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Copper is an important, yet expensive, component of heat exchangers. For manufacturers of heat exchangers, minimizing copper waste is therefore a high priority. Together, Netto Electronics and B&R developed a solution that monitors copper consumption precisely and delivers serious savings.

Czech-based Leel Coils Europe is a specialist in the production of heat exchangers, and imports the copper it needs from a variety of European countries as well as Mexico. "The high demand and high price of copper make it absolutely essential that we monitor and minimize how much is actually being used for each production order," explains Leel Purchasing Manager Monika Hovořáková.

Czech-based heat exchanger specialist Leel Coils Europe delivered a new unit to the Hessen-Center shopping mall in Frankfurt.

Monitor copper consumption

Copper arrives at Leel on a large spool, where it is immediately weighed to confirm the exact amount. From then on, the key is to constantly monitor how much copper remains on hand. Time and again the coveted transition metal gets stolen as it waits in storage. This, as well as any unnecessary waste during production itself, must be prevented. "We approached multiple companies looking for a system to seamlessly monitor copper inventory and consumption. In the end, we found Prague-based Netto Electronics to be the right partner for the job, and together with B&R they really delivered," says Hovořáková.

The combination of the NettoControl control system and the software they developed with B&R succeeded in cutting copper waste during heat exchanger production in half.

In addition to the amount of copper, to provide a comprehensive overview you also need to collect and evaluate its composition, origin and type of processing. "Our NettoControl system is able to trace the copper from the time it arrives at the supplier and throughout production, storage and delivery," says Netto Software Architect Filip Šrámek.

Specially developed B&R software solution

"When it came to the software for the control system, we turned to our long-time partner B&R," says Šrámek. The software is able to trace the copper in each heat exchanger back to its supplier. It also keeps track of the corresponding batch number and when it was bent into the typical U-shape used in heat exchangers.

Communication via data interface

Each copper bending machine has twelve infeed sensors as well as cut, bend and tilt signals. In total, data is processed from 20 different measurement points. The B&R software communicates directly with the Netto control system via a dedicated data interface. All the data from a line's bending machines is collected and processed. "That enables us to offer a variety of different charts, overviews and all the necessary output data," explains Šrámek. Each bending machine also includes a system for weighing copper waste.

Control and monitoring

The solution that Netto and B&R created not only collects data, it also controls the entire bending machine. When needed, operators can stop the machine and determine the current stage of production. They're also able to view current data about the health of the machine.

"Through the cooperation with B&R, we were able to get real production data online and provide both operators and managers with important information," says Šrámek. "It's possible to implement both the software and the control system on older machines as well."

B&R also equipped the bending machines with Power Panel HMI units that display exactly where the copper is in the process, along with information about the current condition of the machine.

B&R Power Panels visualize the path of the copper through the machine.

Coupled with ERP system

To accurately monitor inventory and material consumption, it is also important to get data from Leel's ERP system into the Netto control system. "We didn't have that capability before," says Hovořáková. "The new solution from Netto and B&R gives us a good overview over individual batches and production orders."

Millions in savings

In the past, a large amount of copper waste and the associated costs accumulated when changing over between products. "It was crucial for us to get that under control. What used to be eight tons of copper waste per month is now around five. Our long-term goal is to get that down below four tons," says Hovořáková.

Leel is now planning an expansion of the automation program for copper tube cutting machines and production of aluminum heat exchangers. "We're very happy with the system from Netto and B&R, and we want to use it to automate all of our production systems," says Hovořáková.

Author: Karel Sedláček, Technology Journalist

Monika Hovořáková

Purchasing Manager, Leel Coils Europe

"We approached multiple companies looking for a system to seamlessly monitor copper inventory and consumption. In the end, we found Prague-based Netto Electronics to be the right partner for the job, and together with B&R they really delivered."

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