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Automation as a way of life

Integration of robots can decrease production time and cost, but can they successfully work alongside humans? At Rittal, automation is a way of life here and lifts the company's efficiencies and quality consistency as well as the overall skill level of the workforce. Automation is one of the most powerful weapons in a manufacturer's armoury when it comes to competing with manufacturers in low-wage economies, but when you are also making components for other automation companies it is almost an obligation to use the latest robot technology.

Rittal UK is a leading manufacturer of enclosure systems for mechanical and electrical applications in the industrial sector as well as racks and associated products to the IT sector. Customers from around the world can see Rittal enclosures being produced by robots controlled by state-of-the-art lean and efficient manufacturing processes, with the switchgear, drives and programmable logic controllers housed in Rittal products. The highest levels of automation are utilised at Rittal's UK factory in Plymouth so it is not only an efficient working production plant but also an ideal product showcase and demonstration area. The production line comprises 19 of the latest computer controlled robots with the safe and reliable installation and integration of automation and process instrumentation inside Rittal's own enclosure systems to protect the expensive and sensitive infrastructure.

Dr Stephen Hobbs, managing director of the Plymouth factory, says the factory is a long- established leader in automation technology: "We have been highly automated for the past 20 years in order to provide solutions for our highly automated customers." Dr Hobbs believes that the use of automation in the factory has given Rittal UK a deep understanding of the needs of their customers in the automation sector. "From our own production challenges, we know and have a better understanding of the demanding needs of our customers," he says. "They want to take advantage of worldwide approvals and certifications, yet at the same time require a high level of customisation to suit their individual needs."

The extensive use of automation in the Plymouth plant has also enabled the company to develop systems and software expertise that can be used to further help and add value to customers whose core competence is not enclosure systems. "Rittal's customers are often integrators, panel-builders and contractors, who need support to ensure that their solutions are designed swiftly, accurately and that they will perform correctly when completed," Dr Hobbs explains. "To support this activity, Rittal and our sister company ePlan provide software and design tools to facilitate and simplify the engineers' job."
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