Industrial Automation

Planning for CPG Legacy Equipment Upgrades: 4 Questions to Ask

Aravind Kumar
When it’s time to replace legacy equipment, how can you make sure these investments don’t become setbacks along your CPG plant’s digital-transformation journey?


Legacy equipment is something every manufacturer struggles with, including CPG plants. After all, many of the machines they rely on are built to last decades.


When it’s time to replace older machines, how can you make sure these major capital investments don’t become setbacks along your digital-transformation journey?


Most CPG companies focus on processes when selecting new equipment: How will the equipment upgrade improve whatever you manufacture, whether it’s cosmetics, curtains or canned goods? The key decision-makers involved in legacy equipment upgrades are often those responsible for plant operations and the front lines of production.


But as they make these equipment improvements, many decision-makers tend to overlook the critical role that upgrades can play not only in improving manufacturing processes, but also in making the lives of machine operators better.


By connecting operators to valuable, accurate and real-time data, CPG equipment upgrades—when handled correctly—allow them to perform their jobs more efficiently and further optimize processes.


Consider connectivity during the upgrade process

When investing in new CPG equipment, such as conveyors, palletizers or filling and sealing machines, it’s important to pay attention to connectivity capabilities. Is the machine able to share data? Can it support remote management? In other words: It’s time to start caring about what’s happening within the machines themselves to enable connectivity and collaboration.


It’s much easier to get what you need upfront instead of realizing after installation that the equipment is difficult to operate or not able to provide the right performance data. Making changes to equipment after deployment requires not only more money, but also a halt in production, which decreases revenue.


To make sure your new CPG equipment not only improves manufacturing, but also makes the lives of machine operators better, there are four critical questions you should ask when upgrading legacy equipment.


1. Does the machine have a static IP address?

Many times, the equipment purchased for a CPG plant has a static IP address. The machine is always configured to work on that specific IP address.


While this may not matter in your plant today, it’s something to consider if you ever want to connect the equipment to your OT network. If it has a static IP address, then you’ll need to invest in additional hardware so the IP address can be translated, and the machine can connect to the network. 


2. Are the machine’s sensors connected using a technology like IO-Link? 

Typically, machines are equipped with sensors and connected to a PLC and internal machine network. Many times, however, these machines are designed to gather only minimal amounts of data.


What happens if you want access to more data in the future to make decisions about operations? Operators will need more data than what’s available from the PLC today.


For example, perhaps a piece of CPG equipment provides data about operating temperature, but you want to better understand the equipment’s energy consumption—data that the PLC doesn’t capture.


To easily correlate these data points, this information can be extracted and combined with other controls data if the sensors within the machine are connected with a technology like IO-Link. This helps operators draw more accurate insights about processes and equipment.


3. Will the machine support secure remote access?

When you need a new machine, it’s smart to plan for necessary network infrastructure right along with it. You can use the arrival of a new machine to improve your OT network in that particular cell, or even plantwide, and also use the opportunity to connect other nearby machines.


As part of this process, make sure the piece of equipment you select will support secure remote access. Again, this may not be a capability that’s critical to operations today, but this capability allows remote login for workers who need to access plant information when they’re in a different location, workers onsite who want a big-picture view of what’s happening on the plant floor without having to walk to multiple locations and physically monitor different lines, and third-party vendors that need access to equipment to perform maintenance and monitoring.


Secure remote access also helps reduce downtime costs by decreasing the amount of time a piece of equipment is offline (because techs don’t need to be onsite at the machine to investigate and correct the issue).


4. Which communication protocols does the machine rely on?

Communication protocols are another consideration for CPG equipment. Is the machine’s protocol open or proprietary? Open protocols are typically more flexible and adaptable than proprietary protocols.


The protocol your machine relies on will determine things like:

  • How you connect to the machine
  • How you pull data from the machine
  • What other machines it can “talk” to
  • What types of data will be available


How to time your CPG equipment upgrades

One final consideration when investing in legacy equipment upgrades: How will you decide which equipment to replace—and when?


Many times, these decisions are based on institutional knowledge and opinions—or which machine has been struggling the most with unplanned downtime.


Before your plant jumps into a significant equipment-related capital investment, however, it may make sense to start off with a smaller capital outlay: setting up systems and infrastructure to monitor and collect data about all your current machines and processes. The data you collect from your existing equipment can give you the information you need to make educated, well-informed decisions about which machines should be prioritized for replacement, and when that upgrade should take place.


Belden can help you build a unified, converged infrastructure that will help you capture the data you need to manage legacy equipment effectively and plan for upgrades without compromising performance, availability or security.


Our in-house experts have decades of experience in successfully planning and executing migrations that help CPG companies prepare for the future while maximizing current investments in legacy technology. Remember: Planning for the future now sets your plant up for long-term success.


Learn how Belden’s Customer Innovation Center can help you lead your plant’s digital transformation.


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