Anyone in the injection molding or structural foam industry knows how vital it is to have equipment that’s reliable and will run for years to come. As a capital-intensive business, keeping your machines running without unscheduled downtime is a must to maximize profits. And if we’re being honest, most companies run their machines non-stop, 6-7 days per week. But in return, with properly scheduled maintenance, injection molding machines and structural foam machines are highly engineered products that can run for decades, sometimes 20 years or longer. The longevity of these machines helps justify their expense and deprecation schedule, but one thing that often gets overlooked is the potential for hidden problems in the controls or hydraulics systems.
Obsolescence: The hidden problem
We’re in the midst of a technical revolution in manufacturing. The plastics industry is taking full advantage of new machine control designs that contain faster processing speeds, ethernet communication, hydraulics with integrated electronics, and dual channel safety systems.
An injection molding machine built today is fundamentally similar to your old machine but it will be equipped with the newest controls and hydraulics technology. Over time, as demand for the newest revision of machine components increases, machine manufacturers and their component suppliers change spare part production to support future spare part orders. This process of technical advancement, continuous improvement, and launching new controls and hydraulics products, is making huge gains in efficiency, energy usage, and productivity. These product advancements also start the cycle for component obsolescence when it comes to older products.
Obsolescence is referred to as the process of becoming obsolete or outdated and no longer available or widely used.
Component availability and changes in safety standards
The ability to access replacement parts when something fails is a huge consideration in manufacturing. Customers may find themselves waiting weeks and/or paying huge premiums for components that are now hard to come by. The worst case scenario would be the failure of obsolete controllers or a component, where despite our best efforts, there are not replacement parts available at any cost. In this situation, production would be down for an extended period of time while the machine is upgraded or replaced.
Another thing to consider is the idea that safety standards in the manufacturing industry have drastically changed over time, and continue to do so. Because molding machines are designed to run for years, it is assumed that safety rules and regulations may significantly change over the course of the machine’s life-span. That’s why it’s smart business practice to also consider upgrading safeties during a controls upgrade. You’ll want to make sure you are meeting current industry safety standards as well as your own corporate standards. Consider defining the level of safety necessary to meet the minimum requirements, as well as the cost to get to the next step, or to get to the best in industry safety practices by using dual channel safety devices and fail-safe controls to maximize worker safety.
How to minimize your risk of obsolescence
“The whole “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” mindset is risky in manufacturing, but also more common than you would think,” said Rodney Rotman, owner and founder of 2R Automation. “We understand that customer resources such as maintenance and process technicians are running lean. Supporting daily production priorities and also asking them to focus on future obsolescence problems is challenging.”
So what can be done to reduce obsolescence risk? We recommend an evaluation of your equipment to identify any potential hazards or concerns that you may not be aware of. This thorough assessment will offer an inside look into the machine, leaving little room for unexpected issues to pop up. Your equipment is a huge asset to your company and it’s in your best interest to analyze obsolescence risk now, to avoid potential issues down the road. If a machine were to go down for any length of time, it could have a significant impact on your business.
What’s the next step?
Conducting a thorough evaluation on your equipment will involve focusing on things like the controls processor, controls modules, power supplies, relays, hydraulics pumps, proportional valves, and safety systems. In order to begin the process, all you need is a set of electrical and hydraulic prints for your machine. At that point we’ll have a conversation about what your expectations are for the machine, your current and future concerns, and what the best route would be for increasing your hourly production rate.
The highly skilled technicians at 2R will analyze your prints and complete an evaluation to determine the best solution for your equipment. If you have any questions about this process, or would like to speak to one of our technicians, email us, or call 616.406.7085.
Replace vs upgrade?
If you have an aging machine with obsolete controllers or components you may be wondering whether you should replace it all together, or if it would be more cost effective to upgrade. Determining the best solution can be challenging because there’s a lot to take into consideration. Click here to read more about your options.
We are a Rockwell Automation Recognized System Integrator offering injection molding repair services for Bosch Rexroth, Allen-Bradley, Balluff, and Dynisco, among others.