Is Modernization Right for You, Right Now?

| Garry Little


A question I hear almost every day is “Should I upgrade this automated system?” I am paraphrasing of course; the actual question might sound more like “Should I dump this PLC5? How much longer can we get it to work? Do they even still repair this one anymore?”

My answer is typically a quick look into whether we’re actually talking about a “Modernization” or an “Upgrade”. That topic is a blog post in and of itself and has already been covered very well here.  Many folks use the terms “Upgrade” and “Modernize” somewhat interchangeably. Let’s discuss the differences.

  • Equipment UpgradeUpgrade: Focus on a specific machine or line to address outdated technology. Usually, a smaller investment that provides a one-for-one replacement of aging products for a modern version.
  • Modernization: Applying contemporary technology to address obsolescence, improve productivity and setting the foundation to meet both current and future business objectives. Typically a larger investment with a higher return over time.

To help further the discussion regarding whether to upgrade or modernize, this post will look into three topics:

  1. What changing consumer demand means to a manufacturer
  2. Analyzing manufacturing data and process improvements
  3. A look at modern manufacturing / smart manufacturing

What Changing Consumer Demand Means to a Manufacturer

A manufacturing company might look at sales data and analyze it with respect to its current manufacturing capability. An example in the world of food & beverage manufacturing might be a dairy plant that says “In April we sold a lot of 2% milk, but in May we sold less of the 2% and a lot more cottage cheese”. That represents changing consumer demand. So what can a smart and knowledgeable manufacturer do?

Modernized lines and equipment allow for quicker changeover on the plant floor. This allows the production team to take the findings of sales and act to create more supply of the products that are most in-demand. Outdated equipment can take a full day (or more) to change over, and modernized equipment can be changed over in hours. This means less downtime and more production. Your operations team is adding more production hours to every day, which represents improved profitability.

Not only does the plant floor team have less hassle and complications, but the sales team for that manufacturer is also better able to sell the right products at the right time.

Modern Manufacturing Equipment

Analyzing Manufacturing Data and Process Improvements

Data is a big deal in modern manufacturing. You need data to track your products, how they were made, when they were made, and so on. A common data metric for manufacturing is OEE. OEE stands for Overall Equipment Effectiveness, and in some circles, it can also stand for Operational Equipment Efficiency. Both are similar terms. You and your team may need to generate accurate reporting of real plant floor activity.

Software like FactoryTalk Metrics reports on OEE. You can learn more about FactoryTalk Metrics here. Data can provide you with important insights into using existing equipment and labor more effectively. In any given plant, there are process improvement opportunities. Data reporting can tell you how equipment is performing over time and can help your team uncover the root causes of downtime and loss helps you make real improvements to performance.

Modern Manufacturing / Smart Manufacturing

Legacy systems operate in isolation and outdated equipment is costly to run. Modern Manufacturing systems rely on modern technologies to improve the productivity and performance of your industrial operations. Modern Manufacturing – sometimes called “smart manufacturing” – utilizes technologies such as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) technologies to optimize their processes and equip their people for higher performance and efficiency.

Want to learn more about (1) operational intelligence, (2) productivity, and (3) risk management? This page from Rockwell Automation shows how you can make smart manufacturing work for you.  Need help? Reach out to us.

Essentially, modernization (smart manufacturing) means using the best tools available to connected your machines, lines, and devices. This seamless connectivity increases visibility and enables better and faster decision making. Smart manufacturing is the gateway to digital transformation.