Aluminum Wire Maker Benefits from Managed Switches

Drahtwerk Elisental Realizes Pioneering Network Solution for Existing Machine Controls

As an independent specialist for aluminum wires and rods, Drahtwerk Elisental, located in Neuenrade in North Rhine-Westphalia, is asserting itself in an intensely competitive global market. The prerequisite for this is provided by 100 years of experience, high-performance production facilities, and not least digitalization. The traditional company is currently taking a decisive step in the direction of the future and Industry 4.0 with the integration of the existing machine controls into a higher-level network.

Whether as stitching wire on teabags, as architecture mesh in modern buildings, or as a connecting element in aircraft manufacturing, the aluminum products of the Drahtwerk Elisental W. Erdmann GmbH & Co. can be found in many places worldwide. Founded in 1919 in Neuenrade near Iserlohn, the independent, family-owned company focused from the start on wire as the main product, and already at a very early date on the at that time new material of aluminum. With the specialization in aluminum wires and rods, Drahtwerk Elisental, now in the third and fourth generation as a family-owned company, with around 150 employees, has successfully positioned itself as a strong player in the international competition.

Focus on digitalization

One pillar of the company’s sustained success is the continuous further development of the company and the production processes. An important modernization impulse was provided by the long-completed automation with PROFIBUS and PROFINET.

With the perspective on the new possibilities of Industry 4.0 and IoT, it was then time in 2019 for new, pioneering paths. Or, as expressed by Dirk Urbach, an employee of technical service: “We know we have to tackle a lot in order to remain up front on the market – and we have also already implemented a lot of it.”

Before this, the higher-level company network could merely register whether a machine is standing or running, in individual cases, including at what speed. A central goal of Dirk Urbach and his colleagues was, therefore, initially to better utilize the data from the machines, for example, for detailed monitoring or, potentially, also for software-based automation of entire production processes.

This resulted in a clear definition of tasks: “How do we get the data directly from the PLC into the software?” The initial networking attempts quickly showed that this requirement is in no way that easy to fulfill. Especially the network quality was initially unsatisfactory. Dirk Urbach names the following as a reason: “For example, the broadcast protocols of the machines have interfered with one another.” Called for was thus a truly stable network with cleanly transmitted data.

Overall Concept

The solution for this was ultimately provided by an overall concept of Helmholz. As a result, each machine is reflected in the higher-level network. Their data is thus available 1:1 in the server or for further usage, currently through monitoring software, and can be issued, for example, as a daily data table (in Excel or csv file format).

The prerequisite for the smooth data traffic between machine controls and software is created by managed PROFINET switches with four, eight, and, where sensible, 16 ports. They prioritize the PROFINET frame traffic in the machine network. The managed switch can, in fact, differentiate whether the frame is a web query, an FTP file transmission, a media stream, or a PROFINET frame.

In the event of a high transmission load, the frames can be ordered according to their importance. This prevents frame losses from occurring.

“I can individually assign the place where each system or each participant sits,” is the experience of Dirk Urbach. “The switches also make the network safer through clear assignment, including labeling fields, because the electrician can no longer make mistakes. And not least, I can also comprehend what is happening in the network at any time per VPN access.”

However, the integration of the machine network into a higher-level production network results in cybersecurity challenges. A firewall from Helmholz provides the second pillar of the overall concept for the Drahtwerk Elisental. The machine network thereby functions as a LAN (Local Area Network) and the production or company network as a WAN (Wide Area Network). The WALL IE firewall protects both networks by precisely regulating which participant may exchange data with which device. The specifications involved here can be defined for a specific user. The prerequisite for this is created by a packet filter function.

Following the first months of practical operation, Dirk Urbach adds: “The network has been running stably and entirely without disruptions since commissioning.”