If you are a plant floor manager, maintenance supervisor or a member of your employer’s electrical department, you should upgrade your obsolete control systems. Take a moment to think of how old your machinery is, and the controllers and monitors that make them operate. Are they old enough where a module or component failure will be very costly, whether in price or down time? If the answer is yes, it is time to be proactive and upgrade to modern and readily available controls, before a catastrophic failure leaves you with lost production time and high repair or replacement costs of the older equipment.
One crucial factor is the availability of technical support from the vendors. Are the vendors or suppliers of your equipment still in business? Do they still offer the components of your older automation system? Are the components readily available in the event of a breakdown? Can you wait for a repair of your older modules? It is quite possible to be forced to wait days or weeks for a component to become available or repaired. After upgrading, the issue of component availability is solved since you will have a system whose components are actively in production, and being marketed by the vendors.
Lack of availability causes undesired downtime, lost production, and even extra wages to be paid during the unproductive time. These costs should be weighed against the costs of upgrading, because quite often, the mentality that says “upgrading will be expensive” will win. The cost of older equipment can cost more than its modern counterparts, thus the cost of keeping inventory of spare parts on an older, obsolete system will be higher. It can even cost much more to find people experienced in the older technologies since they could move on to other opportunities or even retire. Also, the troubleshooting software and tools become less available as these begin to age and fail.
It is a big advantage to upgrade your automation control systems so that you can take advantage of modern technologies. For example, today’s diagnostic and troubleshooting tools are easier to use, which enables you to pinpoint a problem faster, and even often at times does not need the use of the vendor’s programming software, enabling plant floor workers to identify the issues at the machine level and to react more quickly to faults.
The use of industrial communication networks versus traditional hard-wiring of devices to the main control system reduces points of failure, reduces cost of maintenance, and simplifies the machine design. It can also enable remote diagnostics and monitoring of the system, thus saving travel time to be in front of the machine to diagnose issues. Another benefit is being able to link production data from the plant floor machinery to the enterprise level system for reporting purposes or recipe management (ex: formula management for various products produced). In the past, a supervisor had to carry a pen and a clipboard and go around writing down the production data, and to manually enter formula values at each machine.
Today, controllers and devices are available with integrated safety. This means that your emergency stop devices can be handled by a controller, which can provide diagnostic information, which will provide much more information than just a red flashing light. The device location and precise cause of a safety condition can be reported directly to the machine operator, without the use of programming software.
There are other specific criteria to consider when deciding it’s time to upgrade your obsolete control systems that are not mentioned here, but the availability of components, costs related to maintenance and downtime, and the functionality that modern technologies could add to your control system are high on the list to think about.
Contact us for a free consultation for upgrading or converting your existing control system. We have and are continuing to develop ways to convert your existing code to up-to-date software and hardware platforms.