ZAHORANSKY AG manufactures and distributes machinery and equipment for creating injection mold plastics. The company markets its products to plastic manufacturing companies throughout Germany and internationally.
Anton Zahoransky developed the first machine for brush production more than 100 years ago. To this day, the family-run, medium-sized company from the Black Forest is one of the innovation and world leaders in the industry. There are two constants that account for the long-lasting success: highly motivated employees and openness to new technology. ZAHORANSKY AG has already succeeded in breaking into the age of digitalization with production simulation based on Plant Simulation in the Tecnomatix® portfolio, which is part of the Xcelerator™ portfolio, the comprehensive and integrated portfolio of software and services from Siemens Digital Industries Software.
In 1902, Zahoransky revolutionized brush production with a drilling and tufting machine. Today, ZAHORANSKY is a leading international full-service provider of injection-molding tools, automation solutions, packaging machines and production systems for a wide variety of industries. More than 900 employees at 10 locations in seven countries develop innovative solutions in areas such as oral hygiene, medical technology, household goods, cosmetics, sports and industry. The digital revolution has enabled ZAHORANSKY to become even more efficient.
Traditionally, ZAHORANSKY is open to new opportunities to improve development and production processes. The pioneering role is part of the company’s image because it has continued operation for 100 years and made ZAHORANSKY a leader in a highly competitive international market. Resourceful employees are constantly examining new processes and technologies, which are often implemented in ZAHORANSKY solutions. As a result, the company has more than 700 patents.
Simulating material flow using discrete-event simulation (DES) software was considered rather exotic for medium-sized companies for over 20 years, and was only considered relevant for large corporations because it required significant investments in employees and software. Automobile manufacturers, for example, were among the first users to be able to manage these projects and implement them economically. This was soon followed by large suppliers that optimized their processes by means of visual material flow analysis. Today, the performance of computers, networks and information technology (IT) components has increased enormously. The capacity of the computing power and the ratio to the costs is much better. For machine builders, the machines and the interaction between supply and removal, operation and layout of an optimal production line has grown far more complex. When promising technology for production simulation became available, ZAHORANSKY was ready to jump in. After all, ZAHORANSKY machines are extremely performant. However, even the smallest increases in throughput have an enormously positive effect on the output quantity.
Marco Saladin is head of the project management office (PMO) at ZAHORANSKY. He remembers the reasons for introducing production simulation: “The plants became larger, the processes became more complex and the plants began to be linked. As was customary at the time, we mapped the processes in a spreadsheet, but the customers had a hard time understanding the processes, let alone imagining them. We realized that we had reached the limit of what was feasible in a spreadsheet.”
The management board of the company had been pushing for introducing production simulation for some time when an extensive project presented itself. Typically, ZAHORANSKY provided small systems or machines, but this time they were tasked with developing an entire production line, including equipment and processes. The customer had already started its own plant concept, which was now coordinated with ZAHORANSKY. Both teams designed what they considered to be an optimal joint concept based on spreadsheet lists.
”We were simply unsure whether the concept was viable,” says Saladin. “Fortunately, the customer had Tecnomatix Plant Simulation licenses. We turned to Siemens for advice and support to review the concept and its variants.”
The integration of Siemens software and expertise for production simulation brought surprising insights. “The customer and our company formed a working group with Siemens,” says Saladin. “Within a very short time, the Siemens consultant used Tecnomatix Plant Simulation to analyze the proposals we had created in two months. The first round of simulation, which was developed by a group of 50 international experts with many years of production experience on both sides (machine builder and customer), showed what seemed like a good concept was not so viable.”
Working with Siemens, the first project was implemented in accordance with the results of the workshop. “The plant is still in operation today and will be further optimized with the help of Plant Simulation,” says Saladin. “The results of the simulation coincide with those of the real operation and are constantly adapted; for example, the interference behavior of individual production cells is incorporated into the simulation. Although the interlinking between tool carrier systems used to be rigid, the simulation allows flexible interlinking by reliably defining optimal buffer sizes in advance. We are constantly receiving a great deal of knowledge that we can use to design future plants.”
”Feeding” the simulation model with data from a real operation is unavoidable and pays off over time in increasingly accurate predictions. It is a perpetual task that is required for every new machine with verification and comparison: “The deviations between simulation model and real behavior are ultimately less than 5 percent for entire production lines with up to 16 linked machines,” says Saladin. “Right from the start we benefited from Siemens’ very good and practice-oriented consulting services. Furthermore, according to experience, we have customers to calculate fixed efficiency losses due to sick days, maintenance windows, etc., which we can consider in the simulation by means of a ’loss tree.’
