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Preventing Extensive Downtime From Equipment Failure

When updating or maintaining older equipment, it’s important to have maximum visibility into plant operations and make every investment dollar count.

As a company that specializes in automation controls, we field a lot of different requests from clients who want a quick budgetary quote to retrofit an older piece of equipment. These requests usually come in after a piece of machinery has failed and the company has encountered one of three scenarios: 1) The company doesn’t have any documentation. 2) The last person to work on this machine has retired, and no one has been trained. 3) Replacement parts have finally become too difficult to find, even on eBay. There are other reasons, of course, but most often a client is responding to some situation that has left the company exposed to a much larger downtime risk than previously thought.

I want to discuss two different prevention techniques in hopes of providing some insight for companies to consider as they wrestle with keeping equipment current—and we all do! First, don’t be caught off guard with not knowing how and when a piece of equipment is likely to fail. There are several software options available today that provide performance data and maintenance scheduling, helping companies avoid unplanned downtime. Second, consider a machine retrofit as a way of preparing for tomorrow’s manufacturing instead of just reacting to a problem with a rush to update the machine.

Software solutions for machine monitoring have come a long way in the past five years. I don’t know if it can be considered a “mature” market, but there are many established providers that have proven their solutions. Conveniently for users, there are several options available from complete software platforms that monitor everything from CNCs, robots, PLCs and test stands to simple offerings that are designed to provide real-time monitoring per single device. Regardless of your specific needs, be assured that you have options that can be found with some basic Google searching. To make matters easier, a lot of these software providers offer their solutions via a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, which reduces the risk of overcommitting and lowers upfront costs.

All this to say that it is wise to seriously consider employing a machine monitoring software tool of some sort sooner rather than later. The advantages of doing so far outweigh the risk. Consider some of the benefits: scheduled maintenance events based on known wear, use or observed conditions; dashboard monitoring and/or reporting available via desktop computer or mobile devices; uptime and throughput reports to monitor trends; and automated alarming provides alerts that will send alert condition messages to supervisory personnel to facilitate an immediate response. With so many software solutions available provided as flexible options like SaaS, it is a good time to develop and implement a strategy that takes the guessing out of machine monitoring.

The second key aspect to keep in mind when maintaining or updating older equipment is when you evaluate a retrofit investment, consider what you can do to make that piece of machinery or that production line ready for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). In the not so distant future, experts predict whole manufacturing floors will be populated by intelligent machines that are able to monitor themselves, schedule their own maintenance and provide constant monitoring. This future state will allow machines to interoperate and create dramatic efficiencies not possible today. Machines will do this by dynamically adjusting to manufacturing conditions to ensure maximum efficiency. Although all of what is predicted is very exciting, we won’t get there overnight. The clear majority of manufacturers will use a phased approach to slowly migrate equipment to Industry 4.0 requirements over the next decade, since very few companies have the luxury of starting their production strategies from scratch.

Companies can prepare for the future by utilizing their automation roadmap, or 3- to 5-year manufacturing plan, to ensure that any investment made in a machine retrofit will not only be applicable in the future, but will also be an advantage as they phase in more Industry 4.0 equipment. Learn why an automation roadmap is essential to remaining competitive. Not sure how to get started? Learn how to get started on an automation roadmap.

There are several software options available today that provide performance data and maintenance scheduling, helping companies avoid unplanned downtime.

Here are some important things to consider with a retrofit: network compatibility, whether wired or wireless; security protocols to ensure all data is protected; virtualization (consider server consolidation and thin client architecture); and an interface that provides operators and decision-makers with valuable information to make appropriate, timely decisions.

In today’s world, the information coming at us is unlimited and it can feel like we are constantly reacting to issues and scenarios. When updating or maintaining older equipment, it is crucial that we take a proactive approach. To do this, ensure you have maximum visibility into plant operations as described above and make every investment dollar count when you retrofit equipment to be fully prepared for tomorrow’s manufacturing.

As a final comment, integrators certified by the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) can be an invaluable resource whether you are considering manufacturing software or creating an automation roadmap. Often, integrators have worked in a vast range of manufacturing scenarios and they can leverage that knowledge to the benefit of the client.

