Reasons to Modularize — or Not

The machine builders and other sources in the February 2012 cover article on modular machine building, "Modular Mosaic," report that there are many benefits to modular machine building and operations, but there are some obstacles and possible drawbacks, too. As a result, it's important to consider the pros and cons as they relate to your machine and its end users, and then answer some serious questions before undertaking a modular machine redesign or installation.

• Simplifies physical design and construction
• Reduces wiring
• Improves configuration flexibility
• Speeds up changeovers

• Increased design complexity of controls and software
• Higher initial costs
• More training needed for operators and technicians

• How many different product sizes and types is the end user’s application seeking to run, and how fast does it need to happen?
• How often are changeovers performed, how complex are they to do, and 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, and can they be successfully and safety replaced with servomotors and programmable drives?
• What kinds of power connections, pneumatic lines, communication switches and other kinds of networking and distribution components are in the existing machine, and 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?

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