Innovation and collaborative, synchronized program management for new programs
Solu-Tech works with some of the most successful companies that seek to rationalize their production lines using the most advanced IT tools available. Solu-Tech brings its customers a team of specialists who are highly qualified in industrial automation, robotics and vision control. From the initial study through to the training of teams, Solu-Tech helps its customers achieve their performance objectives while anticipating their future requirements.
For almost 20 years, Solu-Tech has worked with successful companies that seek to rationalize their production lines using the most advanced IT tools available. The company brings its customers a team of specialists who are highly qualified in industrial automation, robotics and vision control. Over the years, the Alsace-based company has applied its innovative spirit to offer customers tailor-made, turnkey solutions, from the initial design to the complete automation of machines and production lines.
The company has always focused on proximity and listening to customers to identify each issue as precisely and dependably as possible. “Our added value lies in matching our customers’ needs with our technological know-how for the benefit of automated, controlled production,” explains Bruno Velten, Solu-Tech CEO. The company applies its expertise to diverse industries, including agri-food, paper and packaging, kitchen furniture and pharmaceuticals.
“What makes a machine a ‘special’ is the fact that it’s unique,” Velten says. A special machine is custom-designed to meet the needs of an industrial company, as opposed to generic machines such as machine tools. It differs from other production machines by virtue of its technical originality. Special machines are generally one-off productions, and usually respond to needs for automated manufacturing, assembly, testing or packaging. “When we embark on a new project, the challenge is to proceed on the sole basis of the customer’s specifications, which sometimes boils down to defining the production line’s expected capacity and the corresponding budget. It’s then up to us to define the most suitable overall architecture.”
Solu-Tech also provides retrofitting services to rehabilitate existing facilities to align with standards or adapt to new requirements. Retrofitting may involve replacing an obsolete mechanism or renewing an outdated electrical cabinet. In these situations, the technical teams are confronted with two difficulties: the fact that it is physically impossible to conduct tests in the workshop, and the need to put the machine back into service as swiftly as possible to minimize the impact on the customer’s production. Faced with these kinds of constraints, the Solu-Tech teams must be fully proficient in their development processes, and spot-on with their production schedules.
A Siemens solutions partner for industrial automation since 2003, Solu-Tech uses Siemens’ Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) Portal for the design, programming and virtual commissioning of its automated machinery. In its quest to shift up a gear in the digitalization of its processes, Solu-Tech turned to NX Mechatronics Concept Designer™ software for the design of its mechatronic systems, and Solid Edge® software to replace its existing CAD solution.
Bruno Mann, head of Solu-Tech’s automatism department, explains the reasons behind this choice: “We had a twofold objective: on the one hand, we sought to improve collaboration between our mechanical, electrical and automation engineers during the design phase; on the other hand, we wanted to reduce the time spent on final development at the customer’s site via a process for validation and virtual commissioning of our machines.”
In theory, the development of a new machine adheres to the following process: functional analysis, overall mechanical/electrical/automation architecture, detailed design of the mechanical and electrical components, programming of controls in parallel to the mechanical/electrical design, testing in the workshop, factory acceptance testing and roll-out in the customer’s factory.
However, in practice, the design phase often takes longer than expected, with additional iterations between the mechanical, automation and electrical engineers. Consequently, the technical teams have less time to conduct tests in the workshop, and are forced to spend more time on final development and validation before the machine’s production deployment in the customer’s factory. In the short term, the adoption of NX Mechatronics Concept Designer should help to improve these two aspects.
Using the NX Mechatronics Concept Designer solution, engineers design complex systems based on simplified models. They can quickly define a special machine complete with sensors, actuators, articulations, conveyors and other details. The description of the objects can then be completed with physical laws such as the laws of gravity and motion. The solution will then virtually simulate the system’s kinematics, collisions or falling parts: the model’s animation brings it to life, and the teams can identify design deficiencies much sooner in the development process.
“NX Mechatronics Concept Designer is a powerful collaboration tool that’s also easy to use. Our engineers promptly adopted it,” says Mann enthusiastically. “It took a mere three days’ training to be up and running with the solution. In fact, we were quickly able to model complex mechanisms for existing and new machines.”
“For existing machines, CAD files – if any exist – can be imported to NX Mechatronics Concept Designer in the STEP neutral exchange format. Alternatively, measured drawings are made on site, and we use NX Mechatronics Concept Designer to create a simplified model of the machine. For new machines, the CAD is carried out directly using Solid Edge. The use of mechanical components in NX Mechatronics Concept Designer is then completely transparent. Here too, we gain in time, thanks to seamless integration between the different tools: Solid Edge, NX Mechatronics Concept Designer and TIA Portal,” explains Mann.
To carry out its evaluation process, Solu-Tech drew on the expertise of Fealinx, which has been a solution partner of Siemens Digital Industries Software and a solution integrator in France for more than 20 years. “After an initial demonstration on our premises, we asked Fealinx to work on a proof of concept with one of our machines. Eight days later, Fealinx presented the entire mechanism modeled in NX Mechatronics Concept Designer, and we saw our installation’s ‘digital twin’ come to life. We were blown away,” recalls Velten.
“Solu-Tech is the first site in France to choose NX Mechatronics Concept Designer for the development of special machines,” says Hervé Labarge, commercial development manager with Fealinx. “We are proud to have worked with this reference player; just one year after the proof of concept in September 2016, the company showcased some outstanding examples of completed works at the Industrie du Futur trade show in Mulhouse in November 2017.”
Solu-Tech has since successfully implemented NX Mechatronics Concept Designer on a number of projects: the retrofit of a control cabinet, a trial for ferrying components, the simplified modeling of a selective compliance assembly robot arm (SCARA) in conjunction with a SINUMERIK 840D numerical control (NC) system.
Tangible benefits have already been observed: detection of design problems further upstream in the development process, improved collaboration between mechanics and automation engineers, reduction of up to 50 percent in the time spent on testing and final development for certain projects.
“Thanks to the digital twin of our machines, design choices can be made more quickly, and communication between the teams is much more fluid. We spend the time gained on design to virtually validate our installation before its commissioning with the customer,” concludes Velten. “Digitalization is a powerful performance driver both for our customers and for ourselves.”
In the near future, Solu-Tech plans to use NX Mechatronics Concept Designer to quickly assess various concepts during the pre-sales phase, validate production rates, and provide the customer with an animated presentation of the architecture of its future installation. This will represent a further bonus for Solu-Tech, which has already received a number of certifications and labels, including that of Offreurs de Solutions Industrie du Futur (Offerer of Solutions for the Industry of the Future), established in 2015 by the Alsace Eurométropole Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with support from the Région Grand Est, Alsace Innovation and the Adira regional development agency.