Mechtop Conveys the Importance of Plant Simulation
Michael Alba posted on March 06, 2020 |
How Mechtop validates custom conveyor solutions with Tecnomatix Plant Simulation.
Siemens has sponsored this post.
Swiss engineering company Mechtop designs custom conveyor systems like the one pictured here. (Image courtesy of Mechtop AG.)
Swiss engineering company Mechtop designs custom conveyor systems like the one pictured here. (Image courtesy of Mechtop AG.)

The Swiss are known for many things: fine chocolate, lightweighted cheese, multi-functional military instruments. Engineering company Mechtop AG, based in the Swiss municipality of Wangen bei Olten, may be adding custom conveyor systems to that list.

Founded in 1995 as a machinery maintenance company, Mechtop later switched its focus to custom mechanical structures such as conveyor systems, mostly for the food and beverage industry. “In 2009, we decided to build our own engineering know-how for conveyor technology,” commented Jürg Bachmann, head of Technology and Production at Mechtop AG.

Designing Conveyor Systems

When Mechtop pivoted its focus in 2009, it needed to find a CAD program suitable to design its conveyor systems. It was serendipity that the company began using Siemens Solid Edge, a familiar application to the employee tasked with the project.

“The designated employee knew Solid Edge and was enthusiastic about the solution,” Bachmann recalled. “We therefore introduced Solid Edge and we have never regretted this decision!”

Mechtop uses Solid Edge to design its custom conveyor systems. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)
Mechtop uses Solid Edge to design its custom conveyor systems. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)

Though Solid Edge was a good fit for Mechtop’s mechanical design, the company soon realized they needed something more. In a proposal for a major food retail chain operator, Mechtop had designed a conveyor system for a container cleaning plant. The potential client, impressed with Mechtop’s system design, wanted to see a proof-of-concept before granting the lucrative contract.

“To convince a customer that the plant will fulfill the requirements, it takes a digital twin of the plant, complete with its temporal behavior,” Bachmann explained.

A Quick Proof of Concept

To fulfill the food retail chain operator’s request and create a digital twin of its design, Mechtop needed to augment its engineering workflow. “We had set ourselves the goal of being able to visualize the movement sequences of our conveyor systems in 3D,” said Bachmann.

To meet that goal, Mechtop turned to software consultant Cytrus AG, a Siemens partner based in Switzerland. Cytrus recommended an application called Plant Simulation, part of Siemens’ Tecnomatix portfolio for digital manufacturing. With a few days of training from Cytrus, Mechtop had begun using Tecnomatix Plant Simulation to create a model of its container cleaning conveyor system.

Mechtop’s conveyor system was no slouch, as it needed to clean 2,000 food containers per hour. That’s one container every 1.8 seconds. The inline cleaning system included a stacker, destacker and buffer zone for the food containers. Interruptions as short as half an hour would cause problematic container shortages at stores the next day. Mechtop needed to show that its system design was up to the demanding task—and quickly, if it had any hope of being granted the contract.

“We had to meet an extremely tight schedule,” Bachmann recalled. “The most challenging part was providing proof of concept for the destacker within two weeks.”

Tecnomatix Plant Simulation

Tecnomatix Plant Simulation provides engineers with an object-oriented, hierarchical structure for modeling production processes. It includes tools for discrete event simulation, statistical analysis, 3D modeling, genetic algorithms, graphical visualization, reporting and more.

Mechtop used Tecnomatix Plant Simulation to verify its conveyor system design for the food container cleaning plant. (Image courtesy of Mechtop and Siemens.)
Mechtop used Tecnomatix Plant Simulation to verify its conveyor system design for the food container cleaning plant. (Image courtesy of Mechtop and Siemens.)

“Tecnomatix Plant Simulation allows users to model, simulate, explore and optimize systems and processes involving material flow,” said Robin Vornholt, a senior consultant for Cytrus. “Using discrete event simulation and statistical analysis, these digital representations enable material flow and resource utilization analysis and optimization well in advance.”

After receiving their crash course in Tecnomatix Plant Simulation, Mechtop engineers worked to build out the conveyor system simulation. They quickly implemented a material flow simulation to prove the efficacy of their design.

“We had already modeled the project layout and our standard components in Solid Edge. We built the system logic—the heart of our system—in the proof of concept with Plant Simulation,” Bachmann explained. “The result convinced us and helped us significantly in the sales process to win orders.”

The result convinced the plant operator as well, and Mechtop was given approval to build out a full digital twin. To do so, the company needed to integrate its original mechanical design. The engineers imported the Solid Edge data directly into Plant Simulation via Siemens’ JT file format, seamlessly connecting the mechanical model and system logic, according to Bachmann.

“That worked without any problems right away,” he said. “No additional software was required.”

Tecnomatix Plant Simulation incorporating Solid Edge design data. (Image courtesy of Mechtop and Siemens.)
Tecnomatix Plant Simulation incorporating Solid Edge design data. (Image courtesy of Mechtop and Siemens.)

In less than two months, Mechtop had developed the full digital twin of its container cleaning conveyor system and definitively demonstrated that it could meet the requirements. The company successfully acquired the container plant contract, and Bachmann credits Tecnomatix Plant Simulation with helping Mechtop cross the finish line.

“Using this software makes creating 2D/3D models of complex dynamic layouts fast and intuitive,” Bachmann remarked.

Mechtop and Plant Simulation Today

Pleased with its initial success with Tecnomatix Plant Simulation, Mechtop has maintained its use of the software to validate its conveyor system designs.

“We continue to rely on the Plant Simulation solution,” Bachmann said. “We are currently building another system with the aim of being able to use the complete material flow in various use cases visualized in 3D in the early sales cycle.”

(Image courtesy of Mechtop.)
(Image courtesy of Mechtop.)

In fact, Mechtop is so impressed with the simulation software that the company is planning to offer new services based around its use of Tecnomatix Plant Simulation.

“We are convinced of the solution and are fully committed to it,” Bachmann proclaimed. “In future, we would like to offer the Plant Simulation know-how gained in projects as a service. For example, to virtually validate and optimize new use cases of systems or to predict material emissions with foresight before the systems are built.”

To learn more about Siemens Solid Edge or Tecnomatix Plant Simulation, visit the Siemens website.


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