Name just about any large auto manufacturer on the planet and the likelihood is that BWI Group supplies them with chassis, suspension, and brake products. With headquarters in Beijing, China, the company has more than 5,000 employees, 16 technical centers and factories worldwide, and annual sales approaching $1 billion.
But expansion meant the company had to figure out a way to add manufacturing capacity quickly and cost effectively in order to fulfill several new large contracts. BWI Group selected Siemens to deploy a range of automation solutions, drives, and communication technologies to help it transition toward the Industry 4.0 vision of the smart factory.
“We want to take greater advantage of digitalization, such as integrated automation, digital twins, and Internet of Things, so we can make faster decisions based on real-time or near real-time data to improve our quality, efficiency, and costs, while delivering ever-more value to our customers,” said BWI Controls Engineering Supervisor Bill Taylor.
When a series of large, urgent suspension orders came in from the U.S., BWI realized that it needed more capacity closer to its North American customers. Its North American automotive customers operate lean manufacturing systems, which require just-in-time inbound logistics. A new plant, therefore, was built in Indiana, close to key markets. But with high U.S. labor costs, the facility had to be highly efficient and heavily automated to minimize operating costs. Machine costs, too, had to be brought down by 25%, while bringing the facility online in record time. BWI decided to evaluate Siemens automation, controls, and connectivity solutions, which were in use at the company’s plants in Europe and Asia, but not in its American operations.
“Siemens hardware was as much as 40% less expensive than our previous automation products supplier and the software was less than half the cost,” said Taylor. “But as much as I liked the cost savings, the engineering and technical support was outstanding, leading us to execute a global partnership with Siemens.”
Siemens components selected for the factor consisted of:
- SIMATIC S7 PLCs, including S7-1500 and S7-1200 safety-integrated models, plus ET 200SP for distributed I/O
- SIMATIC HMI Comfort Panels, including TP1200 and TP1500 color touch models
- SIMATIC IPC industrial PCs, including IPC277, IPC477, and IPC677 models
- SINAMICS G120 and S120 drives for vector and servo motion-control duties
- SCALANCE S615 managed switches with built-in firewalls for secure yet fast, prioritized packet traffic
The SCALANCE switch comes with high-speed, highly deterministic IRT (Isochronous Realtime) PROFINET. As a result, data exchange cycles range from a few hundred microseconds up to a few milliseconds. With this protocol, the switch divides the bandwidth into two intervals: one for ultra-fast, deterministic data transfer; another for lower-priority Ethernet data. This has proven useful in robotic applications where motion control is critical.
These components are part of the Siemens Totally Integration Automation (TIA) portfolio. As well as being modularly designed, many are self-configurable to make them plug-and-play. Built-in web servers are included in several products for remote diagnostics. They are programmable via the drag-and-drop capabilities of the Siemens TIA Portal. Its common software engineering framework and libraries of proven code can save as much as 30% in programming time.
Part of the project involved converting code from the previous automation system to that used in Siemens TIA. Taylor said he received excellent support from Siemens and C&E Sales. For example, one machine builder spent almost a week trying to get IRT PROFINET to work with a two-port SIMATIC S7-1500 PLC model. C&E Sales explained how to use one PLC port for the IRT and the other for regular PROFINET. This resolved the problem in 10 minutes.
Another time, Taylor wanted to implement the MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) protocol on the SIMATIC PLCs. Siemens supplied education and code which saved him over 100 hours of coding work.
“Siemens and its distributors stand behind their products before, during, and after the sale,” said Taylor. “They get back to us in minutes or hours.”
When the new BWI plant opened, it not only met the 25% cost-reduction goal, it boasted the most modern and cost-effective automation and control systems of all company plants worldwide. The PLCs’ integrated safety features eliminated the need to add safety relays throughout the plant.
“We saved about 10 percent of our overall automation and control costs by using the safety-integrated SIMATIC PLCs,” said Taylor.
Moving forward, Taylor is counting on the Siemens partnership to help his company realize its BWI 4.0 vision with all new equipment standardizing on Siemens components and software. The TIA Portal is to be used as a common engineering framework throughout the company. Plans are in place, for example, to implement this technology in a Mexican plant to reduce parts inventory costs.
BWI 4.0 team expects to eventually be able to interconnect the company’s plants and tech centers worldwide to take advantage of digital twin concepts, advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. This can only be achieved, though, by moving its systems from on-premise to the cloud. That’s why BWI is now evaluating the cloud-based Siemens MindSphere IoT operating system as the best platform to migrate industrial systems to the cloud.
“We are giving serious weight in our selection criteria to the extraordinary support we’ve come to expect from Siemens and its long-established, global network of highly qualified distributors like C&E Sales,” said Taylor.Have an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>