When you have equipment old enough to remember the Eisenhower administration (or even the Carter administration) it is important to have a plan before you have a problem.
In a manufacturing plant, equipment is expected to operate reliably for decades. As equipment approaches end-of-life, maintaining reliable uptime becomes more of a problem. Parts are harder to find. Vendors are winding down or discontinuing support. Maintenance people who understand the machinery have retired or moved on to other jobs. And, often, you have not been able to integrate the equipment into your plant communications system because of its age, which adds to maintenance and management costs.
Belden, like all other manufacturers, has to face the challenges of obsolescence and replacing legacy equipment. In our Richmond, Indiana, plant, we manufacture a wide variety of cables. Some equipment dates back as far as the 1950s. When one of our cablers started to fail, it was a major concern.
A braider at Belden's Richmond, Indiana plant. Braiders apply braid over a cable assembly whereas cablers twist 2 or more conductors together into a set length.
A cabler is a machine that twists 2 or more conductors or assemblies together into a set length, for example, every 10" or so. Cablers used a system of motors connected via a driveshaft to drive different machines at different speeds. For example, a flyer bow assembly spins at one speed around a takeup reel at another speed. The ratio of the two speeds gives the wire the twists at whatever length required. Multiple gearboxes were regulated with multiple motors.
A product of the pre-Ethernet age, each cabler had its own control panel and could not be connected to the plant's LAN. With no central data point, our staff had to monitor all equipment and parts individually. This was time-consuming but necessary.
When routine monitoring identified a gearbox near failure, the age of the machine made finding parts difficult. Replacement parts would cost $25,000 and would take six to eight weeks for delivery. After evaluating options, we decided to work with a distributor that could provide us with a ready supply of up-to-date drives, PLCs and motors.
With a reliable source for equipment, the plant staff created a multi-year upgrade strategy that would not only bring in new equipment, but also equipment that was Ethernet-enabled. Manual monitoring and manual change outs of gears to meet cable specifications would be eliminated, providing significant savings.
Starting with the faulty cabler system, all of the aging equipment was replaced over a number of years. This stretched the cost out over time. Using monitoring and statistical analysis, we were able to upgrade equipment before major malfunctions happened.
Completed in 2011, this solution will last another 20-25 years. The overall cabler project lasted seven years and resulted in a common cabler platform. A common set of processors, racks, motors andcontrollers is a stark (and cost-saving) contrast from the "equipment bydecade" system of the past.
Other benefits include:
Having the cablers on an Ethernet network was a big step forward in efficiently supporting the control, data andmanagement needs of our business. Ourplant communication system is now more future-proof and flexible.
Have you initiated a legacy equipmentupgrade program recently? What was the result? If you have tips or recommendations on how to best upgrade a plant to an industrial Ethernet infrastructure please let me know.