Retrofitting Older Machines Provides Valuable IIoT Update

Recently, data has become one of the most valuable resources a manufacturer can have. Improved information on factory workflows can offer new insights, optimize existing processes and help companies develop better forecasting techniques.


As a result, many manufacturers are turning to the Internet of Things to gather more information on machine performance. However, the capital necessary for a new network-ready device may be too much for some businesses to shoulder.


Retrofit machines can bring legacy devices into the Internet of Things. Sensors and digital controls provide valuable information and integrate older machines into new, intelligent factory management systems.


Digital Transformation May Mean Risk of Leaving Legacy Machines Behind

The rapid transformation of industry over the past few years — part of the broader shift of Industry 4.0 — has created a wide range of new possibilities for manufacturers. IoT monitoring, automation and robotics all can help solve the most significant manufacturing challenges of the 21st century — like the growing manufacturing skills gap and increasingly volatile demand.


However, the same transformation also risks leaving some manufacturers behind.


Many newer machines come pre-outfitted with a range of IIoT sensors and remote controls. However, due to the high cost of manufacturing equipment and concerns about interoperability with existing systems, turnover remains low.


The average age of industrial equipment in the U.S. has steadily risen over the past few decades. In 2017, the average age was 10 years, up from seven or eight years in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some outliers may be even older — anywhere between 20-50 years old, depending on the type of machine and the size of the manufacturer.


Retrofits provide a solution to this problem. They can also solve the growing tech gap between IoT adoptees and manufacturers that can’t afford new IoT-ready machinery.


Retrofitting old equipment with IIoT technology ensures machines aren’t left behind or made less visible in increasingly networked factories. As a result, more manufacturers may be able to compete, even if they can’t foot the capital investment for new smart machinery.


The growing availability of IIoT retrofit kits may also make the process easier for manufacturers. As demand has risen for IIoT sensors, there’s also been a rise in technology that helps streamline the process, as well as new IoT sensors designed to be retrofitted to existing devices.


Benefits of an IoT Retrofit

Manufacturers that retrofit legacy equipment with IIoT devices will primarily benefit from the improved availability of data an IoT network can provide.


They can maximize the visibility of legacy equipment. For example, manual gauges that need to be monitored by hand can be complemented by IIoT sensors that send data directly to a platform like a manufacturing execution system. Information on machine state and activity can similarly be transmitted to the site’s MES, providing a real-time view into processes and workflows across the facility.


IIoT sensors can also collect data that legacy machines may not track by default — like temperature, vibration and pneumatic pressure. Information from these sensors can be sent directly to a plant’s MES. That data can be used for real-time condition monitoring, providing site staff a remote window into the health of networked machinery.


Smart replacements to analog controllers can also provide similar value. IoT valve positioners may offer improved accuracy to inputs and better data visibility over analog valve positioners. Over time, the same information can also be used as part of a predictive maintenance scheme — giving factory owners advance notice on potential costly machine failure and reducing maintenance costs.


The savings these schemes can provide is often significant. A predictive maintenance plan can save industrial manufacturers 8%-12% over preventive maintenance and 30%-40% over reactive maintenance, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The DoE also reports an average return on investment of 10 times the initial system cost, a 70%-75% reduction in breakdowns and a 20%-25% increase in production.


The same data can also be extremely useful for process optimization purposes. Factory managers or AI algorithms can analyze information collected by machines throughout a facility. Insights uncovered by this analysis can help managers optimize workflows, eliminate inefficiencies in machine operation, or reduce wear and tear.


IIoT for Facility and Sensor Management

Retrofitted IIoT sensors can also make facilities themselves easier to manage. In some cases, they may also be able to protect workers from the risks associated with heavy machinery.


For example, real-time carbon monoxide monitors can improve factory safety by increasing the visibility of site conditions. If carbon monoxide rises above safe levels in any part of the facility, an IoT system can immediately alert workers and managers.


The same tools can also reduce energy consumption and improve comfort. IoT temperature and humidity sensors allow managers to optimize site environmental conditions. That information can be used to automatically adjust HVAC operations or open and close vents.


IoT-connected lights can be automatically turned on or off as needed, eliminating unnecessary lighting and reducing costs.


Over time, this data can also help site managers identify areas of the facility that tend to be more uncomfortable than others — hotter, more humid or with less effective lighting. With this information, managers can make changes that keep workers comfortable.


Intelligent gateways can also improve existing data-collection infrastructure. These gateways send operational information from sensors to an MES or SCADA system and also to cloud-based IT services. Anyone with access to the business cloud can have the same real-time view as those connected to the factory network.


Automatic cloud backups, made possible by intelligent gateways, can ensure that even during a power outage, cyberattack or similar event, manufacturers will maintain data on machine performance used for process optimization or predictive maintenance analysis.


Retrofitted IoT Sensors Make Manufacturing’s Digital Transformation More Accessible

IoT sensors offer major benefits to manufacturers that adopt them. While new, IoT-ready equipment may be out of reach for some, retrofit machines enable companies to integrate IIoT technology without the typical expenses.


These kits can help manufacturers improve site data visibility and adopt new maintenance schemes. They can also help them gather critical information on operations, which may become even more valuable over time as AI and big data analytics technology gets more sophisticated.

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