Integrated systems based on tried and tested methods

Steinbeis assists in process optimization

Leading products. Internationally successful projects. At gwk, an SME from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, things are looking good. The Kierspe-based engineering company enjoys an excellent global reputation as a specialist in top-of-the-range cooling and temperature control technology. Ranging from small, serially produced, general-purpose temperature control units to one-off, custom-made central chilling units, gwk’s portfolio spans the full range of refrigeration and heating solutions. Most are destined for industrial use in plastic and metal production and in chemical processes. The Steinbeis Transfer Center for Innovation and Organization helped the company optimize its engineering processes.

IT systems at the medium-sized enterprise were becoming outdated and needed a fundamental overhaul. Keep up with the rapid pace of innovation demanded by the market, and you safeguard the long-term growth of the company, explains Ingo Brexeler, engineering director at gwk. Changes in customer requirements, in tandem with the new pressure equipment directive, placed challenging new demands on gfk, especially with regard to technical documentation and design. As well as capturing exhaustive product descriptions in 3D, the company had to ensure its systems linked up seamlessly through fully-automated interfaces, using uniform media.

As part of this overhaul, the plan was to upgrade the electronic design software at gwk to a state-of-the-art e-CAD system. gwk also wanted to introduce a product data management (PDM) system to coordinate administrative tasks throughout the company and support engineering processes flexibly at all levels. Given the nature of the existing engineering processes and IT, this entailed a complete reorganization of the development department. As various internal attempts to address the problem had only been partly successful, gwk turned to the experts at the Eislingen-based Steinbeis Transfer Center for Innovation and Organization for assistance.

The chief aim of this far-reaching project was to improve engineering processes, in harmony with the mechanical and electrical infrastructure. gwk also wanted to improve engineering, documentation and production performance throughout all departments by adopting across-the-board, end-to-end systems. More often than not, gwk had optimized product designs in one department then simply left the others to catch up. Before you can begin to define mechatronic processes in design, let alone put them into practice, everyone needs to speak the same language when it comes to electrical and mechanical design, explains Oliver Brehm from Steinbeis. Once underlying equipment and plant infrastructures had been standardized, complex requirements arose concerning the operation and management of standard components even within the ERP system.

This helped define the extremely wide scope of the project: selecting and introducing MCAD, ECAD and PDM, and establishing an ERP link between the new systems and the existing commercial systems.

Given the overriding needs of the company, it was relatively obvious which individual components would be the favorites to go into the overall solution. Alternatively, gwk could pick the best possible components and integrate them, or choose from the limited selection of suppliers who provide an endto- end system solution.

gwk chose to embark on the project together with staff from the Steinbeis Transfer Center. Although the team members had different levels of experience and areas of expertise, this was no obstacle and before long they had pinpointed a variety of alternatives based on objective criteria. This ultimately resulted in an acceptable solution to all parties.

In an open selection, the team chose between two completely different scenarios: an integrated solution, or a composition of leading components. This made it possible to take into account all aspects affecting the decision and involve all key people in the project. The overall selection process lasted four months, culminating in a decision template which was presented to senior management. Interestingly, the final decision was unanimous. Thanks to clear benchmarking of the overall scenario, even people who had at one point backed another option were won over enough to vote for a different solution.

As the project progressed, people from different departments with varying areas of expertise coalesced into a highly motivated team, committed to managing and implementing while keeping one eye on the overall picture and overriding priorities. Once again, the integrated approach taken by the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Innovation and Organization proved an all-round success.  

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