Extending the life cycle of a machine or plant, rather than replacing it, represents a competitive advantage for companies in many ways. In fact, investing resources in re-structuring and upgrading operations makes it possible to equip oneself with performing and safe tools, since they are adapted to the standards required by technological innovation as well as by current regulations in terms of safety, without being faced with an excessive economic outlay or the risk of having to give up component parts that are still functional.
On the contrary, on the contrary, proceeding with a revamping operation allows to improve the single appliance and, at the same time, to act on entire plants, enhancing the general level of automation of an industrial system, i.e., its technological core, generally subject to obsolescence before the mechanical parts.
It is an approach that can be shared in several areas and that Automate chooses to adopt transversally in those within its competence, including, recently, the textile sector, supporting customers determined to grow by focusing on upgrading the machinery used.
In this case, in fact, among the critical issues that companies may face is the risk that the production processes performed will be affected by anomalies referring to individual machines or components, just as the difficulty of finding spare parts on the market is a potential cause of downtime of the entire system.
Realistic and widespread examples recently applied to the upgrading of a production line that had been running for more than 20 years, which was seeing an increasing reduction in the efficiency of the hardware used, the automation and power systems, and the control software, which was now obsolete and complex as it was diversified across multiple, inhomogeneous platforms that were only partially integrated with each other.
Specifically, for a leading textile manufacturing company that operates through particularly complex production lines that transform material through chemical and physical processes, we intervened through a technological refresh on the entire production line of more than 90 meters. The plant used five different PLC control devices to manage individual components or cross-functionality, namely: 1 Rockwell PLC from the ControlLogix series to manage the haul-off, 1 Eutotherm PLC to manage temperature control, 2 Rockwell PLCs from the SLC 500 series to manage 1 of the 2 ovens and for the winder, and 1 Omron PLC to manage a second oven; two SCADA platforms - Wonderware Intouch 7. 1 and FactoryLink - for client development and, finally, Omron operator panels, Rockwell RSView and others customized at the HMI interface level.
The variety of tools, coupled with the difficulty of managing them as a whole and individually due to frequent malfunctions, transformed the revamping action from an opportunity into a necessity to be addressed with priority urgency in order to save production by pursuing three specific objectives:
- Minimize in risk of costly and damaging breakdowns and failures by enhancing the production quantity and performance of the plant involved.
- Adapt the systems to the relevant regulations by offering the highest possible li-vel of safety to the personnel employed.
- Improve both the production quality of the line and the activity of the workers employed to develop it.
The work performed by Automate to achieve them in the shortest possible time, considering the customer's rerequest to conclude the work within five months and to limit the downtime for installation of the upgrade to only two weeks, involved a series of actions useful for a complete revamping of the control and supervision system.
- First, all control and power components were replaced.
- The network architecture, with client servers and controllers, was redesigned
- The security system was overhauled in response to current regulations.
- A new control system was developed, proceeding with the replacement of the old PLCs with a single Rockwell PLC, while the various HMI interfaces were replaced by five Rockwell PanelView pan-nels, installed at strategic locations along the line and designed to be interchangeable with each other and capable of controlling the plant in the event of a malfunction of the SCADA system. The latter, in turn, using a Wonderware System Platform technology, was characterized with the presence of three virtualized servers with WMWare technology and two physical multi-monitor client stations installed at opposite ends of the line.
- Finally, a number of hardware components, such as RFID antennas and tracking sensors, were replaced in order to detect, recognize and track fabric batches while improving the efficiency of the production system.
Despite the shortage of electronic devices available at the time of the project, careful planning in the first phase of work and greater flexibility in the approach taken throughout the project process helped achieve the desired success, along with the client's collaborative attitude toward the Automate team.
This allowed them to stay on schedule, cope with unforeseen events by proposing alternative solutions quickly and maintaining the high level of quality of the work done. But that's not all. The high level of coordination among the actors involved was another important strength, as it served to maximize the benefits produced by the revamping, going far beyond the objectives set.
The intervention carried out also provided staff with greater awareness regarding the pro-ductive process thanks to tools that significantly streamlined the transit and trasforming of data into valuable information for the operators involved, who were able to replace manual data collection with digital and automatic operations, thus speeding up the setting of plant parameters and fostering the sharing of information flows within the factory.