Best Practice: paperless production at BE Beton-Elemente

Banning paper from production to the greatest extent possible had been the objective of the company BE Beton-Elemente in Steisslingen in Germany. As a result, 15 large-format TV screens and six monitors are in use in their production as of late. The rationale behind the modernization, as well as the configuration and the new process flows, are as follows:

The medium-sized company BE Beton-Elemente has its headquarters in Steisslingen, near the city of Singen in the Lake Constance region. BE has been producing concrete elements already since 1948 and is therefore one of the bedrocks of the industry. BE manufactures primarily floor slabs, double walls and occasionally thermo walls. The company has a subsidiary in Biel in Switzerland and, in addition, serves Western Switzerland. Production takes place exclusively in Steisslingen. Working with state-of-the-art production technology has always been part of the company philosophy. BE, for example, was one of the first companies to use a demolding robot and laser projection for quality assurance.

Status quo and modernization projects

The modern production plant in Steisslingen comprises a pallet circulation system with 22 workstations, a combined shuttering and demolding robot, a reinforcement-processing plant, a laser production system for quality control, an automatic concrete spreader, turning equipment and a curing chamber with 65 compartments served by an automatic stacker crane. The continuous-control concept was developed by Unitechnik. The production management processor is UniCam.

The current modernization step for the plant provided for upgrading the production management system to the latest generation. In conversion to UniCAM.10, however, it was not the objective to merely mirror the old processes. The aim was to digitize and modernize production to a greater degree, as well as to display all relevant information on the screen just-in-time, instead of printing it on paper.

Work instructions and paper consumption

Previously, every pallet was provided with a printed overview of the project and with an individual page of paper for every element. These shop papers were printed in the engineering office. Next, work scheduling added text markers on some individual pages of paper. “We used to mark, for example, ISO cages in color to facilitate allocation in production,” explained Carlos Gaspar, master-computer specialist at BE. The pages would then be placed on the production pallet and accompanied it on all workstations up to the concrete spreader. Approximately three to four pages per pallet and day would pass through production. These amounted to 200 pages daily and nearly 5,000 pages per month, which were disposed of after completion.

However, these ecological aspects were not the only motivation for consistent digitization of the processes. “In economically good phases, we must optimize the productivity of our entire production plant,” explains Plant Manager and Registered Corporate Signatory Dietmar Notz, who adds another aspect: “In times of shortage of skilled labor, creating a modern and future-oriented work environment is also important.”

Information in production made available just in time

The concept that BE Beton-Elemente has worked out together with Unitechnik provided for the installation of 15 large-format TV screens and six computer monitors in the plant. As large-format screens, standard commercially available 55-inch LED TV screens were used. The falling prices in this segment has now made the use of these screens economically feasible. Where primarily individual pages are to be displayed, the TV screens were installed in vertical position. In this way, an image of a DIN-A4-format PDF can therefore be displayed in as large a format as possible. At the workplaces, two screens are suspended vertically on the pallet for the following steps of work: formwork retrofitting, placement of embedded parts, reinforcement fixing and final control. The TV screens are activated by small computers. The so-called Thin Clients do not have their own hard disks and obtain their data directly via the network from the UniCAM.10 master computer. Two TV screens or monitors can be connected to every Thin Client. One challenge in configuring the system was that the distance between Thin Client and screen could not exceed 10 m.

The individual pages are displayed as PDF documents. At BE, these PDFs are generated by a Nemetschek CAD system. In the former paper process, Production Planning entered notes for production on the extract of the individual pages. This function was also emulated in the digital version. Now, a PDF editor integrated in the master computer enables the staff in Production Planning to add comments and markings. These additional notes are saved together with the PDF. However, unlike the old process, the notes are not discarded together with the pages of paper, but archived in the master computer.

Separate panel-PC with touch screen

Back to the production plant: when a new pallet enters the station for formwork retrofitting and placement of embedded parts, the new information is automatically uploaded and displayed on the screens. At this station, two large-format screens are vertically suspended on the pallet. The pallet overview is displayed at the top; below it, the first element on the pallet. The second element is displayed on the neighboring screen. A click on another element in the overview displays the individual page for the selected element. The various information is documented on different levels of the PDF. The levels can be switched on or off as desired. Information on the reinforcement, for example, can be switched on or off.

A separate panel-PC with touch screen is an especially convenient possibility for controlling the screen. The PC is installed in a robust industrial housing and mounted directly at the staff workplace. The elements on the pallet being processed can be allocated to the screens per touch. As soon as the work on the station has been completed, the next pallet can be requested: e.g., to place the required embedded parts in readiness.

The casting station is another application case. Here the task is to display all elements on the pallet at one glance. Therefore, the individual pages of all elements are faded in side by side. This monitor is mounted at right angles, to make as much room available as possible over its width.

Large-format screen as master computer monitor

Some of the large-format screens are not used for displaying the individual pages. Certain masks from the master computer are displayed on them. At the stacking place, this is the swapping list. Plant visualization runs on a different screen and on another additional screen at a central station the dashboard with the production parameters. No one needs to walk to the control station to request required information. The staff receives all information directly, which is displayed to them exactly where needed. This eliminates unnecessary walking and inquiries.

Staff supports process optimization

Digitization at BE is a project in which all the staff participates. Digital infrastructure in the form of large-format TV screens at the workstations is not the end but the beginning of the change process. The processes are jointly improved and new ideas tried out. The digital aids here increase freedom of design.

Falling prices for TV screens make digital infrastructure in the production area affordable. The first step toward digitization already brings numerous advantages over the previous processes: saving of raw materials, less walking, reduction in enquiries and increase in transparency. An attractive and modern work environment is created. This makes room for new ideas, motivates staff and offers the potential for many small productivity increases.

But the great advantage is future possibilities. Companies profit, in particular, from dynamic developments in terminal devices. The next step could be wearables, for example, which make information available even more conveniently and enable intuitive feedback.


Unitechnik Systems GmbH

Fritz-Kotz-Str. 14

51674 Wiehl/Germany

Wolfgang Cieplik

+49 2261 987-208



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