Plant Modernization Guide

Concept Systems Guide to Plant Modernization

Moving from Yesterday to Tomorrow

Automation technology is changing manufacturing faster than the average plant can keep up. The good news is: you don’t have to… all at once.

The below guide to Plant Modernization will help you prioritize the most important upgrades, giving you an introduction to a number of automation technologies, including crucial considerations to take when planning a modernization endeavor.

By the end of this guide, you will have a better understanding of how modernizing your plant will prepare your operations for the future. You will learn how to create a realistic automation roadmap that ensures efficiency and sustainability on your terms. Let’s get ready for Industry 4.0!

Automation Roadmap

Leverage technology, gain process reliability by understanding your operations, processes, threats and opportunities.

Do you have a three- to five-year automation roadmap for your manufacturing operation? If not, I urge you to establish one.

Regardless of the state of your plant today, there is value in going through the process. If your facility is outdated and struggling, the benefits of an automation roadmap are obvious. And even if you run the highest tech facility around, it’s helpful to consider emerging technologies and how you might apply them down the road.

Creating a roadmap to do this is a matter of understanding your operation, your processes and the threats and opportunities your business faces.

Most manufacturers, are stuck in a reactive mode. Reactive mode is a huge hurdle to process optimization. Something breaks, so they fix it. In and of itself, of course, that’s necessary.

The problem is… when you do not address why things break, all you ever do is fix things. As equipment ages, the breakdowns become more frequent. The fixes become harder.

They take longer.

Access to spare parts becomes increasingly limited.

Valuable production time is lost every time.

Getting stuck in reactive mode ultimately compounds your problem. The more something breaks, the more crucial production time becomes, putting more pressure on fixing problems. 

An automation roadmap can help you escape this trap.

An automation roadmap will establish automation standards and prioritize upgrades, putting the most critical, at-risk assets first.

Depending on the state of your plant, you may face an initial stream of upgrades to simply gain reliability. Your budget will dictate the pace at which you can climb out of a reactive mode.

If reliability is your primary challenge, plan a budget that addresses reliability first and foremost. Added functionality, and cost, can be saved for later. This does a couple of things: It gives you a better shot at getting your budget approved, and it will help your management gain confidence that you are on the right track. That, in turn, will smooth the way for approval of the next project.

Once you’ve tackled reliability, you will have more time—and money—to start looking at how to leverage emerging technologies and open new opportunities.

They’re out there. You just need to look.

READ MORE: Creating a Prioritized List for Your Automation Roadmap

READ MORE: Don’t Just React to Problems, Get an Automation Roadmap

Automation Roadmap: Assessing Your Network Architecture

To facilitate efficient and cost-effective process improvement, your network architecture needs to be thoughtfully planned out, not just patched together.

By now, you know you want to create an automation roadmap that aligns with corporate goals, which typically center on production, efficiency or quality gains.

But before you make your way to the corporate offices to garner budget approval, there are a couple of additional considerations that will add the finishing touches to your automation roadmap: network architecture and safety.

Often overlooked in the manufacturing environment is the importance of a sound network architecture.

When I go into manufacturing facilities, it is pretty common to see networks that were seemingly pieced together with parts from the local electronics store, CAT5 cables routed through the rafters, and switches sitting out in the open collecting dust. My intent here is not to knock these systems. When they were put in, the technology was sound, the demands on the system were often low, and the systems were probably not performing any critical functions. It was cheap, served its purpose, and was miles ahead of other network standards that were available.

Architecture that is pieced together, however, is simply not going to cut it in the future.

The demand for data is going to be too great, because network traffic is only going to grow and the information that the data provides will become critical to operations.

Network architecture must be taken seriously and designed to reliably handle a much larger bandwidth.

It is important to understand that I am not an advocate for collecting every data point, every millisecond, and dumping it all into a historian database. I recognize there are certain heavily regulated industries that have very exhaustive data collection and archiving requirements. Many industries, though, do not have such requirements. Either way, having access to every bit of data is extremely important.

