As technology advances, the performance gap between modern, state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities and older production plants becomes increasingly apparent. Often, manufacturers simply accept the limitations of their existing equipment; the classical alternative is to make a major capital investment in new manufacturing machinery. However, there are many cases where a smaller investment can offer the prospect of increased manufacturing performance through science-led engineering and some carefully selected novel process monitoring and optimization.

Examples provided by Andrew Strong at Manufacturing.net include:

  • On-Line Product Monitoring  – Many QC systems involve measurement of samples of finished product; whilst a batch test is performed, continuous manufacturing processes can produce large volumes, exposing the manufacturer to the risk that a significant volume of out-of-specification inventory is produced whilst the test is in progress. Using novel sensor combinations and technologies transferred from other industries it is often possible to perform a close equivalent to the final QC measurement, but with the advantage that it is on-line, real-time and at little or no risk to the production process.
  • Applying The Latest Sensing Approaches To Key Process Parameters – Many QC systems involve measurement of samples of finished product; whilst a batch test is performed, continuous manufacturing processes can produce large volumes, exposing the manufacturer to the risk that a significant volume of out-of-specification inventory is produced whilst the test is in progress. Using novel sensor combinations and technologies transferred from other industries it is often possible to perform a close equivalent to the final QC measurement, but with the advantage that it is on-line, real-time and at little or no risk to the production process.
  • Characterizing Manufacturing Processes – Older manufacturing equipment often relies on the gut feel of a highly experienced individual for its setup and maintenance. This reliance on an individual presents a risk to the operation; techniques to apply rigorous engineering and analytics (capturing information on process temperatures, alignments, vibrations and acoustic signatures, motor currents and other critical parameters, correlating these with normal operation and various fault conditions) can quickly identify normal operating settings and conditions and then permit much more straightforward setup and fault diagnostics. This can even begin to extend to predictive maintenance.

Before continuing to accept mediocre manufacturing performance or writing off an aging plant it is worth exploring the technology and measurements that are becoming available which, when applied appropriately, could have a dramatic effect on understanding and control of a production process.

It is worth considering the options to buy, build, adapt or innovate to improve existing machinery and how to identify the innovations that could deliver real economic benefits.

> Read more by Andrew Strong, Manufacturing.net, July 2016

Process Optimization For Older Manufacturing Plants: Repair, Replace Or Re-Invent?