SIMATIC meets robot

SIMATIC Robot Integrator streamlines robot integration in Bad Neustadt

When developing a new plant for trickle impregnation, the limited space available and a complex process were among the major challenges for the project team in the Siemens motor production facility in Bad Neustadt. On the plus side, the team could count on the SIMATIC Robot Integrator to easily program the two robots and integrate them into the plant automation solution.

Almost gently, one of the two robots picks up the motor from the supply tray in the new trickle impregnation plant, places it on the pin on the trickle turret, and then monitors the heating process. Then, the second robot impregnates the motor coil with insulating resin. “With this new trickle impregnation plant, we are able to apply the resin precisely, based on each specific motor type, which significantly reduces the amount of resin we use. The resin is applied only to the coil, and all other parts remain clean, so we no longer need any reworking afterward, which helps streamline the entire motor production process here in Bad Neustadt,” says PLC and robot engineer Martin Seifert. Together with his colleague Marcel Wegner, he was responsible for developing the robot application and the automation solution for the new plant.

The Siemens electric motor factory in Bad Neustadt

The electric motor factory in Bad Neustadt in Germany is one of Siemens’ main production sites for electric motors. Each year, about 500,000 motors with different power ratings are shipped to customers all over the world. Since 2016, this state-of-the-art production facility has served as a model factory for the digitalization of machine tools. Using digital methods and tools, the Bad Neustadt factory is transforming the vision of digital manufacturing into reality – with the goal of setting new benchmarks for efficiency, productivity, and quality within Siemens and beyond.

Interdisciplinary and digital development project

The new plant was developed entirely by Siemens’ in-house toolmaking department, “because we want to have the expertise for all key processes within our organization,” explains Seifert. His team collaborated closely with the process development team, where Maximilian Kuhn oversaw and optimized the trickle process. On the construction side, however, the in-house development did not represent the biggest challenge, Seifert explains: “The new plant had to be integrated into a brownfield environment with very limited space. We had to really find the optimum arrangement of all components in the trickle plant so that we had sufficient free space for the robot movements, including following a malfunction. For this reason, we performed many simulations to make sure that the solution would fit.” On top of that, the process was the first to use another innovative tool, the SIMATIC Robot Integrator app, which facilitates the integration of robots from many vendors into a machine or application. During the initial phase, the team in Bad Neustadt worked with Siemens developers from the Nuremberg offices who provided a digital twin of the SIMATIC Robot Integrator application via server. This allowed the team in Bad Neustadt to easily test the setup and handling.

Robot and PLC: the best of both worlds

For Seifert, one of the major benefits of the SIMATIC Robot Integrator is that the PLC and robot control now integrate much better, which extends the consistency of the automation system to include the robot. “This starts with being able to import the paths from the simulation in Process Simulate into the automation program in TIA Portal, and continues in the engineering. Since all path and status data are stored in the PLC, I only need one interface, which I can easily manage in TIA Portal. I can now use a single tool to select or modify the appropriate functional modules.” Being able to use the cyclic data processing of the PLC also enables the use of new strategies for machine state handling: “We are now able to implement the safe retraction of a robot much easier than when using sequence-based robot control, as we can process an emergency stop signal directly at the right location. The robot will safely retract to its home position without a jump in the program.”

The PLC-based automation solution is also much more flexible. A new signal can simply be added in TIA Portal without having to modify the robot interface as well. All functions can be engineered through function modules in TIA Portal, which saves significant time during engineering. “I can create the basic application in no time just by dragging and dropping the modules into my program,” says Seifert. “When I engineered the very first application, I was already at least 20 % faster.”

I can create the basic application in no time just by dragging and dropping the modules into my program. When I engineered the very first application, I was already at least 20 % faster.
Martin Seifert, Developer Siemens Motor Factory, Bad Neustadt, Germany

Simpler handling during operation as well

Both robots are controlled via the central SIMATIC S7-1500 PLC and operated with a shared SIMATIC HMI panel, which streamlines the plant architecture and simplifies many tasks during operation. As the HMI can also be created using standard templates, operators are able to use the same familiar interface no matter what machine or robot they work with. The better integration of all automation components also simplifies service and maintenance. When there is a malfunction, service teams can access all diagnostic data via the automation project in TIA Portal, including for a robot malfunction – for example, a missing signal. Service teams can use the same framework for all automation projects, which simplifies and facilitates troubleshooting. Moreover, the changeover to a new motor type is extremely rapid. “We have implemented a list in the HMI where I can add a new item by simply adding a new entry to the list. I move the robot into the correct trickle position, for example, save this position, and am basically done. I used to need two hours for this task, but I am now able to do it in just half an hour at most,” says Seifert. He has become a big fan of the SIMATIC Robot Integrator. “From the operation, for which the teams are now able to use their familiar HMI, to the comprehensive system diagnostics for all components, including the robot, in TIA Portal, it all just clicks together, very easily, with great usability. This boosts user confidence, as you just know what to do.”

More projects are already in the pipeline

In light of these benefits, the Bad Neustadt factory will continue using the SIMATIC Robot Integrator in future projects, says Seifert: “What will really benefit us is that we now have standards that we can use for other projects as well. This will add to the gains in efficiency – I can see up to 50 % savings in the engineering phase.” The follow-up projects are already in the making, for example, a new assembly line with seven robots. For this project, Seifert plans to use the SIMATIC Robot Integrator app together with the SIMATIC Robot Library. This universal robot library will enable the developers of the toolmaking department in Bad Neustadt to use their applications for robots from different vendors as well. This enables much better use of available resources: “In the past, we often had to outsource the robot programming. Now we can do it in-house.”