Industry 4.0 is a term that is used a lot in the world of automation and manufacturing lately and while it may seem daunting, I wanted to take a moment to review how you can harness the power of data even with your legacy machines.
Recently my refrigerator had stopped working properly. So, I dusted off a 20-year-old mini-fridge I had stored away to act as a backup in case I needed to get a new refrigerator. It’s an old appliance that I still use occasionally. No bells and whistles, just an appliance ready to do its job when I need it to. Sure it’s a little rough around the edges, but it still works. What does a broken fridge have to do with Automation? While dusting off the minifridge it got me wondering about aged technology that still runs in our factories today. In fact, a lot of facilities rely on this older technology, what does this mean for the future and Industry 4.0?
The big question is – how can retrofitting legacy machines help usher in the future of Industry 4.0 and what can we do now to prepare for it? I let this question linger for a while. I recently noticed a few key items that may have an impact to using legacy equipment as an advantage.
In with the Old
Many facilities have older machines running their processes or even have legacy equipment on stand-by in case they need them. There are still machines running today that are 20 – 30 years old. Sure, they’re not flashy or have all the bells and whistles that new machines do; but hey, they get the job done. In fact, in most cases, replacing that legacy machine will cost more than just maintaining it. This is a good and bad thing.
Yes, legacy machines have their place and run most facilities today. They don’t, however, have the necessary tools and technologies in place to make them more efficient or offer cost-savings.
This is the apex of what makes Industry 4.0 possible.
Communication, collection, and collaboration. If your machine has these three technologies, then you’re ready to take the next step to Industry 4.0.
Start with sensors
Some of the easiest things to upgrade on a machine are the sensors. Sensors have come a long way in recent years. Most sporting the new technology known as IO-Link. In short, IO-Link turns a regular sensor into a smart sensor with self-diagnostics and predictive maintenance information. Retrofitting older technology with IO-Link capable sensors will pave the way for utilizing their smart capabilities in the future.
Further, Industry 4.0 digitizes the plant floor which can lead to massive cost-savings, waste reduction, and increased efficiency from your machine. Installing sensors that measure temperature, vibration, and even power consumption are essential for calculating where your cost-savings can come from.
Whether you’re replacing old sensors or adding new ones; using the right sensor for the job can ultimately lead to increased understanding of how your machine if performing.
Retrofitting legacy machines for Industry 4.0 benefits your facility when they can communicate and interact with other machines and devices in the plant. This would require a single, adaptable communication platform. The most common of which is Ethernet/IP. Ethernet/IP is the backbone of a lot of new technologies on the plant floor. It is that way now and looks to be into the foreseeable future.
Legacy equipment from 20-30 years ago may be using an obsolete network, a proprietary one, or not even have one. There are countless ways around this obstacle, but the most used solution is using a communication gateway. Gateways make it possible to add Ethernet/IP to most legacy equipment by joining a legacy network with Ethernet/IP. Combining or retrofitting a machine with Gateways helps propel the possibilities of your machine to take advantage of the new technology features available today.
To make use of the new sensors added onto your machine, you need to show its effects over time. You can’t do that without a little device that collects data. The latest PLCs and HMIs make great temporary data storage devices, but it might be worth investigating stand-alone, communication agnostic data collection solutions. With a universal data collection hub, you can manage all the new sensor data and present it in a way that’s meaningful to management.
Time to Tune it Up
As mentioned before, legacy equipment has a lot of importance on the factory floor. Whether it’s an old process using an old machine or gives new processes a break as a back-up. Whatever the reason, there is an importance there. Hopefully I’ve shared a few examples of how your old machines can get a tune-up and work with Industry 4.0 and it’s data demanding infrastructure.
David Florist is an Automation & Software Specialists working out of our Conshohocken, PA office. David started his career with Rumsey straight out of college and has been a valued member of the Automation System Group for over 8 years. He serves as a technical resource for the Rumsey customers and account management team. He is also our local expert on small control systems. David received his degree in Robotics and Automation, Technology Management, and Marketing from Pennsylvania College of Technology.