4 Affordable Technology Upgrades to Improve Existing Equipment Performance
Older production equipment can pose a dilemma. On one hand, it represents a significant investment and continues to be a crucial part of the operation. But on the other hand, it may no longer be supported by OEM equipment and may lack interfaces with the technology or system controls you use.
Fortunately, there are ways to address deficiencies in older factory equipment, and they don’t have to break the budget. Modernization can improve safety, efficiency, throughput and productivity levels, and with the right approach to an equipment refresh project, you can make a positive impact on the bottom line at a fraction of the cost of a total equipment refurbishment or replacement project. Here’s how:
- Invest in safety: There’s a lot technology can tell you about efficiency, but it’s always a good idea to put safety first. Purchases like safety controllers, safety relays and safety sensing equipment are a good investment, even for older equipment that isn’t part of your long-term production plans. Keeping operators safe should always be the top priority.
- Integrate new technology into older machinery: Legacy machinery can be brought to modern standards with technologies like controllers, environmental sensor arrays, safety technology, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) platforms and other tools that connect with the Internet of Things (IoT). By adding affordable sensors, you can modernize and take advantage of the resulting data proliferation without the big price tag.
- Surpass original equipment reliability: After safety, one of your top goals should be to improve reliability. Even equipment that is built to last according to the top standards of the day may become outdated as reliability standards evolve and new technologies make it possible to keep closer tabs on performance. If you choose a control platform carefully, you can improve reliability.
- Generate data for continuous improvement: Automation tools and sensors can monitor machine throughput, uptime, downtime and other key factors, such as environmental conditions. It’s also possible to deploy advanced continuous process or batch mode applications that deliver large amounts of data on a macro level. These tools can help you continuously improve operations.
So, which tools can help you accomplish these improvements? Look for operator safety solutions that meet ANSI safety integration standards. Products will typically include features like interlocks, light curtains, safety controllers and guarding mechanisms.
Sensing, metering and regulating tools can also help you get an edge when applied to older machinery. These types of tools include systems that monitor parts and assess quality as well as environmental control, MRP systems and AI and business intelligence tools.
To upgrade performance and reliability, take a look at Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) upgrades. PLC can help you improve performance, reliability and operator/machine interface. It can also help you make sure parts are available and reduce risks posed by out-of-support controllers.
SCADA architectures are another upgrade possibility. SCADA platforms are designed to integrate with new or existing networks, and they can help you achieve high-level process management goals to improve efficiency and profitability.
The tools described here will produce data that can be used to improve performance overall — but before you can reap that benefit, you’ll need to act on the insights the data generates. Plant engineers and production experts are likely eager to help assess asset performance, and the information contained in the data will be incredibly helpful when it’s time to make long and short-term production equipment and policy decisions.
The good news is that it’s not necessary to make all these upgrades at once. Instead, you can prioritize according to which upgrades are more likely to have an immediate impact and fit your budget. It’s also a good idea to get input from engineering and production colleagues to find out what kind of data they would find most helpful in improving performance.
Sensors and automation tools can be powerful allies in the effort to improve productivity, and they can also be surprisingly affordable. So, take a look at your legacy equipment assets and decide which could use a makeover. Proactive is better than reactive in a production environment, and implementing these tools can transform the way you approach maintenance, scheduling and much more.
To learn more about ATS’ Factory Automation Integration services, download our one-sheet, here.
Micah Statler is Service Operations Manager for Advanced Technology Services, Inc.