Product Supplier? End User? Yes to Both

Suppliers Face the Same Maintenance, Breakdown and Downtime Headaches as the Machine Builders and Manufacturers That Employ Their Products

By Jim Montague

Remember Sy Sperling? He was the TV pitchman, who endlessly reminded viewers that, "I'm not only the Hair Club president, I'm also a member." Well, follicle challenges aside, I bring him up because his dual role reminds me that everyone is someone else's supplier, OEM, system integrator or end user.

Even the biggest suppliers of the most basic products are also end users of machines and production lines, and they face the same maintenance, breakdown and downtime headaches as the builders and manufacturers that employ their products.

SEE ALSO: The Case for Equipment Upgrades

While researching this issue's "Old Machine, New Life" cover article on supporting legacy equipment, I met the guys at Belden Industrial Solutions' plant in Richmond, Ind., who report they've spent much of the past seven years upgrading many of their facility's veteran cable-making machines and production lines.

The plant has 50 extrusion lines, 30 wire-drawing machines, 30 cabling lines and 600 braiders. The cabling lines come from several builders, including Dynamex, Cecco, Entwistle and Cook. The plant manufactures much of Belden's power and protected cabling and its broadcast coaxial cabling.

"This is Belden's most diverse plant because it's 85 years old and it has so much legacy and unique equipment," says Dave Hooper, Belden's plant manager. "We're very aware that if we wait until a unit fails, it's going to have a severe impact on our production and costs. We know we have to plan ahead and prevent unplanned outages from happening."

Good plan, until replacement parts become scarce for many of the old machines. "Parts that used to be available in an hour or two could now take six or eight weeks to be delivered and could cost $25,000," Hooper says. "Flyer motors and traverse and take-up gearboxes would fail on our cabling lines, and need new individual motors and drives. So, instead of continuing to seek replacement components such as cams, seals, large castings and other parts that weren't available, we decided to break out and upgrade many of our individual machines."

Hooper adds that plant maintenance manager Jeff Sparks and senior manufacturing engineer Scott Abney developed the renovation plan for all 30 of Belden's 30-inch cabling lines and one large planetary cabler. The project began in 2005-06, upgraded two cabling lines per years, finished at the Richmond plant in 2011., and is now underway at Belden's other facilities.  

"Because a lot of the mechanical failures were due to motors and drives, we began this project by diving into working with our new supplier of motors and drives," Abney says. "We implemented variable-frequency drives and PLCs from Rockwell Automation, and integrated them with standard ac motors from Marathon Electric Motors."

Abney adds that training the Belden's operators was eased because the new controls are organized onto one main screen on their new HMIs. "Previously, among the 30 cabling lines, we had four or five different control screens showing analog readouts for our discrete and manual equipment," Abney explains.

Hooper reports the main benefits of Belden's new cabling controls are immediately available spare parts, reduced training time, and less hunting for the right job settings. "When making cable, you must have the right lay length, which is the amount of twist in the wire before the final jacketing is added," Hooper says. "On some previous cablers, we had to manually change gears to get the right lay length. Now, with our new controls, we can do it automatically, and it's more accurate. We also can make a lot more customizable cable because we have far more choices of lay length settings. In the past, we could only go either 7 or 8 inches to go around the cable one time, for example, but now we can go 7.1 or 7.2 inches or whatever. We basically have an infinite number of settings between 0.25 and 15 inches."

Despite all its new controls, Hooper adds that the plant was able to retain its existing flyer machines, which include heads, reels and capstans, and twist the cable as it's being made. "Being able to replace the motors, drives and controls on our machines meant we could keep our old machine," Hooper explains. "Without these upgrades, we would have to buy new machines for $500,000, and which would have taken 16-20 weeks to deliver. The motors and drives cost only about $100,000 per cabling line, and we were able to do the upgrades in 10-14 days. I think this upgrade project gave us an additional 20-25 years of additional life to these machines and our facility." 

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