Outside of regulated industries, I would never suggest starting out building a historian database, but rather a system that monitors the data and derives real-time, actionable information.

Regardless of what you do with the data, it is transmitted on the network and eats up bandwidth. Consider what your data needs will be down the road and ensure each of your projects supports a network architecture that can handle that data.

You can build the network as you go, where each project adds an additional node. In this fashion, you avoid a complete overhaul of your network, which could prove difficult to sell from an ROI standpoint, especially if your company does not have an appreciation for what data, as actionable information, can do for the operation.

A good first step is to conduct a network assessment to gauge the current status of your network. Next, you need to determine your network’s future needs, which include who needs access, where, and what restrictions need to be in place.

This will likely require you to engage with your IT department to understand what you can and cannot do.

It is better to have this conversation early in the process, rather than after you have started installing network gear. If you do not have information on your future data needs, or are unable to get it, a safe bet is to plan on connecting your entire line via Gigabit network with several segments that allow you to tie to other networks. This will give you a solid network backbone to build on.

There are many important aspects of integrating a sound network architecture. I would encourage you to engage an automation solution provider that has this expertise. A qualified company will know the right questions to ask and be able to design a system that will suit your needs now and well into the future.

Once this is done, it is easy, and likely not overly expensive (depending on your needs) to integrate with your automation roadmap.

Plus, this kind of forethought will impress those making the decisions on capital investments!

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Automation Solutions and Plant Modernization 

Robotics and digital technology are creating new opportunities every day for manufacturers to better take care of customers, reduce waste, diversify product lines, prioritize safety, and more. It all starts with an automation roadmap. A plan to address your plant’s specific growth obstacles and modernize your operations.  

Talk to an Automation Expert


Smart DATA and the Future of Automation

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, shortened to SCADA in the automation industry, gives manufacturers the ability to monitor and control equipment. This powerful technology is also flexible enough to meet the production needs of the growing factory.

The system of software and hardware can solve a number of business puzzles by:

  • Collecting and processing real-time data
  • Controlling industrial processes locally or remotely
  • Directly interacting with factory equipment
  • Gathering components to a universal, user-friendly HMI

With access to essential actionable data via SCADA, leaders throughout the plant floor can make real-time decisions to maintain production efficiency and mitigate downtime.

Programmable logic controllers, PLCs, are the foundation for many SCADA-powered manufacturing plants. This digital computer can communicate with a wide variety of common factory machines – nearly any device that supports ethernet, MQTT, OPC, SQL, or serial communication such as: HMIs, sensors, and

With this connection, the SCADA software then processes and displays the data.

PLCs are specifically engineered to withstand the environment of a factory floor. Designed for multiple input and output arrangements, it is resistant to extended temperature ranges, excessive electrical noise, vibration, and impact.

Combining these two state-of-the-art automation technologies opens doors for manufacturers, providing opportunities to oversee critical plant-floor equipment:

  • Notify operators of production issues
  • Eliminate paper forms by creating a universal terminal
  • Auto-generate reports with up-to-date factory data
  • Monitor equipment status from anywhere

SCADA Options We  Recommend:

At Concept Systems, our intention with every SCADA system we design and integrate is to provide you with an intuitive and scalable platform, designed to meet your short- and long-term manufacturing needs. We work with you to select the best possible options based on price, flexibility and functionality.


Preparing for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT)

LP_WaveRiderYes, we’ve connected devices, giving them nominal intelligence.

The real innovation is the internet of services.

Manufacturers need to think through their business model and ask how can a product become a service with a long-term revenue stream. Many well-known manufacturers, however, recognize this and are exploiting the opportunity to improve their operations.

