The benefits associated with being part of a truly global firm is elevating drive engineering specialist SEW-EURODRIVE SA to a new level that is positioning it in an unparalleled class of its own.
Thanks to its Germany-based parent company, this business has refined its quality control procedures and is quickly building automation and digital technologies into its core functionalities.
This article first appeared in Mining Elites in Africa 2020
With 80 assembly plants located across the globe – servicing 55 countries with nearly 20 000 staff, SEW-EURODRIVE is a force to be reckoned with in its field of speciality.
The success of any its subsidiaries is equally as important and therefore is dependent on their ability to adhere to the stringent, non-negotiable operating and assembly requirements that the German parent company has established and enforces with the objective or delivering the highest level of quality and service.
“The expectations for the South African arm of the business is no less and must filter down into all of our regional facilities as well. Without compliance, we are not able to assemble products locally,” says MD Raymond Obermeyer.
“2019 was a proud year for our facilities,” Obermeyer highlights.
“Having invested millions to ensure the company’s resources were on par with any global SEW branch, our Johannesburg-based plant, together with our branches in Cape Town, Nelspruit and Durban were awarded the SEW-EURDORIVE compliancy stamp of approval – verifying that we are ISO compliant and aligned with the top global standards associated with the company.”
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Compliancy was verified at each of the SEW-EURODRIVE South African facilities through a two-day audit (per facility), undertaken every three years by SEW-EURODRIVE’s Germany-based compliancy expert.
“Customers want to align themselves with companies that are quality compliant and we now believe we are positioned at the top of our game in this regard,” says Clive O’Reilly, Branch Manager for KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
This is why it is important for every SEW-EURODRIVE branch to place as much relevance on their quality performance as Germany.
The KZN branch in particular has been identified as holding significant growth opportunity which it can achieve through some of South Africa’s largest industrial sectors – coal export, pulp and paper as well as the sugar industry.
As such, in 2016 SEW-EURODRIVE relocated its premises to a new facility in Isipingo where it underwent its first audit.
“To achieve compliancy in a new facility is a huge achievement and one we are particularly proud of. Having rearranged and aligned our plant to operate optimally and effectively – we now boast a world-class drive assembly facility in the province, which is further equipped with qualified personnel,” says O’Reilly.
Considering KZN’s high-humidity climate, together with its high volumes of salt and dust which has a corrosive impact on equipment, this is a particularly noteworthy achievement.
As with all SEW-EURODRIVE branches, KZN has removed all unnecessary waste, streamlined every process and in so doing removed the necessity to house unnecessary stock.
Following the successful audit, every employee is highly motivated. “It underlines the fact that SEW-EURODRIVE SA is able to offer the best solutions available locally, based on the highest-quality products.
“It gives our customers peace of mind that they will not incur any downtime due to unplanned breakdowns,” O’Reilly affirms.
“This is supported with a 24/7 service offering, with technicians on standby to attend to any emergencies throughout the province. “We can handle any breakdown situation.
“We stock spare parts as we deem necessary, which reduces lead times considerably. All of this affirms our high capability, which has now been underscored by the international audit.”
Building momentum in Africa
Obermeyer will move through 2020 with a positive outlook – for South Africa and certain regions on the continent as well.
“While the mining sector remains one of our largest revenue contributors, even during down-cycle periods, we are fortunate to cater to all major industries which minimises the cyclical nature of different sectors.”
The immediate focus in 2020 and beyond is two-fold – the first is to expand SEW-EURDRIVE’s African footprint, not just servicing the 24 countries it currently does but to establish subsidiary businesses in specific jurisdictions.
“We want independent companies with fully operational capabilities and this is what we are working towards. Having already established an assembly facility in Kenya and Tanzania. “This country was our star performer in 2019.”
Building technology momentum
The second focus in 2020 will see SEW-EURDRIVE continue to fully embracing 4IR and this again is filtering through to all of its global businesses.
“All new plants are being built to Industry 4.0 standards – digitally proficient and automated. Existing plants will follow suit with time,” Obermeyer shares.
This does not only apply to the manufacture and assembly of its products, but starts with digitalised, automated software-driven systems.
Within the next three years, the South Africa-based company will phase in a cloud-based approach system to monitor its processes and procedures as well as the performance of its equipment in real-time performance.
“We fully embrace this digital revolution and are training our staff to ensure they retain their relevance to the business.
The company gave visitors to the Africa Automation Fair 2019 a foretaste of its MOVI-C® modular automation system, which is readymade for the requirements of Industry 4.0.
