Stan van Wijk, electrical engineer, VDH Products
Stan van Wijk (25) has been working as an electrical engineer at VDH for 2 years. “We never miss a learning moment.”
Stan studied Mechatronics (a study programme with aspects of mechanics, electronics and computer science) at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen. He has been working at VDH Products for two years now and is in charge of the drawing room of the Control Cabinet department. Before that, he worked as a mechanical draftsman in the shipbuilding sector and designed cranes and gangways for ships.
What does a control cabinet do?
“The control cabinets we make are used to control complex processes in a simple way. Our cabinets are used in cooling installations, fruit ripening installations, car paintshops and air conditioners. Information is received from sensors and processed by a computer, the controller. Then it’s converted into readable data and automatic actions, such as closing a valve or controlling a fan. The controller sends the data to the display and you can read it there. But you can also use the display to control processes manually.”
So how do you make a control cabinet?
“When a request comes in, it specifies the type of cabinet the customer wants, the purpose of the cabinet and the maximum size. I start by designing the electrical diagram. After all, it all runs on voltage. I determine the required voltage and then I put all the components in the drawing, from the biggest to the smallest. When everything is electrically correct, it's time to design the physical cabinet. I first decide which components I want. Here, safety is the most important factor. And then the second puzzle, which is how do we fit everything in the cabinet? Sometimes we consult with the software engineers if there are very specific requirements for the controller.”
Within the limits
“Parts of the design of our existing control cabinets can often be copied. Then the customer says, for example: I want such and such a cabinet, but then plus or minus this function. And the structure of the cabinets is partly modular. But it’s always a question of fitting and measuring to find space for all the components within the limits of the cabinet’s maximum size. Added to that, the wiring in the cabinet must be logical. Right now we’re still working in 2D, but we’re in the process of learning to use a 3D module in our software. Then you can see from all sides how a design will turn out.”
The creation process
“If we work on the basis of an existing cabinet structure, the design of a cabinet is ready in a day. If we make a completely new cabinet, it could take a few weeks. The final result of the design phase is a drawing package. We go through this together within our design department. Then we ask, for example: can certain things be done even better, is everything correct? After that, the drawings go to the customer and come back after a while with the customer’s approval or a request for certain adjustments. We then discuss the delivery time and talk to the work planner about getting the right components ready on time. We print the diagram and the panel builders start working on the assembly and testing.”
“Our cabinets are delivered empty. Our mechanical man for panel building prepares them for assembly. He doesn't just make sure the right holes are in the right place – this man can really work magic! For example, if the customer has too little space to fully open the door of the cabinet, he simply splits the door. Or he makes the door removable. Or he makes sure that we can make optimum use of the space in a cabinet by making it possible to mount certain components on the inside of the door. Our experienced panel builders also actively come up with ideas. They sometimes see from the drawing that certain things could be done differently or better. Then they send you back a modified drawing.”
“This way, everyone in the process is actively involved in achieving the best end result. And our design department always wants to innovate. Even though the assignments keep piling up, we always review each other's work and never skip that learning moment. And if there’s any time left, we check existing cabinets to see if improvements can be made. Can the process be improved? Are there already better components available from suppliers, or perhaps cheaper versions with the same quality, or components that include more options?”
Creativity is key
“The thing is, designing a control cabinet requires creativity. It’s a puzzle to arrange the cabinet in the most efficient way. That’s what I love about this job. And what’s also great is that in my work you’re always in contact with all the departments: Software, Hardware, Work Preparation, Panel Construction... And with the Purchasing department of course, because at the moment certain components or machines aren’t available due to the chip shortage and you have to look for alternatives. The culture at VDH is supportive and we all want the best for each other. There’s room to experiment, and you’re given a lot of trust.”
Always a challenge
“Engineers are in great demand these days. It’s easy to switch to another employer. But that's not something I want. Because the various markets in which VDH is active are developing all the time. We’re constantly innovating, improving and upgrading: the technology of 3 years ago is already obsolete today. VDH is inspired by the wishes of customers and is well-informed about the latest developments from the suppliers. As engineers, we receive regular training in the NEN safety standards and in the design software we work with. Given the current demand, I expect us to expand in the near future and that will create new space and opportunities.”