10 STEPS Projects

10 Steps to automate your panel building

Author: Barry Chatham

Fewer mistakes, more flexible production, shorter lead times and lower costs. What does it take to achieve all of that? Here's 10 points to keep in mind for the optimisation of your production process.

Every workshop is different. There is no blueprint for the perfect production process and everything depends on the customers, products, working method and strategy of your company. However, there are a number of things that every workshop manager in the panel building industry should think about. It goes without saying that it is up to you to choose which points you decide to take on board.

1. Do it together with the team

Change will only lead to improvement if it is supported by the entire team. You can achieve this by involving employees from the very beginning. Let everyone think about improvements, or better still: take responsibility for them.

2. Provide good input

Whether you build cabinets for external clients or your internal engineering department, an optimal process depends on the right drawings and information. Sit down at the table and let the engineers know what your team needs, such as a good 3D drawing and wiring lists. This is also in the interest of the client. By working better with engineering, we can achieve shorter lead times, at lower costs with fewer mistakes.

3. Take the work out of the work preparation

Work preparation means preparation, not the work itself. In other words: work preparation is the planning of the projects. Other activities such as ordering articles should be placed elsewhere, e.g. with the logistics department.

4. Separate the process steps

As you know, when building a panel, we go through several steps. Logistics, mechanical processing, parts, wiring etc. In many workshops, these operations are largely carried out in the same place, by the same employee. We can disassemble these steps for a better process.

In other words, we create a separate workplace for each process step. This has a number of advantages:

  • The knowledge of the employee is used specifically.
  • The process becomes easier to plan and manage.
  • Less (intermediate) stocks and less logistics costs.
  • Process steps can be better standardised and automated.
  • The process becomes more flexible.
  • Lower and more transparent costs.

    5. Create a good flow

The next step is to classify the work floor according to the steps in the production process. A good 'flow' is crucial. Distribute the different process steps on the shop floor in such a way that the product can be moved along each step.

The system is designed to allow you to walk without hindrance and with as little transport as possible. With a good flow, the process determines the layout of the shop floor: Logistics in -> Mechanical processing -> Infrastructure parts -> Components parts -> Wiring -> Testing -> Customer decrease -> Logistics out -> After sales.

6. Clean up the workplace

As the day slows down, cleaning up is an indispensable part of workplace optimisation. Only the tools, materials and information absolutely necessary should be available at each stage and nothing else. Here's a useful list to go by:

  • Sort
  • arrange
  • clean
  • standardise
  • systematise

In other words, remove everything you don't need, give everything a fixed place and do all this with fixed procedures and regularity.

7. Provide grip

Where is each product located in the workshop? The who, what, where and when of each product must be clear to everyone. This can be achieved, for example, with a large status sign in the workshop.

8. Improve ergonomics

A functional design of the workshop also has a disadvantage: products are moved more often. Transport in the workshop therefore requires extra attention. An important principle is that we eliminate heavy lifting as much as possible. In other words: not more than 23 kg and not frequently. Don't forget that colleagues who help each other lift are not at work - there are better solutions for moving heavy panels.

9. Away with the printers

By automating mechanical operations, you can take flexibility and speed to the next level. Advanced CNC machines only deliver what they need if the entire flow of information - from engineering to delivery and service - is digital. So get rid of the printers! This means that the 3D cabinet design must also be digital. This in turn requires standardisation of the various products or projects. If your department works for various external clients, this may mean that you agree on a standardisation for each client.

10. Away with the stocks

If the production is easier to plan, you will also know exactly which parts are needed and when. This means you can agree with suppliers when they need to deliver: just-in-time. No more stocks: from now on, items will only be delivered when they are needed!

With which steps do you take the work processes to a higher level? Do you have any other ideas about improvements in panel building? Let us know in the comments!


To further explore automation and discover how you can wire panels without complicated schematics, download our latest whitepaper 'Panel wiring without schematics with EPLAN Smart Wiring'. 

Download White paper


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