Smart technology for well-being

Stiebel Eltron: Digitalization of production with SAP MES

Stiebel Eltron is consistently driving forward the digitalization of its business processes. By successively introducing the standard software SAP MES as the core of production control, the company is increasing transparency across the entire production process and achieving end-to-end traceability of its products. Together with intelligent material supply using automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and robotics integration, the concept of a smart factory is already a reality at Stiebel Eltron.

Since 1924, Stiebel Eltron has combined pioneering spirit with visionary ideas and is now one of the world's market and technology leaders in the fields of domestic and "green" technologies. With its water heaters, heat pumps, ventilation systems and space heaters, the market leader aims to make a significant contribution to the spread of highly efficient, electricity-based home technologies. This maxim is currently followed by more than 4,000 employees around the globe. The Group's success in figures is measured in permanent growth and sales of over 830 million euros in 2021.

MES at the heart of the Smart Factory

The "Industry 4.0 & IoT in Production" project is part of a large-scale transformation strategy with which the company from Holzminden in Lower Saxony is driving forward the digitization of its business processes and investing in new halls, plants and assembly lines as well as in logistics. At the operational level, the aim was to make production control smarter, more efficient and more transparent. The digitization strategy provided for seamless vertical integration of production machines and aggregates as well as automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and assembly robots. Other important topics included end-to-end traceability up to batch size 1 and paperless plant management.

"The entire production is to be controlled by SAP standard software," explains Markus Linke, division manager and responsible for digitalization in production and logistics at Stiebel Eltron. "In this context, SAP MES became indispensable as an essential tool for the initiative." There was a preference on the part of Stiebel Eltron for the use of SAP MES due to prior knowledge of SAP MES and the SAP strategy already in place at the company.

In addition, seamless integration into the SAP EWM (Extended Warehouse Management) warehouse management system and, in the future, into SAP S/4HANA, spoke in favor of using SAP MES. The SAP engineers at IGZ were selected as partners for the implementation of the project. Stiebel Eltron was convinced by IGZ's extensive industry and IT know-how and its great experience in the direct connection of technical plants as well as its know-how in the field of logistics, which promised synergy effects for the upcoming logistics projects.

Deployment analysis for project preparation

First, the project was prepared in a structured manner by means of a deployment analysis and the potential of SAP MES for Stiebel Eltron was analyzed. With the jointly developed migration concept, an outline schedule, and budgeting, Stiebel Eltron had a sound basis for decision-making and security for project implementation.

The implementation of the pilot project "Multiline" for the installation of heat pumps" could be realized in less than one year thanks to this structured project preparation. The implementation was based on a template consisting of several building blocks (function modules). This approach enables simple and fast roll-outs. "Another success factor and project accelerator was the use of IGZ machine emulation," says Kai Zimmermann, project manager of the pilot project. "With this digital twin of the production equipment, the test phase could be significantly accelerated and quality ensured, which ensured a smooth go-live."

Pilot project based on a rollout-ready template

The total of 15 workstations of the "Multiline" - from assembly to soldering and leak testing to post-processing - were each equipped with their own worker terminals for online worker guidance. The main functions of these user-friendly terminals include order processing, component assembly, deviation recording and on-demand label printing. In addition, the terminals provide digital access to work instructions and drawings, eliminating time-consuming paper-based information searches for employees. Each heat pump is assigned a serial number, making each product one hundred percent traceable.

The transport orders for the AGV are also controlled by SAP MES. The vehicles supply the workstations with components and pick up the finished parts again. The vehicles do not follow a fixed route, but are controlled by intelligent, highly optimized logic.

A driving order is triggered as soon as a workstation is free, based on a constant comparison and complex logics. The deeply integrated machine connection makes this possible. This is the only way to ensure absolutely uniform capacity utilization with a constant material flow.

Template and know-how transfer as a success factor for fast rollouts

At the beginning of 2023, the MES was rolled out to the "heating flange" production area, for which the basic template only had to be enriched with area-specific function blocks. The programmable logic controllers (PLCs) of the highly automated plant could be connected via a standardized OPC UA interface. The machine connection is used for automatic actual data acquisition of inspection results as well as the transmission of target parameters from SAP ERP via SAP MES to the machines. Thus, all inspection data of the quality control can be clearly recorded to the PSN. Deviations are detected by means of statistical process control in SAP MES in order to inform the process manager if necessary.

"The intensive transfer of know-how from IGZ to our SAP MES team in the 'Multiline' pilot project enabled us to expand our expertise, which has already allowed us to carry out this rollout on a large scale under our own management," emphasizes Matthias Könemann, Project Manager SAP MES.

In the third step, the project partners will put the production control system into productive operation in the "solder wave" area. The 30 workstations for placement and visual inspection of the 15-meter-long soldering system will each be equipped with a worker terminal. Another integral component is the machine connection of the solder wave system. The workpiece carriers (soldering masks), which can hold up to 20 individual boards, each with its own serial number, pass through the system, which is designed as a conveyor system, via two levels.

Recognition takes place via RFID. SAP MES not only controls the workpiece carriers, but also checks the frequency of use and releases them for the process again after any necessary cleaning. In addition, the system transmits relevant program information for processing the solder masks to the solder wave station via a web service interface. Key process data that are continuously determined and analyzed include transport speeds, temperatures, rotational speeds and oxygen quantities.

Increasing efficiency

The digitization of production with the help of a manufacturing execution system is already bearing fruit. Efficiency has increased significantly thanks to the high level of automation, digitized production control and paperless plant management. The amount of time spent on reworking has dropped significantly. Division Manager Markus Linke underlines this: "The measures have had a much greater effect than we expected."

For roll-outs to other production areas and plants, Stiebel Eltron saves time and money thanks to the template's building-block approach and the transfer of know-how by IGZ. The building services specialist has also gained significantly in flexibility . New process requirements can now be integrated quickly and additional machines and aggregates can be connected easily at any time via SAP PCO (Plant Connectivity). Restrictions are also ruled out for further AGV and robotics integrations.

"Our main concern, the desire for a scalable, flexibly deployable system, has been fulfilled. We now see ourselves excellently positioned for the future thanks to SAP MES," emphasizes Markus Linke. Furthermore, the expansion and modernization of logistics is on the agenda.

IGZ has already developed a logistics planning including SAP EWM conceptual design for the new construction of a fully automated small parts warehouse (miniload) and high-bay warehouse for distribution and the modernization of the existing high-bay warehouse. Markus Linke sums up: "There are still many joint strategic project tasks ahead, for example the integration of SAP ME with SAP S/4HANA and EWM. With IGZ, we have an experienced and competent partner for production and logistics at our side for this."

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