Old Machine, New Life

Graft New Automation and Controls to Sturdy but Aging Machine Stock and You'll Enhance Performance, Yield and Quality

By Jim Montague

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"Everything old is new again." The late, great Peter Allen's wishful song lyric can be equally true for legacy machines and production lines as it is for aging operators, engineers and other humans.

Just as getting up, moving around, and sensible weightlifting can get people's blood moving and fuel well-being and happiness, there are more tools and methods that can do the same for supporting and reviving old components, equipment, applications and facilities.

SEE ALSO: Retro Fits: Older Machines, Younger Control Systems

Unlike people, the main advantage of renovating and upgrading machines is that far more of their guts and intelligence can be removed, and replaced with new and more capable components. The trick is picking the right ones, and applying them thoroughly and consistently. Luckily, some machine builders have been supporting and refurbishing machines for a long time, and they say many once-difficult renovation jobs are a lot easier now.

"We've always supported our machines cradle-to-grave, and so we often work with equipment that's 35 years old," says Mike Willworth, product support manager at HayssenSandiacre in Duncan, S.C. "For instance, we began making our Ultima 1 and 2 vertical form fill and seal (VFFS) machines with Deca controls about 30 years ago, added continuous motion belts (CMB) in 1990, and we still have proprietary boards for them. We might run out one day, but we've haven't turned anyone away yet."

Willworth adds that HayssenSandiacre's technicians are experienced with its older machines and their proprietary controls. It also runs classes on operating and maintaining them, using their original verbiage and nomenclature. However, some veteran machines need even more help. "We recently ran across a 1992 Ultima CMB with a Mateer Burt auger and our Micrologic control," Willworth explains. "It had been traded in several years ago, and was in a warehouse. It had been bought as core salvage, and we were asked to see if we could refurbish it for resale."

Reasons for Revival
While there are many motivations for supporting legacy machines and production lines, the primary yardstick is that rebuilds and upgrades can cost less than buying new equipment — and many builders report old devices still can do their jobs as well or better with a little timely assistance.

"Today's economy forced many manufacturers and retailers to forego complete replacement of aging material handling systems," says Dennis Gates, senior vice president of customer service and support at Intelligrated, Cincinnati, which builds material handling systems, and announced its Lifecycle Support Team at the ProMat tradeshow this year. "The team is dedicated to helping companies give new life to their original system investment by reducing the risk of unplanned downtime, and increasing system utilization through proactive system rejuvenation and maintenance support." The team's lifecycle system support services include audits, control system upgrades and modifications, equipment rebuilds and refurbishments, spare parts supply, warranty administration, obsolescence planning, outsourced maintenance, technical support contracts, repair contract and training.

"The field service and upgrade markets are expanding exponentially because only about 25% of end users are able to do regular machine replacements," says Mark Lewis, technical services group manager at Beckhoff Automation. "Most small shops just can't afford scheduled replacements, and that's why 75-85% of machines operating 20 years ago are still in use now. Users want to do the tasks they've always done, but continue to maximize performance, and make the plant floor more transparent to the rest of the business. So, how can you take equipment that's been in place and running Profibus or DeviceNet since the 1990s, bring it up to modern standards, and have it interact with a manufacturing execution system (MES) at the enterprise level? Every five or 10 years, users seem to run into a maximum production efficiency barrier, and need to make new components mesh with existing machines to achieve further gains, but they need a primary communication backbone between them."

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