This represents the next-generation of automation technology from Germany, and will be phased-in gradually by SEW-EURODRIVE in South Africa, according to MD Raymond Obermeyer.
The system consists of a MAXO-RPS-T-RRRRR0-10-1300-01, including a stand and polycarbonate guard, CMP motors, MOVI-C® Modular; MOVI-C® Controller, a Human Machine Interface (DOP), and MOVIKIT® Robotics software.
The system provides for an end-to-end automation solution, from planning to commissioning, operation and diagnostics software, electronic control and monitoring devices, mechanical drives, and gear motors. What’s more, it features an open communications topology from PROFIBUS and Industrial Ethernet to Modbus.
While the MOVIDRIVE® B Drive Inverter and MOVIAXIS® Multi-Axis Servo Inverter have been available for some time, the MOVI-C® modular automation system sets SEW-EURODRIVE (Pty) Ltd. on a path to embrace Industry 4.0.
“This requires products that are both open and flexible,” Obermeyer stresses.
“Our focus is to provide our customers with a fully modular and customisable solution.”
The unit on display will be a high-speed pick-and-place solution, including a tracking function, applicable to a range of industries.
Showcasing the technology at the Africa Automation Fair 2019 as a ‘teaser’ of what customers can expect in the near future from SEW-EURODRIVE, which is already developing new technologies with a three- to four-year window period in response to both industry trends and customer requirements (as already mentioned).
“Our main theme at the exhibition focused on energy-efficiency,” Obermeyer notes. Three segment conveyors from 1 m to 1.5 m in length will feature IE2, IE3, and IE4 motors, with the different energy consumption displayed on a screen.
“Our aim is not only to stay ahead of the technology curve, but to be in a position to ensure our customers always have access to the latest complete solutions that are flexible, adaptable, and cost-effective,” Obermeyer adds.
Through the introduction of SEW-EURODRIVE’s DriveRadar® system, the company now offers a complete solution for data-based predictive maintenance management by first collecting and evaluating data digitally, and then predicting ‘events’ which assists in preventing unscheduled downtime.
The DriveRadar® system works by regularly/continuously recording the condition of systems using sensors and measuring systems, including endoscopy, thermography and vibration measurements. In doing so it provides condition-oriented maintenance based on up-to-date system condition dated.
Predictive maintenance includes permanently recording various system parameters, so that future system failures can be predicted by detection of anomalies.
- Online recording of parameters;
- Displaying the condition and operation to provide transparency;
- Preventing malfunctions and unplanned outages/idling times thanks to early warnings of critical system states or abnormal operations;
- Making maximum use of component and system lifecycles;
- Improving the ability to plan maintenance and repairs; and
- Ensuring/increasing the availability of components, machinery and systems.
DriveRadar® aims to determine the state of products/machines and systems by using existing data that is collected by drive systems from SEW-EURODRIVE during operation.
Cutting edge data analysis (machine learning_ can be used to accurately predict imminent damage using a digital twin. The means the system can prevent unforeseen failures and interferences in operation, detect wear and minimise downtime.
Lean Industry 4.0
Industry 4.0 is changing the role of humans in the overall processes. New areas of work are being created in which the processes in the showcase factory flow together.
Humans and robots thus work hand in hand, and this process is intensifying all the time, with both sides increasingly converging to form a single team.
Industry 4.0 has been a beacon of hope for Germany for the last two years. In the process of realigning the project, there are increasing calls to go beyond political soundbites, issues of principle and definitions and in particular to see evidence of the feasibility and implementation of visions in real production scenarios that pay dividends.
At the same time, there are louder calls for Industry 4.0 to focus more strongly on people. The two elements can be harmonised by basing practicable and value-oriented concepts of “Lean” Industry 4.0 directly on interaction between humans and machines.
More than just new technology – New production where the human dimension is key
Technology isn’t an end in itself but rather a basis for Industry 4.0. In the future, the real and virtual worlds will merge and be fully networked with one another. This development will enable completely new forms of production and collaboration.
What’s new about this approach is that it isn’t just machines and integrated systems that will communicate with one another. In Industry 4.0, all systems will be intelligently networked and will also exchange real-time information with the products being manufactured (naturally including humans).
“Lean Industry 4.0” will combine the “new” concepts of Industry 4.0 with the established principles of lean management and thus enable new collaboration between humans, machines and products, with the focus on humans and their value creation.
And what’s the result of thinking so comprehensively about new forms of production / the factory of the future? Lots will change, but not everything. Just as before, companies will need a solid foundation in the future, too.