For example:

  • Tesla is delivering vehicles with hardware and software which can be upgraded, their cars are sensor ready and software upgrades will provide extra intelligence, delivered via the internet. The customer could pay for the upgrades which then generates extra revenue for Tesla.
  • Otis is supplying elevators/lifts with sensors which send data into their cloud. The data is analyzed and Otis sells a predictive maintenance services package, again adding a long-term revenue stream.
  • A catering company in The Netherlands is supplying custom meals to hospitals. Each meal is prepared for the patient based upon data received from the hospital about the patient’s needs. The meals are prepared in an automated plant.

The individualization of mass production and the internet of services add additional revenue.

The smart manufacturing plant needs to be flexible and deliver intelligent products. A major misunderstanding is that this is not a cost saving exercise; it’s a new business model to increase revenue and profitability.

It’s important to map out opportunities and match them against the realities of today’s technology.

A manufacturer who was heavily investing in a factory of the future did not build this type of strategy. Enthusiastic engineers ordered additive manufacturing (3-D printing machines only to learn they could not connect them to their network using international standards. They paid a heavy price for this error and damaged the initiative’s reputation. It’s worth taking independent advice before completing a company’s manufacturing strategy.

Standardize Controls

Across All Your Operations: Single or Multiple Facilities 

A connected enterprise provides the greatest control and the highest profit. This food processor needed to standardize their controls and processes across multiple facilities to ensure sustainability and consistency in their operations, production times and product quality.

As a Rockwell Automation Solutions Partner, Concept Systems leveraged the power of Rockwell’s PlantPAx software to meet the client’s needs.

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Your Guide to Take Advantage of Component Obsolescence

Hearing that your components are obsolete is never good news in any type of manufacturing industry. For most, the first thing that comes to mind is always, “How much is this going to cost me?” 

Depending on the situation, the dollars can add up. It isn’t just the cost of new components. You must also consider the downtime associated with replacing them. 

Fortunately in today’s world, most large automation manufacturers are proactive about informing users when components will be going obsolete. 

Rockwell Automation, for example, has what they call “Lifecycle Status Definitions”  where their components are in one of four categories:

  1. Active
  2. Active Mature
  3. End of Life
  4. Discontinued.

Siemens has a similar rating for their components in which they go through a Development Phase, Launch Phase, Growth Phase, Maturity Phase, End Phase of the product, and finally a Disposal Phase. 

When a product reaches its End of Life phase, a discontinuation date for that product has been announced and ideally a plan is offered to end users for replacement of these components. 

A simple google search will reveal a large number of companies that make their living off of refurbishing and remanufacturing old and obsolete parts. Sometimes you can even find parts on sites like E-bay.

The downside to shopping online is that the parts rarely come with any type of warranty. They can be extremely expensive. 
And at times, they even arrive broken.

What if you have a breakdown in your production and only then learn that your failed component went end-of-life 5 years ago?  What options do you have? 

Some manufacturers start stockpiling parts they know are becoming obsolete, this can work for a time but is more of a delay tactic in most cases.  This strategy does make sense if the end product was soon going to be obsolete itself and the machinery mothballed, but in most cases the parts and those with the ability to install them will eventually be gone. 

So what if you discover a number of components running your machinery are reaching their end of life phases?  What is the best plan going forward? 

The best starting place is to reach out to the equipment manufacturer or a local integrator to find out what options you have. 

If components you have are going obsolete it’s likely that the manufacturer already has a planned approach for replacing those components.  You may even receive credit for your existing components, or there may be a way to put new components in with minimal downtime if that is your priority. 

This is always a good time to explore upgrade options as well and perhaps get an attractive ROI on any necessary replacements.

Finally, there are those who have held on to old equipment and want to keep it running until they have no choice but to replace the entire system. Scenarios along these lines are usually related to older PLC’s and programming languages that are no longer in use.  The big manufacturers don’t WANT to support these systems, but often times they do still have the ability to do so … for a steep price. 

Software from the 1980s with an original price tag of $300 can cost you upwards of $20,000 today. 

These costs have forced many companies to re-engineer their systems from the ground up.