”In the past, playing through variants was tedious,” says Saladin. “Even if you reduce a production process to the essentials, you quickly end up with 100 to 200 steps. A variant calculation with conventional means exceeds any time frame here. In simulation, on the other hand, such calculations run reliably in seconds or in a few minutes. The ideal variant is thus quickly found.“
For Saladin, production simulation is unavoidable for medium-sized companies: “The evolutionary step is like the design from 2D drawings to 3D modeling. While 2D used to be standard, today 3D modeling has established itself as the basis of efficient design along the entire product lifecycle. In the same way from my point of view, production simulation will spread, there is no way around it. In combination with other solutions and the comprehensive digital twin, Siemens offers an excellent platform with a variety of advantages. In the future, production simulation will be used as a matter of course as the interaction of assemblies in 3D design is tested today.”
”At ZAHORANSKY, I supervise students in industrial engineering,” explains Saladin. “The young people are enthusiastic about the simulation technology and deal with it well. They are used to using digital tools. At ZAHORANSKY, this is how we communicate the current state-of-the-art. Students gain valuable practical experience in dealing with event-oriented simulation/DES and manufacturing, which in turn they contribute to new solutions. We train our people in a future-oriented way and now even give lectures on it at Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University.”
With Tecnomatix Plant Simulation, ZAHORANSKY creates even more efficiency: “We want to simulate entire years of production to better understand the long-term effects,” says Saladin. “The selective simulation of individual pattern changes in the course of the year is interesting, but it doesn’t enhance optimization of the system.
“With Plant Simulation, we reduced production time by as much as 70 percent on the way to optimal utilization. While in the past it could sometimes take years of trial-and-error loops to identify the optimum, today this can be solved quickly and purposefully with simulation in advance.
“Twenty percent throughput optimization is realistic. Simulation has two essential effects for us; one is rapidly finding the best concept and the other is finding the maximum throughput the respective concept can achieve. With Plant Simulation, we are efficiently positioned in both directions.“
Another aspect of production simulation is clarity and flexibility. The layout, logistics and material flow optimization make it possible to see whether the process sequence and the positioning of a machine is consistent. Saladin recalls a project in which the distances traveled were important in machine operation: “We placed all operating areas in places that seemed easily accessible to us. We made a machine area accessible via a small bridge and were satisfied with our layout design because it was visually very appealing. When we determined via the simulation where the most disturbances in the production line were to be expected, unreasonable worker paths became visible. It’s not always just about the pure cycle time, but also about ergonomic aspects. A small change in the layout quickly provided a remedy and optimal paths.”
Siemens’ Plant Simulation includes a realistic representation of operating personnel in 3D with calculation of their routes, taking into account stairs and other obstacles. During simulation, Sankey diagrams automatically log and display how the employees move in the simulation and what effect this has on the material flow. Sometimes using production simulation facilitates optimizing the machine design; for example, by making a machine accessible from two sides. A good interaction between operator and machine has a positive financial and ergonomic impact.
”With the help of Plant Simulation and the 3D models, it is easy to make management and customers understand a concept,” says Saladin. “Confidence in the concept increases when individual shuttles can be virtually accompanied on their way through the facility, or the line can be viewed from a bird’s eye view.“
ZAHORANSKY has been using Tecnomatix Plant Simulation since 2014: “You must not be deterred by the initial investments and want to do everything on your own immediately,” says Saladin. “The introduction of production simulation is a strategic decision that more than pays for itself in the medium and long term. The cost of licenses, personnel and model creation is minimal compared to the savings in optimizing a production plant.
“In addition, it reduces risk of errors and failures. Also important is the step-by-step approach to deal with basic models. This is where the comprehensive support from Siemens, which we are still happy to use today, helps. In the meantime, we have two employees who deal exclusively with simulation, evaluating the models. In the future, we will plan the complete modeling on our own. We will then obtain Siemens’ advice selectively as a second opinion, simply because they have incredible expertise from numerous projects.
“Our further goal is to transition to automatically creating program code using Siemens PLCs. The vision is the simulation of a plant with subsequent receipt of the logic module for the Siemens Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) Portal. Siemens has already signaled to us there are application examples and couplings here, also in conjunction with Siemens’ industrial internet of things service solution, MindSphere. We are currently in the process of implementing a larger production line again so perhaps this is the right time for a pilot project.”