Industry 4.0 and automation is changing the production landscape for SWEP, world-leading supplier of brazed plate heat exchangers and prefabricated energy transfer stations.
What started with two Swedish entrepreneurs in a garage more than 30 years ago, is now a global corporation, still driven by the same spirit and conviction: to challenge efficiency and make a difference with Brazed Plate Heat Exchangers (BPHEs) that are part of a sustainable future.
A willingness to explore
SWEP has always been willing to test new technologies, and the manufacturing process is not an exception. Early in the company history SWEP choose their own way for the production equipment. One example is pressing steel plates together with the copper foil, something that a large competitor knew would never work. SWEP ignored that and made it work. Another example was the home-made stacking box that was an early automation equipment for press lines solving the straightening, turning, and stacking operations integrated with the press line with huge capacity and productivity increase to follow.
Even if there have been automated functions linked to individual machines, like press lines and test equipment’s it is only in the last 5 years that the real automation journey has taken off, and with quite some pace. Over 20 industrial robots built into automatic assembly lines with vision systems, advanced grippers, sensors, and conveyor systems have been commissioned and more is in the pipeline for the near future and the coming years.
Over 20 industrial robots built into automatic assembly lines with vision systems, advanced grippers and sensors.
A focus on automation
The strategy behind this automation journey is a clear vision on the whole picture without losing focus on the individual parts. Try out in smaller scale, learn from mistakes, and use the experience in new projects to build up internal competence but continue to work with external partners in parallel. To design and own key components and all source code and build the robot cells in modules that can be scaled up and down is important for SWEP to be able to standardize, copy and implement to any of SWEP’s five plants around the world.
Designing and implementing a project
A typical automation project usually starts with internal brainstorming in a small technical group with resources from earlier automation projects and the future owner of the cell. The outcome are early visualizations and simulations models for discussion and comparison. Then external partners get involved with idea input and solution suggestions followed by defined work interfaces and formalized project team. Usually SWEP do the robot programming, design and manufacture key components like grippers, use external consultants for PLC/safety program and external partners for most of the hardware. The philosophy is to build deep and wide internal competence but still utilize external partners that built and seen so many more installations in different industries. External partners also help keeping up the high pace and low prices on robots, for instance, as they source many more than SWEP.
Learning is a constant battle
Another learning in the automation journey is the importance of the planning, logistics and the whole picture. Only machines and automation cells forming islands in production will not give the expected productivity increase and this is where Industry 4.0 come into play, connecting the dots. Here new visualization and simulation tools or digital twins will play an important role. How to plan and balancing the flows, dimensioning the equipment correct, monitor, and communicate between the machines, robot cells and business systems. Building a model of a production flow as it is today can help optimize production output through machine utilization, changed order sequence and bottle neck analyses. Completely new scenarios of the future vision can be built up and analyzed to make the correct investment decisions, choosing the right technologies and dimensioning machines, robot cells, stock, buffers, and carrier capacity. This will be very valuable when entering the world of automated guided vehicles, AGV, which will be the next big automation step for SWEP.
For additional information
Global Engineering Manager, SWEP