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Six steps toward eliminating obsolete controls equipment

Replacing obsolete controls equipment is inconvenient, but it is a necessary process and can be made easier with an internal audit that shows what needs to be done.

Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Most people have a least one control panel that’s like a recurring nightmare. Each time it’s opened, something breaks, so naturally don’t open it! Don’t look at it or even breathe around it! That tends to be the situation with a lot of manufacturing facilities, but there is a big problem with that mindset: it won’t work forever.

People don’t drive cars from 1985 every day and expect them to keep on chugging along forever; the same goes with the equipment vital to manufacturing facilities. Well-planned hardware obsolescence projects can ultimately prevent unplanned downtime and spending, as well as conquer the outdated equipment plaguing a plant.

While it might be inconvenient and costly, and the benefits aren’t realized, it certainly is better than the alternative. If something does go wrong, there will be a headache much larger than simply spending the money to replace the obsolete controls equipment. And it’s a good bet the problems will be far-reaching, leading to a lot of uncomfortable questions about why it wasn’t done sooner.

Obsolescence: Six questions to ask

Fortunately, manufacturers can avoid the hassle of unscheduled outages and surprise budget burdens.  All it takes is following these six simple steps:

1. Know what you have. A simple audit of the current hardware and status of electrical schematics (existing? on paper? electronic copy available?) is critical.

2. Identify future issues. Ask if the equipment runs perfectly and would there be a return on investment (ROI) associated with fixing an issue that could help offset the upgrade cost. Also ask if this piece of equipment should perhaps not live in the hottest/stickiest/wettest room of your plant. Also consider if there’s future functionality/equipment that should be planned for

3. Determine if there are corporate/plant programming or electrical standards that could be implemented to ensure ease of troubleshooting and commonality.

4When will new equipment be installed? Operations needs to be involved in the decision! This will ultimately drive the when and how more than any other factor. Aim for outage windows that will allow for testing prior to the system coming back online and generating product.

5. Know your costs. This can be handled by an internal engineering team or by having an assessment done to allow outside help to dig through the collateral. Add additional expense/benefits of hiring outside help.

6. Coordinate, schedule and implement. Now that you know what is changing, why it’s changing, how it’s changing, where it’s going and when it can change. The rest comes down to execution.

Following these steps will help manufacturers face the obsolete equipment haunting a facility with minimal pain and help companies look to the future.

Robert Herman, program manager, Avanceon, a CFE Media content partner. This article originally appeared on Avanceon’s website. Edited by Chris Vavra, associate editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

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