Michael Lindley is vice president of business development and marketing at Concept Systems Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association. See Concept Systems’ profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

System Integrators of the Year: The future is today for 2016 winners

ConceptSystems-12-3-1511356Albany, Ore.-based Concept Systems has built a reputation as a problem-solver for its customers in the aerospace, pulp and paper, building products, food and beverage, and metals industries as well as help integration customers get the most out of their project.

The Pacific Northwest is home to airplanes and the raw materials for paper airplanes. It’s also a home for outstanding system integration. Albany, Ore.-based Concept Systems has built a reputation as a problem-solver for its customers in aerospace, pulp and paper, building products, food and beverage, and metals. Michael Gurney, president of Concept Systems, discusses his team’s success and how to help integration customers get the most out of their project in a conversation with CFE Media.

CFE Media What is the one thing plant management can do to help ensure a successful integration process?

Gurney: The most important aspect of the integration process is managing the risks; identifying and mitigating each. The types and scale of risk vary from project to project and change dynamically during the course of a project. This requires that you have a team that has the skill set and processes in place to handle them.

Partnering with a (Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) Certified Integrator is a good place to start, as having processes for risk identification and mitigation is a key qualifier. Getting your integration partner engaged early in the process is the one thing that can be done to ensure success.

We understand automation projects and the inherent risks. As such, we know the right questions to ask to avoid project pitfalls. Most project risks can be identified early in the process if the right questions are asked and all the information is on the table. Like any risk in life, the earlier the risk is identified, the better it can be mitigated. With the proper planning, automation integration should be the norm. Continue Reading →

Concept Systems receives 2016 System Integrator of Year award

SIYlogo_2016Concept Systems received the 2016 System Integrator of the Year from CFE Media for its accomplishments in developing and installing complex manufacturing automation solutions for companies across a wide range of industries. The award was announced today and was presented at the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in Chicago last month.

“We view the 2016 System Integrator of the Year award as a testament to our 80 employees who use state-of-the-art automation technologies to solve manufacturing problems,” said Michael Gurney, Concept Systems’ CEO.

Given annually by CFE Media, the award recognizes business skills, technical competence, and customer satisfaction. Winners are inducted into the System Integrator Hall of Fame. This is the second time Concept has won the award; the first was in 2007. Only two other companies were honored with the award this year.

“Concept Systems’ submission is the best I have seen in all the years of judging this competition,” said Don Roberts, principal at Exotec, LLC. “I am certain it is a good reflection of how they serve their customers.” Continue Reading →

How Automation and Control System Integrators can help OEMs

Long before I started Concept Systems with my partners, I worked for an OEM. OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, and although it has many meanings, in this context I mean a designer and builder of automation, manufacturing and process equipment for the factory floor. While my current business, control systems integration, is related, the two are distinctly different – and often complementary.

OEMs are typically focused on a particular industry and on particular products and technologies. When they do branch out it is with the intention of introducing a new product, something that can then be included as one of their standard offerings. But even when this happens, they rarely stray far from those industries and technologies they’re familiar with.

An automation and control systems integrator is a different animal. We see ourselves as technology experts and risk managers. We provide control, information and automation solutions to customers across many industries and in many applications. Continue Reading →

UL Panel Shop & Fab

Custom in-house electrical panel and fabrication services, usually associated with a System Integrators’ Electrical Design and Drafting services department. Concept Systems offers the cutting-edge production techniques, tools and testing and delivers complete drawings and documentation for each custom panel. Concept Systems is a UL-508A, CSA, CE and UL-NNNY certified panel manufacturer.

How System Integrators Can Help Fill the Skills Gap

By partnering with a system integrator, you can tackle some of your biggest challenges—without hiring additional skilled staff.

If you are a U.S. manufacturer, you already know this fact: skilled people are hard to find. From production line workers, to skilled trade people, technicians, and engineers, finding the right skillsets to support your production is a significant challenge.

At the same time, you face intense competitive pressures to increase productivity, improve quality, introduce new products to the market, and reduce cost.

These combined forces—lack of resources and competitive pressures—have led many manufacturers to improve and expand their automation. Automation makes sense on many levels. To begin with, using properly selected and applied automation, manufacturers need fewer people on the plant floor and can eliminate dangerous and repetitive tasks. Plus, automation has a successful track record in making companies more competitive. Continue Reading →