In coordinating and controlling the entire material flow in industrial manufacturing, automation partners are often faced with the challenge of implementing an integrated intralogistics solution in a highly heterogeneous plant and machine environment.

Material flow control systems

Dry dock in a large-scale shipyard (Photo: Meyer Werft)
Dry dock in a large-scale shipyard (Photo: Meyer Werft)

A good example of the benefits of material flow control systems is the large-scale project which Eckelmann AG undertakes for a major shipyard. In this control system for the prefabrication of panels for shipbuilding (block building construction), the lines between material flow systems and manufacturing execution systems are becoming blurred.

Shipbuilding requires the integration of such highly diverse systems as milling machines, gantry machines for laser and plasma cutting, welding machines, robotics, grippers, various transport systems, marking units, image processing systems, etc. In short, manufacturing processes as complex as those in shipbuilding imply automation in a highly heterogeneous application environment – as is typical of material flow applications in industrial manufacturing. What also needs to be taken into account is the optimal coordination of warehouse management with manufacturing processes.

The big picture

Prefabrication in shipbuilding
Prefabrication in shipbuilding

Both the mechanical engineer and the provider of storage and transportation technology necessarily focus on the systems which they are individually responsible for and strive to perfect. The system’s integrator , on the other hand, looks at these systems from a bird’s-eye perspective; he needs to have an overview on the entire manufacturing process and material flow and understand these from the perspective of automation.

In this as in other projects, Eckelmann AG has performed a comprehensive and structured requirements analysis in order to precisely define all the tasks and functions of prefabrication and to display them in a relational database. This includes storage and all transportation movements. Tracking systems ensure full traceability of all material handling operations.

Database for overview

Data are requested from the central database and transferred to the individual machines. All machines as well as transport and storage systems and marking units are directly accessed via standardised interfaces. For this, different protocols are available. The special feature of this database is the standardised data structure which is independent of the protocol level and admits of a unified data exchange within a heterogeneous machine environment.

The consistent use of a single database for the central storage of master data, production specifications and manufacturing parameters proves to be the choice method for a transparent link to the planning level as well as for data integrity, intelligible system operation and system-wide access to data.

A homogeneous material flow system increases the transparency and flexibility of production. Material flow systems are a key to improving quality and productivity.

Information on reference projects can be obtained upon request.

Rudolf Schäfer