They could pay the outrageous software fees to re-coup their original engineering efforts, but for another $10,000 they can have a brand new system put in. In the end, waiting this long to replace your system doesn’t make fiscal sense.

In short, the best way to deal with obsolete components is to be proactive.

Examine what lifecycle phase your components are in.  If they are approaching end of life, contact the manufacturer or integrator about a plan to bring things up to date.  You may find advantages you hadn’t initially anticipated, such as increased production, digital copies of your electrical schematics, and less maintenance or PM requirements. 

The best strategy for dealing with obsolete components is replacing them before they become obsolete components!

It’s also worth noting that there are companies that offer Obsolescence Management Services. These companies will scrub your Bills of Materials (BOMs), monitor your components for phase/stage changes, notify you of obsolescence before it happens, and at times offer solutions

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Automation Solutions and Plant Modernization 

Robotics and digital technology are creating new opportunities every day for manufacturers to better take care of customers, reduce waste, diversify product lines, prioritize safety, and more. It all starts with an automation roadmap. A plan to address your plant’s specific growth obstacles and modernize your operations. 

Talk to an Automation Expert

Controls Upgrade

Top 5 Reasons to Invest in a Controls Upgrade

Each factory’s production problems are unique. Yet many manufacturers’ share similar business obstacles, including inefficient machinery, hazardous equipment usage, or simply not having a system that allows them to keep up with client demand for their products. 

Robotic vision has helped a variety of industries meet their unique production needs in a way that provides both consumer satisfaction and profitable returns for the company. Here are five reasons why businesses should consider updating their production controls and machinery:

1. Increase Productivity

Utilizing enhanced machine vision can increase a company’s production significantly. When the controlling technology is able to make better scans of the product, then the production process is able to speed up and put out a higher volume of work. If the technology is not currently being used at all, it can be programmed to take on a larger workload.

2. Efficiency and Accuracy

With increased speed comes higher efficiency and accuracy. Not only is the production line moving at a steadier pace, but the number of errors occurring during production is also cut down. This is a big bonus of having robotic vision. Human error is inevitable, but robotic technologies have little to no error when programmed and function correctly.

3. Less Waste

The good consequence of practically nonexistent error margins is less waste of materials and time during production and processing. This is a win for the company and the environment. Fewer resources are needed to get the job done and the resources that are used get used more fully. With less waste, the company invests less money into materials costs.

4. Larger Profits

Less money wasted on material costs is just part of the profits made by the company. With all the increases in efficiency and production, the company is able to get more products made or items processed through their lines and shipped out to where they need to go. Investment in robotic vision will definitely see an eventual retrieval of monies spent.

5. Better Safety

With robot guidance, the machines can replace or change some of the dangerous jobs once left to company workers. Special scanners and controls can be programmed to do the work in areas that are not safe for people to be around.  

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. 

A retrofit is 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. There are many established providers that have proven their solutions with 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. Just 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
  •  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. 

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.

Eliminate Costly Delays

Every manufacturing plant has pain points, hindering efficiency and profits. This aircraft manufacturer required a complex, multi-faceted system to upgrade its plane-painting hangar. 

At the same time, the customer wanted to simplify systemwide maintenance procedures.


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Safety & Risk

How a system integrator can provide greater value by acting as the manufacturer’s main automation contractor (MAC) to reduce project risk and maximize overall productivity.

When it comes to improving your manufacturing process, automation is the most important element of creating a reliable system and maximizing its value. The world of technology can be intimidating and many manufacturers find it too costly to maintain internal expertise.

Relying on automation experts offers an efficient way to incorporate technology. 

A system integrator can provide tremendous value by acting as the manufacturer’s main automation contractor (MAC).

Often the first focus of an automation project is on controls, because integrating them from project initiation adds value to your project. Then, you can tap into the creativity a MAC brings to design, its expertise at managing large complex projects, and its understanding of the various options available. By doing this, you not only reduce your risks, but also receive control systems that maximize your plant’s productivity.

