By Jim Montague, Executive Editor
While there are many benefits to modular machine building and its effect on operations, there are some obstacles and possible drawbacks, too. As a result, it's vital to consider the pros and cons as they relate to your machine and its users, and then answer some important questions before deciding to undertake a modular machine redesign or installation.
- Simplifies physical design and construction
- Reduces wiring
- Improves configuration flexibility
- Speeds up changeovers
- Increases design complexity of controls and software
- Adds higher initial costs
- Requires more training for operators and technicians
- How many different product sizes and product types will the end user run, and how fast does this need to happen?
- How often are changeovers performed, and how complex are they to do? How much time can be saved with modular equipment, quick disconnects and preprogrammed reconfigurations?
- How many mechanical linkages and how much dedicated cabling does the former machine possess? Can it be successfully and safely replaced with servo motors and programmable drives?
- What kinds of power connections, pneumatic lines, communication switches and other networking and distribution components are in the existing machine? Can they be simplified with fieldbuses and Ethernet to make quick-disconnect units workable?
- If space is at a premium in the user's facility, would it be possible to run two or more products on one machine, instead of trying to add a second machine?
- Does the application have enough potential volume and throughput to be gained to make modularization a worthwhile investment?
- How much training are the user's operators and technicians going to need to run and maintain their new modular equipment and software?