When to Upgrade Legacy Machines, and How to Make It Workable

Well, I just put together all the great input from a bunch of machine builders about how they support and when they decide to renovate legacy machines for Control Design's June cover article, "Old Machines, New Lives," and practially everyone has some good advice. When machines and production lines breakdown and stop, it's obviously time to repair or replace them, but other choices are less clear-cut.

Here’s a few of the telltale signs that a machine is due for an upgrade:
• Performance or quality of end products creeping below acceptable levels, either on average or in too many chronic incidents;
• Existing equipment is using too much energy;
• Crucial parts for machine are obsolete or being discontinued;
• Complete replacement would be too costly;
• Don’t want to sacrifice existing know-how, intellectual property and familiarity with existing equipment;
• Institutional or tribal knowledge about old machines may be disappearing as veterans retire; and
• Replacement would take too long and hinder production or other applications.  

Also, here are a few indications that an upgrade may be worth pursuing:
• Frame and other core components still strong and able to serve in renovated machine;
• Old controls and cabinet relatively simple to separate and remove from existing components;   
• Existing sensors, instrumentation, I/O points and other devices can be retained, reducing project costs;
• Motors, drives and servos can deliver motion and performance needed by application;
• New controls can be easily integrated into updates machine, and can reproduce or improve on former machine’s required operations and production levels; and
• Training on new equipment and controls is easier for staff to learn and apply.

Jim Montague is the executive editor for Control, Control Design and Industrial Networking. Email him at jmontague@putman.net or check out his Google+ profile.