A MAC takes the lead by overseeing all aspects of your project, resulting in a smoother and faster start up. 

In fact, our customers have shared with us that, for every $1 they invest in this model, the business saved $10 on the back-end because plant production started properly the first time.

Three factors are key to achieving these results:

  1. Engaging a lead integrator early
  2. Following a well-structured methodology and best practices
  3. Tapping into deep technical resources.

Together, they create alignment and ensure the plant achieves its integration goals. To lay the foundation for success, a MAC should use these best practices:

  • Follow a proscribed methodology that addresses: Getting Started—scope, project kick-off, and functional and detail design; Building and testing—acceptance planning, system development, procurement and assembly, panel quality control, factory acceptance testing, and shipment; and Final Acceptance—integration, installation, and training.
  • Engage early so that all perspectives and requirements are integrated into the design from the very beginning, including automation and networking standards, communication protocols and factors unique to the plant.
  • Ask plant personnel about their daily work to ensure the system functions in real time. Plant personnel can help with such items as how screens are laid out.
    A MAC takes the lead by overseeing all aspects of your project, resulting in a smoother and faster start up.
  • Find the sweet spot for MAC control engineers to collaborate with your in-house process engineers. Process engineers typically line up the sequence of operations, but often don’t ask the “what if” questions that pinpoint variations and unanticipated activities on the line.
  • Act as the project’s control arm to oversee everything from design, OEM specs, supervision, and implementation.
  • Vet process design and control system operation before startup.
  • Perform extensive acceptance testing and training with plant personnel in advance of start up and commissioning. This minimizes any unanticipated difficulties, because people are already familiar with equipment and have used the control system in a simulated environment.

The best methodology will fall flat without people who understand how to apply technologies to manufacturing challenges. By accessing a MAC with deep technical resources, project success is ensured. Be sure to learn about the team that will work with you.

A MAC can save you time and money because they can help make your plant operational faster so that more product is being manufactured sooner, thereby increasing your return on investment.

Sounds simple, but it takes a MAC team that knows how to work side-by-side with owners, process engineers and operators, while taking a systemic approach and collaborating with equipment suppliers.


Standards revisions: robots and robotic systems

There are various standards and documents that guide govern the robotics and motion control industry.

The current version of the Industrial Robot Safety Standard, ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012, is a U.S. national adoption of the ISO 10218-2011, Part 1, Robots, and Part 2, Robotic Systems. Those in compliance with the R15.06, 2012 version also are in compliance with the 10218, 2011 version.

These standards will continue to be the current versions at least through 2020. Look for new versions of these documents in the 2020 or 2021 timeframe.

The ISO (international standards) group will begin updating the 10218 standard later this year; the revision process is expected to take about three years, hence the 2020 target publication date.

Following that revision of the 10218, standards committees in the U.S. will revise the R15.06 as well. In both the ISO and ANSI (U.S.) robotics communities, supplemental documents are in the works to help people apply these standards.

Some key things to know about the safety of robots and motion control systems:

  • For the purpose of ISO 10218 and ANSI/RIA R15.06, it’s important to distinguish between the terms “robot” and “robot system.”
  • “Robot” includes the robot arm and controller; “robot system” includes the robot, the end-effector (end-of-arm tooling or EOAT), and any other machinery, equipment, devices, etc., supporting the robot in performing its task.
  • The ISO 10218:1,2-2011 and ANSI/RIA R15.06:2012 require that a risk assessment be conducted for each integrated robot application. It is the integrator’s responsibility to ensure that this required risk assessment is completed.
  • RIA TR R15.306:2016 describes one task-based risk assessment method that meets the requirements of the standard.

In the U.S., these supplemental documents are registered with ANSI and are known as Technical Reports, or TRs. Industry authorities are just about to publish a U.S. version of the ISO TS 15066:2016, the RIA TR R15.606-2016, on safety of collaborative robot systems.

