A strong connection in the panel building sector
Hotraco is an international group of companies specialised in measurement and control technology. There are eight companies under the Hotraco umbrella which each has its own focus. Since it was established in 1974, the agricultural, horticultural and potato storage sectors have all been served by the group based in the Limburg town of Hegelsom. The industrial sector is a growth market which Hotraco Group (HG) Industrial serves as a system integrator. Production companies, machine manufacturers and installers can rely on complete systems from hardware engineering to on-site commissioning, anywhere in the world.
“Around 50 per cent of our products actually end up abroad", explains Edwin van Rensch, Operational Director of the Hotraco Group. "That comes from growth in the industry, not so much in our region, but among the end customers of our regional clients." As agricultural growth is stagnating in their own region, it is important to face the competition and be distinctive. Hotraco is working hard to do just that. With its own R&D department of around 13 people, the organisation has developed 400 products, among which are included solutions to ensure efficient production processes and energy consumption for industry and the machine construction sector.
"You must always be open to, and indeed go looking for, opportunities outside your organisation which can help you improve. It is healthy to look at innovation in the market. Within the panel building sector, innovation is sadly lacking. Ideas are still developed at a product level, but at a process level this is not the case", says Edwin. "Costs and lead time reductions through innovation are therefore limited and we often fall back on the 'proven concept'".
Hotraco and ES Elektro have been collaborating for over 10 years. "Since 2007 we have intensified our relationship from the original "buyer-supplier" relationship into a collaboration on process optimisation", explains Tjeu Klauwers, ES Elektro Venlo Branch Manager. "We started with a so-called Quick Scan to register the processes surrounding ordering, delivery and stock management. Following this research, we implemented a VMI system at Hotraco in May 2009 to arrange the floor stock in a more efficient way and reduce the "per order" system. Thanks to this process optimisation, the lead time from offer to end product was reduced from 8 to 6 weeks." Edwin adds that Hotraco began implementing the 5S lean method on the work floor this year. "Thanks to this we now know where our improvement potential lies. We want to develop this potential further in 2015 and implement it together with itsme."
Hoogland-Mennens, ES Elektro's mechanics sister company, will also play a part in this. Representative from Hoogland-Mennens Guido Hahnraths says: "Since 2012 the VMI system at Hotraco has been expanded further using low-grade mechanical components. The traditional confirmation method in panel building, alongside welding, is conversion into bolts and nuts. Reliable and solid assembly. You need to have such components ready to use. Not having them available can lead to a serious delay in your production process, although the investment costs are low. The downside of traditional fastening is not just the effort it requires, but also that drilling into panels and doors leaves iron shavings behind. That leads to contamination of both the workplace and cabinet, as well as the danger that more expensive components could be damaged."
Henkel is a market leader in adhesives, sealants and functional coatings. "We can be found in very diverse branches of the industry. We therefore have broad experience in adhesion across a wide range of sectors and applications, and often come across opportunities for new sectors. Adhesion is about more than just sticking plastic discs together. We have been convinced for a while that adhesion within the panel building sector is a welcome change from traditional fastening of strategic parts, such as cable channels, partition tabs and the DIN rail", explains Chris van Waardenburg, Adhesive Engineer at Henkel. "However, sadly the biggest competitor of innovation is tradition." Edwin confirms this: "The transition from screw threads to terminal blocks had already been a major change. However, it is a case of 'seeing is believing,' as well as a question of learning to use the technology. Adhesion can offer some interesting opportunities."
How does Hotraco know this? Together a trial was initiated to assess the opportunities of adhesion in the field of panel building. "In April of this year, I visited Hotraco along with Hoogland-Mennens and we tested the adhesion process on different components and with different types of adhesive, including the cable channel and the TS rail", explains Roger Severins, Sales Engineer at Henkel. At first the technicians were sceptical, but after the test they were convinced of the quality and the opportunities afforded by adhesion.
Commissioned by ES Elektro and Hoogland-Mennens and in collaboration with Henkel, Hotraco has this week built a full cabinet with adhesion used as the fastening technique for the basic parts. At the workshop we meet Marcel Manders, Head of Panel Building at Hotraco who was the first to use the method. What struck him was: "It is fast, easy and clean. Normally, a plasma cutter determines with the help of engineering software where the holes in a panel need to be drilled. Drilling takes a lot of time, is precise work and leaves iron shavings behind. This means you have to do it in a separate room from the actual panel building in order to avoid contamination of the cabinets. With adhesion, the cutting and drilling process could be skipped altogether. With adhesion you need to mark on the panel exactly where the fastening points will be. That is slightly laborious, but after that everything is done in no time. Where I would normally spend half an hour in the case of traditional fastening, this was ready within five minutes! The total construction time for this panel is therefore around halved."
"Gluing is another technology and involves other costs. You need to account for these before the engineer starts, and ideally as early as the original offer. Hotraco makes very detailed offers. There can be quite a clear cost difference between gluing and traditional fastening from the outset", Edwin explains. "If you want to be able to analyse a healthy revenue model, then you need to make calculations for the entire chain. You also need to calculate things such as a reduction in storage, as what would gluing mean for a reduction in readily available stock of mechanical components, for example? Lead time reduction and cost savings on materials can also be applied to development costs, but new applications also require new investments. We cannot envisage supplying every cabinet worldwide with an adhered DIN rail, but it offers us a perspective."
Chris adds that the market is continuing to innovate by assimilating customer experiences. "If customers collaborate with us, then they obviously come across applications that we had not thought about. Or indeed obstacles. We are going to look into that further. The question now is whether the earthing of the rail via the mounting plate will be interrupted when adhering, as the adhesive may well act as insulation." "We can only find that out by doing tests", responds Edwin. "We now have a healthy test case and are all prepared to stick our neck out together. Undoubtedly there will be some unexpected issues or errors, but that is not a problem. We can learn from them. We will then go back to the drawing board and Henkel can feed it back to its own R&D department."