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Customer application 9 August 2021
Gustav Hensel and WAGO: Moving Step by Step to Digitization Together

Gustav Hensel is one of the global market leaders in electrical installation and distribution technology. To keep it that way, this family-owned company from Lennestadt relies on a digitization strategy based on small but sustainable steps. A key component is the gradual implementation of the digital twin, whose purpose is to optimize the processes between project planning and production.
Hensel is thriving, with annual revenue of around 110 million euros, a global network of subsidiaries and trading partners and more than 800 employees, whose order books are always full. When it comes to energy distribution, you can’t avoid Hensel. This company from the Sauerland region of North Rhine-Westphalia offers products for many installation tasks in commercial and industrial buildings, outdoor applications, transport infrastructure systems and the heavily standardized solar power sector. That provides a strong foundation for the future – but this successful switchgear manufacturer has no intention of resting on its laurels. More efficient workflows with shorter delivery times, consistent quality assurance despite increasing price pressure and reproducible processes to help counter the growing shortage of skilled labor – all of these are on the agenda. The company is tackling these challenges with the help of digitization in engineering.

Digital Processes to Counter the Skilled Labor Shortage

“The beginnings skilled labor shortage was actually the main motivation for our commitment to digitization,” explains Karl-Heinz Hupertz, Head of Project Planning at Hensel. A generational change the company’s in-house production employees is foreseeable in the next few years. “Many old hands are retiring and taking their knowledge with them. Our goal is to keep this valuable asset within the company and transfer it to new employees.” When it comes to digitization, Hensel is therefore concerned with streamlining internal processes and archiving existing expertise so that it can be passed on in the form of data. This means that more details have to be planned in advance during project planning for a switchgear system so that those details can be used more quickly and efficiently in production.

Digital Tools – Flat Architecture to Get Ahead

When the EPLAN P8 software was introduced ten years ago, the company started doing project planning for electrical designs of individual low-voltage switchgear units. It does not manufacture series switchgear – only one-of-a-kind units based on a building-block principle. “For now, we decided to stick to a flat architecture for using the software.” For assembly drawings, employees at the main plant in Lennestadt and at the secondary location in Grimma, Saxony, work on project planning with AutoCAD Mechanical, while electrotechnical design is done with the EPLAN Electric P8 application. Parts lists are transferred from the CAD software to the internal ERP system – at this time, there are no other interfaces between the systems.

Gradual Expansion

The plan is to gradually expand the use of the digital twin at Hensel. Currently, this is being tested for the design of terminal strips; the engineers use Smart Designer, WAGO’s online configurator, as a project planning tool. The Minden-based connection and automation engineers consistently provide switchgear manufacturers with all the data, software tools and interfaces they require throughout their processes – from electrical and mechanical planning, to ordering and manufacturing configured products, to individual products. Steffen Winther, Market Manager for Engineering Services at WAGO, sees the implementation of the digital twin as essential in the long term in order to achieve a certain degree of digitization throughout the entire process chain: “Today, a design engineer spends at least 30 percent of his or her time on data creation and maintenance. The digital twin can save time and money.” The goal, he says, must be to achieve integrated production.

The Digital Twin – Always Individually Tailored

That is Gustav Hensel’s goals in the long run – but the project is currently still in the testing phase. At present, the digital twin is still being built manually, without using cross-interface processes. However, Hupertz emphasizes that this also makes visualization’s advantage very obvious: “When a terminal strip is constructed fully in the configurator, it can be visualized directly in the workshop, from the part numbers to the structure. This simplifies assembly of the terminal strip to a huge degree; in the end, any employee with the proper training should be able to handle it.” The next step will be to visualize the generated twin data in a 2D assembly drawing to indicate to employees on the shop floor where the terminal blocks should be placed. “We first want to gain more insight into the benefits of the technology,” says Hupertz, explaining their gradual approach – according to him, this is the only way to sell all the employees on the new technology. Steffen Winther adds: “It is important to understand that there’s no one single digital twin for everyone. It’s always an individually tailored solution for the specific corporate processes. That’s what we offer at WAGO.” When the first product was actually implemented at Hensel, Hupertz quickly recognized the strengths of the virtual image: “At present, we photograph every switchgear unit we build. Now, with the digital twin, that’s only necessary for this purpose of documenting the condition upon delivery. All the other data can be retrieved; any design changes already need to be made at this stage can be implemented and passed on to production. Problems can be identified early on and tracked. This clearly shows the digital twin’s potential for increasing workflow efficiency.

The basis of the data for the digital twin comes from the EPLAN data portal, where commercial and 2D data are also stored. 3D data is also available; it would also be possible to add these at a later date on the basis of the item numbers provided,” explains Thomas Göbel, who is responsible for EPLAN administration at Hensel: “We prefer to collect more data, rather than having to add data later.” However, insufficient data standardization among manufacturers remains a problem. “We assume that we’ll be able to achieve measurable efficiency gains in the future with a sophisticated data standard,” emphasizes Göbel. Ultimately, the company has a responsibility to its customers to not provide them with a jumble of data and documents – and also to not confuse its own production employees.

Exploiting Opportunities and Safeguarding Jobs

The key phrase here is “confuse employees”: The company’s decision makers are aware that the beginnings of digitization can certainly stir up fears: “People often see digitization in terms of rationalization. But we wanted to make clear from the outset that that’s not what this is about – it’s more about safeguarding future jobs,” says Hupertz. It’s essential to involve employees between the ages of 20 and 65. For this reason the information was provided in advance, employees were involved in working groups and feedback was taken seriously. “Of course we wish we were already a bit further along. But we have to be sure that the digital bus doesn’t move too fast for everyone to get on board.” The digitization project was given the title “Project Planning 2025,” which gives an idea of the time horizon the company has set for itself. The goal, he said, is to run the digital transformation in parallel with day-to-day operations and continue to make money without incurring major costs. “More investment in planning is acceptable if it makes the overall process more efficient,” emphasizes Hupertz.

We’ve been working with WAGO for a long time. In addition to terminal strips and electronic components, we currently rely on their marking system.

Karl-Heinz Hupertz, Head of Project Planning at Hensel

Advancing Automation Processes with WAGO

WAGO supports Gustav Hensel in advancing automation processes. Karl-Heinz Hupertz also appreciates this partnership: “We’ve been working with WAGO for a long time. In addition to terminal strips and electronic components, we currently rely on their marking system.” From the existing CAE system, Hensel’s control cabinets and components are labeled using WAGO’s thermal transfer Smart Printer. For medium-sized companies, the specific application of the technology is the lesser problem anyway; the real issue is the lack of personnel capacity, explains Steffen Winther. “A control cabinet manufacturer should employ at least one person in the company to set up the digital twin and establish consistency, for example. That can’t be done on the side, in addition to day-to-day business. The topic is too big for that,” says Winther with conviction. The human factor will remain important in the future. Hupertz shares that assessment: “We are currently in the process of creating space for integrating the digital process into the daily routine bit by bit.” Ultimately, this also has to do with protecting Germany as a center of industry – not for nothing is Gustav Hensel’s campaign called “Made in Germany.”

Gustav Hensel GmbH & Co. KG is a leading international supplier of electrical installation and distribution systems for the safe distribution of electrical energy in demanding environments. The company owes its success to its approximately 800 employees – 550 in Germany and 250 in foreign subsidiaries. At the production site in Lennestadt in the Sauerland region of North Rhine-Westphalia, the main focus is on production of large switchgear units up to 5,000 amps, while at the subsidiary in Grimma, Saxony, employees develop and manufacture switchgear with a focus on the modular Mi distribution system.

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