With the advances in technology during the past few years, modernizing machinery is not only possible, but necessary in today's tough economic climate. The trick is to modernize right.
"If companies want to buy a new unit, credit is tight," says Rob Matthes, president of Transducers Direct, a premier manufacturer and supplier of industrial machine components and related engineering support.
"So, what companies are forced to do, or they smartly choose to do, is to retrofit and modernize their machines. We're seeing more and more companies upgrade 10 year old machines with new modern controls, valves, and linear feedback devices."
A simple modernization program can reap benefits including a reduction in downtime, increased efficiency and added reliability. Matthes sees a substantial list of industries doing just that, ranging from food manufacturing, electronics, packaging, medical products; plastics to hydraulic machinery and agriculture.
Modernizing machinery is not as simple as it looks, especially with the advances in technology during the past few years. Today's transducers are more accurate, faster at updating, and are made of better and different materials than 10 years ago because of the advances in technology, assembly, and materials.
"Now, there's more competition, technology has evolved with new materials being used in transducers. Today, you get a better transducer with higher tolerance parts and in the materials that are used. That's why it's important to have a partnership with a company that has the people who understand not only your application but actually knows their products inside and out," he says.
Matthes, who has been installing, assembling and designing transducers and sensors for more than 25 years, has a good perspective to share.
"While it may look the same from the outside, the inside is different," he explains.
"There have been vast improvements but it might not be apparent from the outside. Most people look at a transducer and see the same unit but the technology and the materials used are different. Naturally, this is a better unit that will also probably last longer. The true trick is to find the right one."
Modernizing machines is now a strong combination of art and science. The first step is to determine which machine to reinvigorate.
According to Matthes, "It's generally a review and a decision by the production supervisor and the company owner. And many times, the machinery operator. They know which machine has the best 'iron'. The first choice is the unit that is mechanically sound, but there is difficulty getting parts for the old controller or it's hard to find replacements for the old transducers for this model, or they keep failing. The owner ultimately knows which machine would be the best one to invest money in to modernize."
Matthes also suggests that the company's CFO be consulted for a detailed financial analysis of the machine being considered for modernization. This would include current run rates, expected longevity, and replacement value as compared to the capital costs of a new unit.
"Modernizing a machine will maximize its output, earning the company more money. If you have an hourly rate of $100 an hour, or whatever it is, putting out more parts during that hour equates to more profits." Matthes explains.
The key, he offered, "is communication between a machine's operating branches. It's not just one brain making that machine work. It's almost like a tree, with various branches feeding into the trunk that must all be in synchronization with each other. The faster everything can update, the faster you can run that machine, which increases overall production. There are always some limitations due to the process itself, but if you can eliminate a second here and a second there during the cycle time, in an 8 hour shift, over a couple of days, that it adds up to more profitability, and reduces scrap. The faster updates can be provided in real time, the more accurate and consistent the positioning, the faster you can produce top grade parts."
As companies modernize machinery, Matthes recommends the following questions to identify and qualify the part.
"You need to ask 'how do your sensors apply to my machines, to my process, to my end use and for making a better product for my customers. Then ask, what are the best applications for this part? "
"You can buy a $1,000 transducer and it will work, but could a $300 transducer do the exact same job? How do you find out? Those who have cash to burn can pick anything and put it on there. If it doesn't work, go to the next one, and keep throwing money at to eventually find a part that works. Or you can work with a company like Transducers Ditrect that understands the applications, the technology and offers great customer service."
As you choose your modernization component supplier, look not only at the technology and price, but weigh the service offerings like technical support, configuration assistance, and the ability to troubleshoot multiple components working together to fine tune a process or remedy a mechanical problem. Modernization is more than identifying and purchasing all the right components. It is the proper setup and tuning of these components that completes the modernization effort.
The key to modernizing machinery is to know how everything is related and how the parts of the process interconnect. Today there are so many modernized components to choose from, and most companies don't have resources dedicated to modernization. Their resources are tapped running and maintaining the current set up.
As you modernize, but be sure get the most from your modernization investments by partnering with the right manufacturers and suppliers. Matthes recommends working with the manufacturers experts and engineers for the best configuration, tuning, and troubleshooting. The problem is that few manufacturers offer this level of service and consultation as a standard. Most are selling as many parts as possible and the relationship is very seller, purchaser oriented, without the critical support and configuration element. Getting application specific support and configuration assistance can be a daunting task, let alone troubleshooting mechanical problems
Matthes simplifies the application needs of today's plant operation by recalling the way all gas stations operated.
"Remember the good old days when you'd drive up they'd check your tire pressure, and put some air in if it was needed, check your oil, clean your windshield, pump your gas? That is the level of service people are looking for today. It's also the level of service needed to modernize your machinery right."
As a company that regularly deals with the manufacturing process, knows controllers, servo values, switches, sensors hydraulics and advanced transducers, Transducers Direct can quickly pinpoint the right combination of modernization components.
You could say effective machining modernization is a natural result of the Transducers Direct business relationship. They have been modernizing machining all along, with their end to end, component consultation, selection, service, support, setup and optimization. Operating a full service business with 24x7 technical support, providing complimentary engineering consultation and configuration assistance, and quality guaranteeing all their products, Transducers Direct could be considered the "original" experts for modernizing machines.