Automation experts also are starting work on two new TRs in the U.S., one of which is on guidance for users, which we hope to complete by the end of 2017; the other is on testing methods for power and force limiting for collaborative robot systems, which will likely be published in 2018.

In the ISO world, supplemental documents can be either Technical Reports (TRs), similar to the ANSI-registered TRs, or Technical Specifications (TSs). The difference is that the ISO TS describes requirements that are expected to mature to an International Standard (IS) level in the future.

In the standards world, this means a TS is a “normative” document and can contain normative requirements. On the other hand, the TR is an “informative” document—that is, it cannot contain requirements but can only inform. The recently-published ISO TS 15066:2016 on collaborative robot safety is an example of a normative document. Because it is so recently published, it will not be revised for several years.

Some key things to know about collaborative robot safety include:

  • The application is key. There are some tasks which are simply not well suited to collaborative operation, even if the robot that is performing the task is power- and force-limited and called a “collaborative” robot.
  • The concept of a robot system is also important. The robot is not working in isolation. The workstation, the end-effector, the workpiece itself, the potential presence of multiple robots and other equipment in a cell are just some of the many factors that also must be taken into account when planning for a safe robotic installation. This is still the case even when using robots designed for collaboration.
  • A risk assessment of the collaborative robot system is also important. Even when using a robot designed for collaborative use, it’s really important to assess and mitigate any risks of the system—precisely because we anticipate people and robots working in close proximity.
  • It’s important to understand the foundational standard in addition to the collaborative supplement. TS 15066 builds upon the 10218 standard. That is, effective use of TS 15066 assumes that the robot system under consideration is in compliance with Part 1 and Part 2 of ISO 10218:2011.

The ISO group also is working on two TRs, both of which are expected to be completed in 2017. One is on the safety of manual load/unload stations, and the other is on end-effector safety.

Those with interest in robotics in food and beverage applications may be interested in a non-RIA standard. The “3-A Sanitary Standard 3-A 103-00, Robot-based Automation Systems,” for use in the food industry, was published in September 2016, by 3-A Sanitary Standards Inc.

Outside the robot-specific world, there are some other standards on industrial safety that RIA members may want to know. These are the recently updated ANSI/ASSE Z244.1 on Lockout, Tagout and Alternative Methods, published in late 2016.

B11.20 on Safety Requirements for Integrated Manufacturing Systems is being updated right now, with an anticipated publication date in 2017.

Safety Is a Basic Need

For the health of workers and for the sustainability of manufacturing plants, safety assessments and risk mitigation are essential.Our client had a goal to bring an entire facility up to a safety integrity level (SIL) 4. That is the highest level a manufacturing plant can achieve.

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Maintenance & Support

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 skill sets 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.

However, the success of automation has also helped cause manufacturing’s human resource challenge: Where do you find the skilled workforce to automate your processes? System integrators (SIs) provide manufacturers with a skilled team that can tackle anything from leading a large-scale integration effort for a new process, retrofitting obsolete control systems, or developing an innovative automated approach to an old problem. Many system integrators also provide ongoing service, support, and maintenance for your automated systems.

Where do you find the skilled workforce to automate your processes?

System integrators provide manufacturers with a skilled team that can tackle anything from leading a large-scale integration effort for a new process or retrofitting obsolete control system.

In addition to providing access to skilled engineers and technicians, good system integrators bring a structured approach to automation projects. They understand the “how” of systems integration and bring a methodology to the table that will assure success. The single key benefit of a structured methodology is risk management. When you are starting up a new line, or bringing an existing line down to be retrofitted, you need to know that the project risks are being managed. Those risks include:

  • Knowing how to limit downtime.
  • Having a fallback plan.
  • Addressing personnel safety
  • Understanding the level of testing that is required before shutdown.

