MRO and system integrators: Collaboration is key

April 15, 2021
In this installment of Ask An Integrator, if you want to collect the right data, then involve integrators during the design and/or retrofit process.

Welcome to the next installment in our quarterly feature, Ask An Integrator, developed together with the Control System Integrators Association and its member organizations.

Automation Zone

This article is part of our monthly Automation Zone column. Read more from our monthly Automation Zone series.

The idea behind Ask An Integrator is simple: increasing levels of plant automation and the growth of online / remote condition monitoring programs have made having a trusted integrator partner more important than ever for smooth plant operation and maintenance. Once each quarter, you can ask your questions to a panel of CSIA integrator partners. Please email your questions directly to me, at [email protected], and I will relay them to our integrator panel.

For this second installment, we asked the integrators:

“What types of projects are you working on where you have a lot of contact with maintenance and reliability teams?”

Sam Cafferata, controls team manager
CSIA Certified Member Concept Systems

Surgical control retrofits is one area Concept Systems really has developed a project methodology for. What is a surgical control retrofit, you might ask? This is a plant process or machine modification that takes place in phases while maintaining some level of production and operation throughout the retrofit process, often with very strict production schedules that require extreme risk mitigation.

This process starts with an intense system evaluation and an interview process with all stakeholders including management, operations, engineering, maintenance, and reliability teams. The next step is a planning phase with an approval process pushed out to stakeholders such that everyone reviews and approves the plan before any work takes place. Integration and startup is planned out in a number of phases and may take advantage of a number of weekends, holidays, and other downtime events. These are closely coordinated with the stakeholders to ensure no surprises.

This process and project methodology can be applied to most any industrial process and some typical projects for Concept Systems would fall into a number of industries.

Some fun examples would involve:

  • Swapping out packaging equipment in a food processing line over a weekend
  • Upgrading hydraulic motion and positioning in a log processing line over several weekends and off-hour shifts
  • Modifying a recycling plant in order to process new food packaging materials while running
  • A CNC retrofit to replace an outdated control on an airline assembly tool for commercial airline tail assembly.

From the examples you can see this methodology is used in many industries with various levels of sophistication. Concept Systems’ project methodology drives communication to mitigate risk and solve complicated surgical controls retrofits involving all stakeholders.

Justin McNabb, staff engineer
CSIA Certified Member MartinCSI

One might work with reliability and maintenance staff when installing new machinery, upgrading legacy equipment, installing safety systems, or making changes to existing logic to fine-tune a product’s manufacturing process. Ultimately all machines will require maintenance to some degree to maintain a certain quality of product, or to meet cycle time requirements. These can both be impacted severely when considering an upgrade for a machine’s control system.

In my experience, I have found that during control system upgrades and safety additions there is a desire to improve or (at a minimum) maintain these requirements. Because of this, these types of projects will often require working closely with maintenance and reliability professionals to ensure that the machine is working as expected.

We often see control system upgrades where the customer has a PLC that is obsolete, or they want to standardize on one product rather than using several in their plant. It’s worth noting that sometimes these upgrades might not include the entire control system, but rather individual components of the machine such as laser markers, motors, valves, robots, and other devices. In both instances, the equipment has been changed out and from a reliability standpoint, you must verify that the machine operates as expected.

We also see ourselves working with the customer’s maintenance and operator faculty during safety projects. Oftentimes our customers will have a risk assessment for their machine, and they’ll reach out to us to design and/or validate their machine according to its requirements. Other times we will be tasked with completing the risk assessment and this gives us the chance to interview the customer’s staff and document the limits of the machinery, as well as how best to safeguard the existing hazards.

Safety additions and upgrades to machinery typically involve interrupting power sources to different components. If implemented poorly this could interrupt the machine mid-cycle, causing downtime and wasted materials. These issues can be avoided by following the risk assessment and choosing the most effective countermeasures for all hazards present.

It’s important to highlight that safety is always a priority and, in some cases, it may not be appropriate to wait for a machine’s cycle to finish.

Ryan Wasmund, sales and marketing director
CSIA Certified Member Concept Systems

Controls retrofits are an important part of any business looking to extend the life of their machines, while gaining insights into the machines such as run time, alerts, process information, and reliability data.

The amount of data that can be gained from a machine that is running an upgraded controls system is exponentially greater than a system that was installed even five years ago based on the technology improvements that have been made recently. This is a common request from operations, maintenance, and reliability teams throughout many industries including aerospace, food and beverage, wood products, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, warehousing, and life sciences.

One project that we recently completed was for a customer in the building products industry. They have a need to ensure that their machines are running reliably, and with the growth in their industry over the last year, this is more critical than ever. Concept Systems worked directly with the facilities and maintenance teams to provide an automation roadmap for planning purposes that addressed their main concerns, and a budget for the machines in question. This allowed their finance, operations, and maintenance teams to review and agree upon which machine got upgraded first, and how this would be justified to their leadership teams.

Their main concern is machine reliability, and so we removed a outdated PLC controller, and installed a new Rockwell Compact Logix platform, provided updated electrical drawings, and performed the upgrade and programming onsite within a downtime window that was defined by the customer. We also evaluated and updated the safety systems on the machine and worked with the maintenance team to ensure that they had the knowledge to keep the machine running well after the upgrade.

Another project that we are working on currently is a castings furnace upgrade for the aerospace industry. A vacuum casting furnace is a critical asset to any foundry; if a furnace goes down unexpectedly, there are some major cost impacts associated immediately such as a frozen crucible, short pours, and stuck charges, leading to lost production. There are also some major motion control technology improvements that can be made to older furnaces, which allow the quality of a casting to be more repeatable, by introducing motion planning software and pouring recipe management to ensure that the same part is poured each time.

The maintenance and reliability teams have been instrumental in helping to specify the major maintenance issues and guiding the solution to ensure maximum uptime and throughput, and preventative maintenance alarms to indicate to the maintenance team when something could be going wrong, instead of waiting until something has gone wrong and costs skyrocket.

The main driver we see for investing in automation today is to increase throughput and meet a growing demand for the many different products that our manufacturing partners create. Each time we discuss throughput, the easiest way to gain additional throughput is to ensure that the machine can provide the maintenance and reliability teams with proactive data to ensure uptime through planned downtime.

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