How to Plan for Equipment Upgrades

| Anita O'Brien

Every year, industrial facilities all over the world face the choice of maintaining their old equipment or replacing it with new technology. The decision to modernize includes some very important how, when, and why questions.

Automation Modernization

In the world of industrial automation, "automation modernization" is a process with which to address system maturity. No technology, regardless of how innovative, can last forever. The simple fact is that it’s not a question of if but when. Modernization means upgrading your factory, your equipment, and your components to promote enterprise-wide information sharing, globalization, and sustainability.

  • Modernization can be proactive or reactive
  • Modernization can be plant-wide or line by line, cell by cell
  • Implementation plans to modernize can vary from company to company, based on available capital and business conditions

Make Equipment Upgrades Over Time

Modernizations don’t happen overnight. There is a right way to modernize, and when done properly it can help improve your asset utilization and system performance. Most of the successful modernization plans we have seen occur somewhere around the three- to a five-year time frame and are organized to minimize downtime and keep the plant up and running. Improving productivity is one of the deliverables and expectations of modernization. Productivity gains can be realized through intelligent plant management and connected machines. Equipment that is already being upgraded can be seamlessly integrated to the rest of the enterprise through the use of up-to-date Ethernet ports. Having machines talk to the rest of your enterprise lets your team make data-driven business decisions to improve manufacturing productivity, OEE, and profitability.

Plan for Modernization

Horizon Solutions recently worked closely with a paper mill that decided to undertake a project to upgrade the controls on one of its main assets, a large paper machine. This machine is a real workhorse, and plant engineers estimate that time on the machine is worth around $20,000 an hour. For this reason, all upgrades were planned to occur during a two-week scheduled shutdown. This particular customer faced the challenge of a plant that is itself over 100 years old, along with control technology on the machine that is more than 30 years old.

The equipment was in regular day-to-day use and well maintained. This customer is a big user of Rockwell Automation® products in their equipment. Rockwell Automation has online tools to allow end-users to cross-reference their vital components to see a life cycle status and modernization options. In the months before the upgrade, our teams analyzed the equipment history, repair history, and maintenance schedule, along with the availability of spare parts and other replacements. We also did a thorough review of the original machine builder, who is located outside of the country (in Europe).

Planning Tips

  1. Be proactive – It’s easier (and less costly) to plan a change than to react to a breakdown.
  2. Take manageable bites – Gauge the size and availability of your team. If you honestly can’t feasibly handle 8 different crucial production lines in 2 months, sometimes it’s better to combine a plan of maintaining some equipment while upgrading others.
  3. Build on your success – Some plants have found success by starting small with a piece of non-critical equipment to get a proven process under their belt and developing a winning record before moving on to their more challenging projects.
  4. Don’t be afraid to take your time – If your team and your business environment allow, it is not uncommon to have modernization plans that stretch out over many months or even multiple years.
  5. Don’t fear change!

If you are considering modernization, we can help answer your questions and jumpstart your plan.

*OEE: Overall equipment effectiveness

**Read about how intelligently connecting machines to the rest of your enterprise allows for data-driven business decisions - White paper: The Connected Enterprise from Rockwell Automation. This 8-page analysis goes into a network structure, virtualization, and case studies. It is a worthwhile read for anyone in manufacturing.