Making sure project risk is managed goes beyond the raw talent of the engineers involved. You need a structured approach to the project—following solid project management principles—to make sure the job is done right. SIs will mitigate that risk.

You can expect an SI to provide any combination of integration services. And because SIs work with a lot of different manufacturers, they are an inherently flexible group. While one client may be looking for a turn-key solution, another may need help in one specific technical area. SIs are used to providing a variety of services in any combination, including developing functional requirements, detailing system designs, code development, factory acceptance testing, installation, commissioning, startup, site acceptance testing, and validation services. Many SIs also provide control hardware and automated work cell solutions.

Following are some specific examples of how system integrators help fill the manufacturing skills gap:

Service, support and maintenance. Many SIs have dedicated service and support staff. You can pre-purchase a set number of hours for the year to address whatever needs to be done in your plant. This is an effective way to augment your staff and handle small upgrades, make process improvements, replace obsolete equipment, train staff, etc. SIs do this for a number of manufacturers and it works well by relieving the stress on the manufacturer’s internal support team. The SI comes in for a set number of days per week and handles the punch list or provides service as needed on an on-call basis. For example, I’ve got such a contract with one manufacturer that typically engages one of my engineers just a few hours a month. But once in a while the tasks involve a specialty technology, or a short downtime window, and I’m able to bring in additional resources just to tackle that particular task.

Lead Integrator

When that big line expansion needs to be done, even manufacturers with dedicated engineering teams can be maxed out. Teaming with an SI that can manage and staff all the control and information pieces for a large project makes a lot of sense. In this situation, SIs work as an extension of the client’s project team. SIs are able to staff up during key points in the project. In contrast to a typical temporary staffing firm, the systems integrator brings both talented people and a structured project methodology to these projects.

Control Retrofits

Many manufacturers have obsolete, unsupported control systems running critical production centers. Downtime risks due to a control failure increase every day that old system is still in place; yet there are also risks associated with a retrofit that goes wrong. Teaming with an SI is an effective risk management strategy. Many SIs have the technical experience with your old and new technology, combined with a risk management strategy that includes factory acceptance testing in advance of the shutdown, hour-by-hour conversion plans, contingency plans and backup resources. SIs regularly retrofit mission-critical systems within very short scheduled downtime periods.

Innovative Automation Solutions

You probably have many areas in your facility where you think “we can do that better/faster/safer/easier if we automate”, but there isn’t one machine or work cell on the market that does the trick. Many SIs thrive on these challenges, integrating proven automation technologies together in new ways to solve old problems. SIs regularly leverage what they have seen in other industries and applications to solve such problems. For example, 3D scanners I’ve used for years in the wood products industry work wonders for food packaging inspection.

System integrators work best when treated as an extension of your team. You bring the knowledge of your specific processes and market needs; the SI brings a working knowledge of leveraging automation technologies. By working with your SI as a partner, you can solve some big manufacturing challenges while eliminating the need to hire additional skilled staff.

If you are looking for a system integrator partner, check out the Control System Integrators Association. Within the CSIA integrator membership, manufacturers have access to about 14,000 trained and experienced control engineers, automation engineers and technicians. Their backgrounds are as varied and diverse as the technologies that run your plant, bringing a wealth of insight and fresh ideas to the table.

Read More:

Creating a Foolproof Automation System for Your Business 

Why Automation is Good for the Economy

Concept Systems’ Guide to Selecting an Integrator

Preventing Extensive Downtime from Equipment Failure

Why 3D Scanning Can Benefit Your Business

The Business Benefits of Robotics Process Automation

Standardize Controls

Across All Your Operations: Single or Multiple Facilities 

A connected enterprise provides the greatest control and the highest profit. This food processor needed to standardize their controls and processes across multiple facilities to ensure sustainability and consistency in their operations, production times and product quality.

As a Rockwell Automation Solutions Partner, Concept Systems leveraged the power of Rockwell’s PlantPAx software to meet the client’s needs.  

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