Springs, wires, chains, pipes – they can be found in almost all areas of everyday life. But who builds the machines that shape these indispensable parts into the perfect form? WAFIOS AG, headquartered in Reutlingen, Germany, has specialized in manufacturing these special machines for a wide variety of cold forming applications since 1893. In a project lasting several years, the long-established company succeeded in digitalizing its manufacturing processes from the design stage right through to the CNC machine. A pioneering step that unlocks enormous potential with the help of A+B Solutions GmbH.
WAFIOS has always played a pioneering role in special machine construction. The company began manufacturing manual braiding machines for fences in 1893, but developed the first automatic wire braiding machine as early as 1905. This innovative spirit runs like a red thread through the company’s history. The most recent example is the first introduction of a CNC-controlled tube bending machine for plastic tubes – another world premiere in a series of countless pioneering achievements. Thanks to its openness to new ideas and clear recognition of requirements, WAFIOS has navigated safely through all the ups and downs of the past 130 years. Today, WAFIOS is considered a leader in the field of special machine construction and employs more than 1,100 people worldwide.
From Industry 1.0 to 4.0
The company has mastered almost all phases of the industrial revolution, from Industry 1.0 to the current Industry 4.0. While mechanization was at the forefront at the beginning of the industrial age, mass production was introduced in Industry 2.0. Industry 3.0 arrived with automation through sensor and electrical technology and the spread of computers. Nowadays, intelligent networking, digitalization and the availability of information are at the heart of the Industry 4.0 era.
Investment in process optimization required
Each of these stages brought with it an increase in efficiency. However, stages 1 to 3 differ from Industry 4.0 in one glaring respect: while in the previous stages it was more or less sufficient to purchase modern machines, the real efficiency potential in the current stage can only be achieved if investments are made in the associated process optimization. If this succeeds in the form of digital consistency, a quantum leap is achieved. Processes become faster, errors are avoided and profits are increased. The result is a clear competitive advantage, which in turn forms the basis for a successful future for the entire company.
Production digitizers as guides
Entering the digital age requires a careful analysis of the current situation and a clear plan for digital consistency.This process requires hard work on the part of both the digitalization provider and the customer.Siemens offers suitable software tools for this, but these can only be used in combination with expertise and experience. Markus Häußler and A+B Solutions GmbH have successfully mastered this path with WAFIOS. The production digitalizers from Schwäbisch Gmünd have specialized in the optimization of production processes for many years as a Siemens “Smart Expert Partner”.As the person responsible for CAM programming at WAFIOS, Markus Häußler occupies a key position between design and production and is therefore ideally suited to lead the start of the digital revolution in the company.
Let’s get away from the data islands
In 2015, WAFIOS was struggling with many isolated data islands.The design department was already working with Siemens NX as a 3D CAD system at around 80 workstations.The design data and models were managed in the Siemens PLM software Teamcenter, which is connected to the SAP ERP system.However, the CAM area worked in isolation at six workstations with NX-CAM 3. Due to the “Genius” tool management software used, it was not possible to update NX to more recent versions.In Genius, all associated tools and programs were managed in a separate database, which stored the data in separate network drives.As a result, there was no direct access to the CAD data, which had long since been created in a newer NX version. This meant that there was no data consistency for the 3D models, which led to additional work.
Central Teamcenter data source
To eliminate the data islands, A+B Solutions proposed the introduction of Teamcenter for CAM and production. With Teamcenter, “Genius” could be replaced and NX-CAM could finally be updated. This decision also offered WAFIOS a path to digital consistency on the same database – from design to machine. At that time, the company was managing around 25 CNC machines with around 15,000 tools and 100,000 NC programs. The primary challenge was to transfer the existing data to the new system and make it available. The aim is to use Teamcenter to generate a central data source that everyone can access.
Teamcenter offers a solution for this called MRL (Manufacturing Resource Library).The library has a modern classification structure for technology data based on DIN 4003 / ISO.The transfer of existing manufacturing data to Teamcenter is a specialty of A+B Solutions GmbH, which is why a joint migration plan was developed.The first step was to map the WAFIOS classification of the tools in Teamcenter MRL.Then the attributes were migrated from the Genius database to Teamcenter via PLMXML.The migration scope amounted to approx. 8,000 components and 15,000 complete tools. Markus Häußler describes the effort involved: “With this volume, it would not have been possible to enter everything manually. Fortunately, A+B Solutions has its own mapping and migration tools that create clear links between old and new. We were able to compare the mapping in a clear mask and ‘wire’ it up correctly, so to speak. This made things incredibly easy and gave us the certainty that all the data had been transferred correctly and could be used.”
