Everyone knows how quickly technology evolves and innovates, rendering yesterday’s models passé, and sometimes even obsolete – what with all the enhancements and updates that come with the gadgets, devices or machines used today.
Such quick changes can be both costly and intimidating, especially in manufacturing environments where concerns such as capital budget constraints, global competition, lack of access to skilled labour, information security, rising maintenance costs and safety issues abound.
Businesses need to plan quickly enough to ensure such changes add to their competitive advantage. However, before a production facility can even think of introducing new plant-floor technology, the fact of the matter is that the lifetime of its existing automation investments should have already been maximised.
The problem, of course, is that very few business focus on managing ageing equipment, and most manufacturers continue to use automation equipment well beyond the manufacturer’s obsolescence date. This is quite understandable, knowing the aim of businesses is to remain productive and increase profit – and cutting costs on the acquisition of new equipment is one way to accomplish this.
Also, very few companies create formal plans for managing the life-cycle of their equipment. However, production facilities that have no concrete plans for addressing and managing end-of-life technology need to address certain risks that come with continuing to operate ageing equipment. These include:
- Support problems: Manufacturers using legacy equipment not only face repair and maintenance costs and challenges, but they also need to contend with the fact that there would be fewer subject matter experts who can advise them on the industrial automation equipment they continue to use.
- Fragile supply chain: Some control systems designed and launched in the 1970s and 1980s continue to exist and operate today. However, the problem with using these legacy products is that technological innovation, reduced demand and economic impacts have rendered these essential components and subassemblies difficult to source – with some in limited supply and others being completely obsolete.
- Compliance issues: Certain regulatory restrictions and compliance requirements exist to ensure manufacturers adhere to health and safety rules. But with dated equipment, your company may no longer be compliant. This can make your company vulnerable to compliance risks and corresponding outcomes.
So, should you start eliminating equipment?
Continuing to use legacy equipment beyond its obsolescence date carries a certain degree of risk. This is why it is critical to identify and quantify risk. Production facilities need to determine whether they need to mitigate the risk until scheduling and capital funding becomes available, or to eliminate risk through product migration.
Some of the important questions to ask in determining your next best step include the following:
- How long do you plan on using legacy equipment?
- Do you have access to support in case of equipment breakdown?
- If you plan on acquiring new equipment, is capital funding available?
- Is corresponding new technology available?
- With regard to your current (old) equipment, what difficulties do you anticipate in terms of finding spare parts, training, support, etc.?
If, after answering the above questions, you agree that upgrading to new equipment should be your next move, make sure you cover the following eight steps towards eliminating obsolete industrial automation equipment:
1. Identify what you have as well as the risks these pose
To prepare for the inevitability of obsolescence, you need to have a concrete idea of what equipment you have and the risks obsolete equipment components pose in manufacturing. This is a crucial step when evaluating potential replacements, repairs or upgrades.
You can keep a record of this in your long-term obsolescence plan which should cover your factory floor design. Doing so can help you anticipate the need for a redesign when specific components become obsolete even before a machine is fielded. Also, supply and demand forecasts can help you calculate how many orders you can complete using a particular machine before it fails or breaks down. This will help you avoid dreaded downtimes which can lead to profit loss, the erosion of customer confidence and brand-related problems.
2. Develop awareness
Manufacturers that continue to use industrial automation equipment to the point of breakdown usually lack the awareness necessary to determine when equipment should be repaired, replaced or upgraded. By creating a strategy for obsolescence, you can reduce the risks of total equipment breakdown and failure. This way, you can also start planning for repairs and order replacement parts after partnering with a trusted specialist supplier.
3. Create a strategy
There are two forms of accountability in managing and preventing obsolescence — an obsolescence report and a risk analysis. Anticipating risks involves using a rolling timeline where each component is regularly inspected. Here, you need to consider resources such as the supplier’s end-of-the-line (EOL) plans, maintenance logs, and internal systems. You can then use the data and observations when strategising for failure and preventing downtime.
4. Manage repairs and calculate costs
You need to ensure that all component parts are assessed to check whether they can still survive a downtime. You also need to identify companies or suppliers offering year-round on-site emergency repair services. Your chosen repair/maintenance partner needs to have experienced technicians to help you manage equipment repairs in a timely manner. You also need to factor in the costs you need to prepare for in case of repair and maintenance work, as well as necessary upgrades.
5. Analyse upgrades
Avoid emergency downtimes by evaluating which existing components need to be replaced long before an equipment downtime compels you to get an upgrade. Purchasing necessary new or used parts can save your company money in the long run since upgrading means avoiding the eventuality of having to track down rare or obsolete parts during a downtime emergency.
6. Consider getting stocks
An obsolescence strategy must take into account which replacement parts should be kept in stock, as well as identify those spare parts that can be purchased as required. Having critical components for the production process in stock is an absolute necessity, especially if these cannot be quickly replaced, repaired or upgraded.
7. Take note of the benefits
The ultimate aim and benefit of obsolescence planning is to prevent the needless loss of revenue. What's more, having a plan in place helps to strengthen brand reputation and customer trust. A well-planned obsolescence strategy also includes preventive maintenance plans that can effectively reduce maintenance costs and increase the productivity of equipment and facilities.
8. Coordinate, schedule and update your strategy
Obsolescence planning is an ongoing process as not all equipment and essential components are purchased at the exact same time; the same can be said for repair and maintenance activities.
What you need to do to stay on top of your strategy is to coordinate, schedule and update your strategy using available, current data with key people involved in strategy implementation. Familiarise yourself with all your assets, and fortify your asset management efforts.
The Radwell International advantage
Unsure where and how to start?
Radwell International’s obsolescence management evaluation service can help by conducting an assessment of your electronic equipment and identifying obsolete equipment and parts. We compile our findings in detailed reports and help you determine a strategy to address your needs while minimising cost.
In doing so, we can help you manage risk, improve reliability and prevent downtimes.