Control systems: repair or replace?

30 January 2017

Nick Boughton discusses best practice for obsolescence management from a systems integrator point of view.

The debate between whether to upgrade or repair a control system by no means a new one, but it has become more prevalent as many industry sectors look to squeeze margins. Some sectors also need to carefully manage obsolescence due to the delicate nature of what is produced. Pharmaceuticals manufacturing, for example, is well known for being heavily regulated, so sourcing spare parts instead of committing to a systems upgrade will generally save time, money and a great deal of paperwork. 

Not everyone is able to afford a complete upgrade but on the flipside not everyone can still rely on quick and easy access to spares. No matter what the client chooses, the role of a systems integrator is to complete the job to the highest standard using the tools available, and to a budget. 

Every job is different and usually comes with its own unique challenges that determine whether an upgrade is even possible. For example, Boulting Technology was recently called out to a factory manufacturing glass bottles to update the control system for its production process.

As part of the process, a kiln was automatically fed broken glass every five hours to keep it alive and to keep the production line moving. If the conveyor feeding glass into the kiln stopped and the oven cooled, the kiln would no longer be in a working condition, so we needed to work around this issue.
We were able to implement the new control system in phases and needed to ensure that a motor was running the conveyor at all times.

A complete upgrade was not possible due to the continuous nature of production in this application. Sometimes the choice about whether to repair or replace is taken out of the hands of the client altogether. 

Downtime is always the biggest fear when companies make a decision about whether to upgrade or make do and source spares. So, the decision about whether upgrading is better than like-for-like replacing, will vary from job to job and in most cases the two solutions need to be used in parallel. The more planning, surveying, risk analysis is undertaken, the easier it is to cope with a problem when it inevitably occurs. 

Nick Boughton is sales manager at Boulting Technology.

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