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Business challenges
Plakoni has to be able to create increasingly complex production automation systems that have to be brought to market faster and put into operation in a short space of time.
Success factors
Digital development and simulation of manufacturing processes with reuse of engineering data.
Despite their increasing complexity Plakoni’s client-specific production automation systems can be produced faster and put into operation more efficiently than before. With it being easier to analyze concepts it is also possible to increase the level of innovation.
Client-specific solutions 
Plakoni Engineering and Plakoni Projects specialize in the development of client-specific production automation systems. Plakoni Engineering focuses on long-term projects, which are usually executed by client teams. Plakoni Projects concentrates on turnkey projects and takes care of design, production and commissioning.
Plakoni uses Tecnomatix Robcad and FactoryCAD to design and optimize complex processes. This reduces development time. As product lifecycles get shorter, the number of product changes and replacement products increases. Shorter product lifecycles make production efficiency all the more important. All of these factors lead to changes in production processes and tooling. Plakoni operates successfully in this market by using the latest design aids.
Plakoni Engineering was set up in 1994 to meet demand for tooling development capacity for what was then an important new automotive production line. Over the years the size of both the turnkey projects and projects in which Plakoni engineers form part of development teams in client organizations has increased. “It was the rapid growth of the turnkey projects that led us to make a distinction between engineering services and turnkey projects in the development of our company,” explains Geert Kenis, owner and director of Plakoni. “The fact that our experts are available to serve on client teams is extremely important for certain clients, so we continue to provide these services as Plakoni Engineering. Yet we also specialize in developing, producing and installing turnkey production automation projects. We offer our expertise in this area as Plakoni Projects.” Both companies employ approximately 15 people and are more or less the same size. To offer local availability Plakoni has two offices in Belgium, one in Genk and one in Sint-Niklaas. “We chose these locations because 70% of our work comes from the automotive industry in which a local presence is an important factor. We are also planning to open an office in Romania to establish a presence near a new production plant set up by one of our larger clients.” As well as providing services for companies in the automotive industry, Plakoni also works on a wide range of projects for companies in the dredging industry, among other industries. For one company Plakoni developed a robot system to change drill bit teeth. “The client initially asked us to design a system that would help them remove the teeth manually. Our analysis of the situation, which took into account the fact that drill bit teeth keep getting larger and heavier, led us to automate the whole process. This was ultimately the most cost-effective solution.”
Shortening ramp-up time
Plakoni Projects excels at developing and producing production automation concepts that solve the production issues encountered by its clients. “The production process usually needs to be adjusted. In fact this is a growing trend,” says Kenis. “This puts increasing pressure on the development of the production process and related tooling. It also means that the design of the production facilities has to be of the highest quality and the ramp-up to production has to be accelerated.” For Plakoni Projects the development of production facilities almost always begins with a functional request from a client. “Production line changes are usually dictated by the need to make adjustments to products, reduce manpower and/or incorporate new production technology,” explains Kenis. “We develop a concept based on the client’s existing process. This is then discussed and possibly adapted before finally being approved. We now use FactoryCAD and Robcad to develop the concept. Both of these applications have extensive libraries with standard tooling components that can be used to model the production process.” This enables Plakoni to quickly create a model of a robot cell with five robots for example, or the supply and removal of material. “We were already using 3D to present concepts to our clients, but FactoryCAD is outstanding in terms of its modeling efficiency and simulation of operations. As well as being helpful for internal use this is especially suitable for sales purposes.”
Feasibility studies
Ford and its suppliers are an important client group for Plakoni. So the company has been using I-DEAS design software as a standard application for product development for more than ten years. “The advantage is that the geometry of I-DEAS is fully compatible with Robcad and FactoryCAD. The same applies to Fides, Ford’s own tooling development application.” The product geometry defined in I-DEAS is modeled in Robcad to conduct feasibility studies. Plakoni engineers analyze things such as robot reach, to determine how many robots are needed in a production cell, and the most efficient arrangement of production cells. “In principle the mechanical components are elaborated in the program requested by the client, such as I-DEAS or Fides for example. For Ford all of the tooling is designed with Fides, which was developed for this purpose and has an up-to-date library that contains all of the production tools and resources as standard components.” When the design has been completed in Fides or I-DEAS it is loaded into FactoryCAD so the process can be visualized and evaluated in 3D. Once the client has approved the design on this basis, drawings and 3D models are sent to the companies that produce the parts and system components for Plakoni. Plakoni assembles all of the parts, robots and component production systems. Plakoni always develops the electrotechnical systems and software in partnership with the same companies and makes selective use of Robcad in the process. “Using Robcad to conduct feasibility studies has proved extremely successful,” says Kenis. “Offline programming of robots is an obvious solution, but we are more reticent on this point. If we are dealing with a complex production cell, the application is very valuable and optimal synchronization is required to ensure that cycle times are as balanced as possible.” If on the other hand the production cell is relatively simple it is debatable whether offline programming of robots makes sense. According to Kenis the cost of brand-specific controllers is a decisive factor in this respect. “Mainly because the system still has to be fine tuned so the programming matches the actual situation. Given that this is the case, it is often more cost-effective for the programming to be done manually.”
Complete production facilities 
If Plakoni designs, builds and equips a complete production facility the design dossier is purchased by the client and the production facility is then built on site. As the designer and builder Plakoni is obliged to supply the client with a complete production dossier that contains not only all of the programs but also all of the drawings of the facility. “We are not concerned that our clients might take this information and seek cheaper alternatives elsewhere. Much of the knowledge we incorporate in the dossier is based on a long-term relationship with the client. And we can continue to deepen this relationship thanks to modern software, such as FactoryCAD and Robcad, which gives us both commercial and technical advantages. To be honest it is now almost impossible to develop complex production facilities without these applications.” Kenis anticipates that functionality will be enhanced to enable the modeling and simulation of complete production facilities and the goods flows within the facilities. “When developing systems for our clients we are now going to use Plant Simulation right from the start. Our engineers already use it when working on location and we are also going to use it to develop our projects. This will enable us to offer our clients products that more closely meet their requirements.” Geert Kenis, Owner and director of Plakoni