Eliminate paper as a source of danger
A similar procedure is followed when migrating the NC programs, whereby the article numbers are linked to the production data and the correct structure is created in Teamcenter. What sounds so simple turned out to be a real Herculean task for Markus Häußler: “This process was relatively complex at WAFIOS, as we had 100,000 NC programs and 150 Leitz folders with clamping plans and notes alone. The folders with paper were distributed at every machine in production. Three work-study students then digitized them, resulting in 40,000 PDFs, which then had to be assigned to the NC programs. This is exactly where the migration tool from A+B Solutions helped enormously again, as we came up with a machine-specific logic. After all, each machine operator has his own working style, which he documented accordingly. Due to the analyses required for this, the start-up phase for the first machine took a little longer at six months, before we then became increasingly faster. Since 2019, we have integrated 15 machines and are making great progress in connecting the rest of the machinery.”In this way, valuable know-how from many decades, which was previously spread across the entire company, is digitally accessed and centrally managed.This aspect alone and the time saved from the cumbersome search processes of the past make digitalization with Siemens Teamcenter and A+B Solutions absolutely worthwhile.At the touch of a button, the right information now appears in the right version for the actually released program.
Programming more than twice as fast
The efficiency gains that were already achieved with the first milestone in 2018 are impressive.Since then, the design and CAM programming departments have been working on a shared database with NX, NX-CAM and Teamcenter.Markus Häußler quantifies the advantages: “We can now access the 3D model data directly in the design department.Whereas previously we always had to reprogram everything, we now only need to add the deviations for similar parts. This means we are 50 to 80 percent faster in programming. Added to this are the time benefits from the optimum interaction between man, machine and material at the start of processing.”
Productivity increased by more than a third
The connection to the machines in production is made via the A+B software “Shop-Floor-Connect”. A+B-Solutions GmbH is a development and OEM partner of Siemens.The software solutions are distributed worldwide exclusively by Siemens.”Shop-Floor-Connect” has an intuitive user interface and can address almost all machines.Even older machines that only have a serial RS-232 interface can be easily integrated by A+B Solutions using an adapter. There is no need for time-consuming running-in and careful testing, as NX-CAM simulates the machining process with absolute reliability: “Even before the first part is produced, we have a collision check and can be sure that nothing will go wrong. In the meantime, the workers even allow NC programs that have never been run before to start fully immediately without running in. A huge amount of trust has grown in the system data, which also simplifies machine operation. We no longer have the machine crashes that we used to have. This is an enormous gain in productivity, as we also reduce our machine downtimes and sources of error. In view of the tight production schedule and the tight delivery situation for new tools and machine parts, this is a great advantage. I estimate that we have been able to increase our output by 30 to 40 percent.”
Integrated tool management
In addition to the digital consistency of CAD, CAM and production, A+B Solutions also creates the connection to the existing tool management system TMS from Zoller.A+B Solutions solves such third-party connections in Teamcenter with the comprehensive 3rd party integration platform.The A+B Solutions interface closes the tool cycle between the virtual and physical world.From now on, tool data is only created once in Teamcenter.Teamcenter acts as the leading equipment database and provides the information on the tools both virtually for NX-CAM and physically to Zoller TMS.The information on parts lists, numbers and attributes is transferred from Teamcenter to Zoller TMS in the tool output.There, the physical preparation takes place with clarification of how many such tools are already available, which components are in stock and where these tools are located (in the tool cabinet or on the machine).
New horizons reachable
The flexibility, openness and transparency of Teamcenter opens up many new possibilities for WAFIOS. For example, nothing stands in the way of TISAX certification for recognized secure data exchange with the automotive industry. New approaches such as “Concurrent Engineering for Manufacturing” are also conceivable. This involves parallel work in the form of a partial release from the design department for individual parts to production, even before the entire machine has been fully designed. This can reduce delivery times. Other approaches include the use of cloud technology with Teamcenter X or digital commissioning with the support of a digital twin.
No fear of contact
While such plans are still up in the air, Markus Häußler is already thinking concretely about integrating the measurement protocols of the ZEISS CALYPSO software: “A+B offers us a suitable interface here too.We are pleased that A+B Solutions is always on hand to advise us in view of the wide range of solutions available.Teamcenter is a powerful application that is therefore wrongly regarded as complicated.What is important is the correct approach to the structure and an intuitive implementation of the operating screens.Cumbersome entries are not widely accepted.Today, we have no fear of contact at any level – on the contrary. Nobody wants to do without the new functions. It is a great help for us to always be able to fall back on the practical experience of A+B Solutions. Together, we were able to make a reliable selection of the steps and functions currently required. This gave us a clear introduction without overwhelming us or obstructing our path into the future.”
Investment has paid off
WAFIOS benefits from a number of advantages thanks to the digitally integrated process chain from design to the processing machine, which has been implemented for the first time. The fact that all relevant data can now be found on one system not only makes work easier for the IT department with a central data backup. The digital transformation at WAFIOS is based on the fact that the company management has made far-sighted strategic decisions to set the course. The willingness to invest in processes and allocate the necessary time and resources is essential. The reward is a huge ROI, which is quickly realized once the measures have been implemented. Markus Häußler believes that this will strengthen the site in the long term: “WAFIOS is of course facing international competition, which is forcing us to become more productive. The key question is how we can become more efficient without compromising on quality. With the digitalization solutions from A+B Solutions and Siemens, we are achieving our goals and are even better and more flexible than ever before. We can only meet modern market requirements if we take a holistic view of our processes and implement them digitally.With the knowledge we have today, we should have taken this step much earlier, because it represents an investment in the future of the entire company and that really pays off!”