If you are reading this article, you are already a part of a visionary pedigree. When other companies struggled to find solutions to meet increased demand, rise above market instability, provide satisfying opportunities for a dwindling manufacturing labor force, and guarantee structured longevity, you had the foresight to invest in automation. You modeled modernization to your customers with increased productivity, quality, consistency, safety, and revenue.
A responsibly integrated machine has a machine life of decades, but when do you determine when it is cost effective to seek a replacement machine? We would like to spotlight the signs you need to sunset your machine and the benefits of a new machine:
Signs Your Machine Needs Replacement
The average optimal machine life of an industrial robot or custom machine is 5-20 years. Even if your machine is not yet operating below the original specifications, waiting until the first breakdown is a losing gamble when the machine life is clear. There is a substantial difference between paying for acceptable maintenance and ignoring the rapid deterioration of your manufacturing equipment that was built in the mid 90’s.
Regular maintenance is expected, and a responsibly scoped machine integration will plan your maintenance schedule for maximum cost effectiveness. But breakdowns on your older machine chain react losses through idle workers, broken commitments to customers, uncertainty of resumption, and perception of failure. Practical robotic automation production requires reliability, consistency, and productivity. Repeat random breakdowns undermines the practical advantages of a robot. Assume one day your machine will break down forever. When a responsibly scoped automation integration takes months or years to design and build, you cannot afford to make plans after the final breakdown. This is the opportunity cost. If you struggle to meet current needs what are you going to do when your customer calls for more volume or new customers comes knocking?
Since the mid 90’s we have watched a complete revolution in operating systems, data transfer speeds, vision aided controls, and efficient technology. Even a new machine needs to schedule maintenance. An older system requires increased maintenance costs to keep up with wear and tear. Replacing an old machine part forces customers to repair at the mercy of a dwindling supply of new parts, vanishing options for suppliers, and sketchy options for refurbished parts. Finding or training employees on discontinued software platforms requires marrying the labor involved with manually updating your software, controllers, and HMI with the premiums associated with preserving unorthodox knowledge. When the machine breaks down, how will you find someone to fix your old machine if the supplier no longer supports the machine, or the supplier has gone out of business? How long will your production be down while you search for someone with the ability to repair your old machine? This can be further complicated if your integrator does not offer annual maintenance packages that allow for on site evaluation and remote repair.
Are any technical schools teaching operation of your old machine? When you interview new employees, how few have experience with this type of machine? When you hire workers that do have experience with the old machine, do you have to pay higher salaries or provide additional benefits compared to your other veteran workers? After you go through the trouble of finding an operator for your old machine, don’t you need to hire an additional old machine operator to cover your production when the operator is sick, injured, or on vacation?
Regressing your production
The minimum expectations from a properly scoped automation integration are immediate improvements to all the production categories compared to manual production. Has your machine lost consistent quality? Have you started reducing your machine shifts to spare the motors? Do you find yourself tuning and recalibrating just so the machine won’t overheat? Do you run your machine at lower speeds out of fear it will break down? Have you added extra operators and technicians to keep the machine running? Do your employees hate working with the machine? Do you follow all the risk reduction procedures but still consider the machine a risk? Are the maintenance costs climbing while the throughput drops? When an older machine discards the minimum advantages of industrial automation, you may as well be returning to manual labor.
New Machine, Modern Advantages
When you graduate your production from a decades old machine you keep the advantages of an automated machine and inherit a wider scope of assets.
One machine, more options
Modern machines are more technologically flexible. You can add more tasks, capacities, and formats to one machine. One machine will not just do the work of multiple manual workers, it will do the work of multiple older machines. That adds to your bottom line and your floor space.
Modern drives and motors are more energy efficient, use fewer moving parts, and take up less space on your production floor. Modern replacement parts are cheaper. An energy efficient machine costs you less on power. New machines come with manufacturer warranties and updates, and they can run faster and longer on less.
Modern human machine interfaces do not just determine the actions of the robot, they record statistics, benefit from AI learning algorithms, and interconnect with remote network monitoring. While there are still automation integrators that shackle you to PLCs or proprietary software, the emergence of products like our Python scripted NodeUDesign products level the playing field using the fastest growing secondary language in the world. Modern software is user friendly, customizable, and capable of supporting your business with data driven Industry 4.0 machine learning.
A new standard machine will be taught in technical schools. You can hire trained workers at competitive rates, and the user-friendly focus of modern machines means easier in-house training for your machines. If your machine needs specialty maintenance, you will have multiple options for vendors including the manufacturer. When dealing with a custom machine with custom operating procedures, a modern operator will use processes that can be easily Googled by your workforce.
Capital expenditure for an automated machine has been dropping by 50% every 10 years. If the machine costs less, can make your production cheaper, keep your production consistent, and make room for your business to grow, a responsible automation integration can plan a swifter return on investment.
Your Instincts Were Right Decades Ago, You Can Make Those Arguments Today
When you made the choice to invest in your industrial machine decades ago, you faced the same questions, the same obstacles, and the same resistance. You were told how much the new machine would cost versus just hiring more labor and making process improvements. You evaluated that for your business to grow, hiring more workers and improving the process would not generate the growth needed to compete long term the way automating technology would. The same forethought and savvy apply to your new machine.
At DEVELOP LLC’s engineers, manufacturing experts, and project managers have years of experience integrating cutting edge technology, planning the swiftest return on investment, and generating the growth opportunities necessary to stay competitive. Tell us more about your project, schedule a virtual meeting, or call (262)-622-6104 to learn more about how we can help you communicate the benefits of custom automated machines.