Nonetheless, Industry 4.0 and all it involves can only actually be realised if we have fault-free, seamless automation in all processes and use this to achieve high levels of availability.
This is where companies have to do their homework. Due to the many dependent variables in the networked factory, this is no mean feat. The established cornerstones of value creation, value-stream orientation, avoiding malfunctions and errors, and efficient leadership thus need to be strengthened and enhanced with intelligent automation solutions.
The challenge that has to be overcome here is to combine humans, technology and IT intelligently in the work environment in such a way that optimum value creation is ensured.
What does this mean for people and work in Industry 4.0?
These Industry 4.0 scenarios, which put people at the heart of operations, represent a qualitative improvement for employees:
- The mobile assembly assistant is becoming a CPS and taking charge of all order data.
- Employees are provided with support in carrying out their activities / key information is communicated to them (augmented reality).
- Employees are evolving from being mere assembly workers to controllers and regulators of networked production elements.
- Innovative IT-based assistance systems foster creativity and learning.
- A workflow that supports the acceptance, performance, development, health and well-being of employees.
New collaboration between humans and machines
Humans and robots thus work hand in hand, and this process is intensifying all the time, with both sides increasingly converging to form a single team.
Gesture recognition creates completely new opportunities for intuitive operation in human-robot collaboration. People will be able to use simple gestures to influence the progress of a process depending on the situation.
The robot’s program sequence can thus be influenced purely by gesture control through touch, pressure or motion. The operator can request various parts, which the robot then collects from a number of storage facilities and installs.
Tasks can therefore be shared between people and machines appropriately, with humans performing tasks that require cognitive skills.
For example, the robot can hand parts to the operator in the factory for quality control at various levels in an ergonomically optimum process. The system in a research campus shows that this vision may soon become a reality.
Mobile assistance systems can be controlled contactlessly using gesture recognition and provide support for people in their immediate working environments.
Smart factory unit (SFU) managers as architects of value creation – a cognitively and socially demanding task
- Decentralised, results-oriented factory management;
- Detailed planning of daily production sequences;
- Flexible, results-oriented use of resources;
- Production- and customer-oriented collaboration;
- Transparency in performance and results in real time;
- Entrepreneurial decision-making freedom on site;
- Predictive job simulation; and
- Being proactive instead of reactive.
Product technology an equal priority
Product technology is as important to SEW-EURODRIVE as is the move towards automation. In 2019 the company unveiled its Generation X.e series at Hannover Messe 2019 which has since made its way to South African shores.
Generation X.e represents the latest iteration of the highly-successful X Series of industrial gear units, which has gained significant traction globally in industries as diverse as mining, cement and sugar mills, and power generation.
“It was decided to introduce the latest series to South Africa in response to the overarching industry need for energy-efficiency and optimisation,” Obermeyer explains.
The specific client requirements addressed by the new series are maximum drive utilisation, in the event of continuous operation under specified conditions; peak load, in the case of an irregular travel profile, frequent start-up, or occasional blocking; temperature and environmental factors such as the permissible surface temperature, degree of protection, permissible noise level, accessibility, and serviceability; minimum service life; and extended service intervals.
Such is the quality of the new Generation X.e series that it is particularly suited to harsh operating environments such as mining and general industry.
Here an increased thermal saving of 32% has been achieved mainly by reducing the periods between oil changes. Other advances include an improved bevel pinion housing, optimised bearing preload, a non-contact sealing system, a universal cover with a fan system, and optimised gearing topology.
Obermeyer highlights that the main benefit of the Generation X.e is that it introduces a customer-orientated focus into the tried-and-tested X Series solution.
This has been achieved by enhancing the hardware, together with an entirely new computation suite, embracing simulation, which means that a standard product can now be matched to specific modifications and settings for different client requirements and operating conditions.
This ‘smart’ combination of separate measures and networked software tools now allows users to configure their own customised gear units. It means that all industrial drives supplied by SEW-EURODRIVE SA now have the full potential for specific optimisation – a key factor considering the constraints, rising costs, and tight margins faced by many industrial sectors globally.
The Generation X.e is suited to an ambient temperature range from -40°C up to 50°C, and is available with a torque rating from 65 kN to 500 kN. The industrial gear units will be assembled in Nelspruit for the entire African market, which guarantees a fast turnaround time and readily-accessible parts support and service back-up.
“It is no longer sufficient to merely sell products to customers. We must look at their holistic requirements, and how best we can provide a complete solution that optimises all of their processes, as well as allowing for the introduction of our ancillary technologies and value-added services,” Obermeyer concludes.