the HMI. It makes no difference whether the operator moves a servo axis or starts a database query – they use one and the same interface for everything and switch between IT and OT without any media discontinuity.
“This interface function was very important for the project,” says Melneczcuk. “The specialists at Winkhaus and Aumat are first and foremost machine manufacturers and PLC professionals, but at the same time they could not manage without the advantages of IT. VisiWin made it possible to bring both fields together without the need to rebuild the whole environment around the machine,” he explains.
Aumat delivered the system for cylinder filling, one which is unique on the market, at the end of 2021. As a result, the customer is now in a position to deliver error-free locking systems within 48 hours. It took almost a year to design the system, two years to construct. AST put in some 2,400 programming hours over 1½ years.
According to the AST expert, the main challenge was to adapt the data structures. It was thanks to INOSOFT and VisiWin that Melneczcuk and his team were able to save a great deal of development work in spite of the challenges: “INOSOFT has many years of experience in HMI, an open, high-performance product, and has already standardized countless functions, such that we were able to concentrate on our expertise and the system-specific challenges. As a result, we were able to realize the extremely complex system for Winkhaus with just two software developers,” he says, summarizing the advantages offered by INOSOFT as a partner for his company.
The work paid off: “The result puts Winkhaus in a position to stand out from the competition. There is no comparable system in this sector – nowhere. This system is a real winner for Winkhaus’ market position,” says Daniel Melneczcuk. The optimization of the processes and the use of two magazine storage units has provided the supplier of locking systems with greater flexibility than before. The asynchronous production system means that the system can rectify errors occurring during operation and insert corrected orders later or in-between with increased priority.
The concept has paid off: “Since the system was put into service around a year ago, there has been no need for reworking any longer,” report those with responsibility at Winkhaus. “And if there is, this can be corrected by the system on its own and on a fully automated basis. This has enabled us to achieve a noticeable reduction in downtimes in production.”
Component placement assignment is 100% with the new system. Operating errors are now impossible. Since the system has been in operation there has not been a single case of component placement error in the cylinders. This saves a lot of time and money not just for Winkhaus but for its customers too. Winkhaus has already delivered several tens of thousands of error-free cylinders using the new system.
VisiWin is also running with reliability and stability: The specialists from AST have not had to modify a single line of source text since the system was put into service. The machine can be operated smoothly via the VisiWin clients. A central monitor, which is connected to VisiWin as well, also provides information about the overall status of the system and shows how many transport containers are currently under way in the machine. The clients regularly log the status of the transport containers and immediately detect any irregularities when they occur.
Winkhaus stands for precision and security – two promises that the security specialist effortlessly honors with the new system. VisiWin from INOSOFT is the cement that holds the requisite IT and OT components together.
AST has already been using VisiWin as its standard software for ten years now. In the meantime, many AST customers are now also using the HMI realized with INOSOFT as their own standard and are also converting older existing systems to VisiWin. Winkhaus was persuaded by the advantages of the visualization software in its own production system and is completely satisfied.
Thanks to VisiWin, the new system at Winkhaus is not just a guarantee for reliable production, top quality and customer satisfaction, but also, quite literally, a “key technology”: Since VisiWin is open for extensions, new technologies can be connected at any time and optimizations realized very quickly as and when required.
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