Large Controls upgrade projects don’t have to be high risk to be high reward.

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Large Controls upgrade projects don’t have to be high risk to be high reward.

Large Controls upgrade projects don’t have to be high risk to be high reward.

Case Study: CNC Retrofit – 140 axes in 80 days

An automaker manufacturing transmissions in North America, uses dial machines to drill and mill pump and reaction shaft supports. The machines were well maintained mechanically, and still very process capable; however the circa 1988 motion controllers and Programmable Logic Controllers were failing more frequently, and were becoming increasingly difficult to repair and support. As downtime was growing, the demand for the machined parts was increasing too. This automaker needed a control system retrofit that could be executed on their floor with minimum lost production. This is where good project management and a standard execution methodology was put to the test.

Project leaders at this company brought together an integration team comprised of inside and outside resources. Automation engineers (with past experience in retrofit execution) and a small group of qualified in-house skilled tradesmen came together to develop a solution and create an implementation plan. The leadership team then enrolled the plant’s machine shop, maintenance department and engineering group to form the installation team. During the several weeks of off-site hardware and software design & build, the retrofitter began the procurement and assembly of hardware on sub plates and the publication of removal and installation drawings and instructions.  Once these instructions were complete, the installation team reviewed the plans to form the most practical approach.

Labor was planned, schedules were made and once the assembled systems were on site, the fun began. We estimated 10 days for each machine.  The first system (16 axis) was installed and commissioned in 7 days. That’s right, the machine went out of production on Sunday at 10PM, and was returned to full production status in 7 calendar days.  Each of the remaining 11 systems (with more than a dozen axes per machine) were each installed and commissioned in 4 days or less, and all 12 systems were installed in 35 days.

In the 60 days leading up to the retrofit, maintenance recorded a combined downtime for control related incidents totaling nearly 42 (8 hour) shifts across the 12 machines (almost 1 shift per day).  As the Toward Zero Project Manager completed the system training exercises for plant electricians in the 45 days after the retrofits, the plant recorded 16 hours of control related downtime. Much of that time could be credited to training as the electricians became familiar with the new systems.

Functional Requirements, Detailed Design, Build, Installation and Support – This step by step methodology, followed closely by a skilled and experienced execution team, made this all possible. Sure, there were hiccups and not everything can be anticipated, but a strong plan and standard methods keeps things moving forward. Whether you plan to have your own retrofit group, or hire Toward Zero, strong standard practices will make or break your project.