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Living with legacy systems

Feb. 14, 2019
Line up sources of obsolete components before failures cause unplanned downtime.

Do you remember when Pepsi debuted PepsiNatural in 2008? Made from lightly sparkling water and all-natural ingredients, it was set to be huge, until it was discontinued in 2010 due to poor sales. Let’s look further into the issue of discontinuation, but in relation to process control.

There’s a knack to sourcing used and obsolete automation components for process control. While PepsiNatural may be long gone, there is infrastructure in place to ensure discontinued parts for process control automation, such as PLCs, human machine interfaces (HMIs) and motors, aren’t completely eradicated.

Testing supply chains

For process control, downtime of one part can result in downtime of many parts. For example, if a long-standing PLC takes a turn for the worse, plant managers may find that entire production lines go down. The situation is far from ideal and needs resolving fast.

For legacy equipment, obsolescence takes away the luxury of ordering a replacement straight from the original parts manufacturer’s catalog. Discontinued automation is testing even the strongest supply chains across the world. Without the right obsolete parts supplier on tap, plant managers are faced with trying to source new machines that are compatible with old technology. In the worst-case scenario, this sometimes results in overhauling entire systems to bring a production line back up. This is a costly approach, not only in terms of capital expenditure, but also the time taken to install the parts and train the workforce on operating this new machinery.

It’s also important to note that while this theoretical case appears to modernize a factory, it’s often a fallacy. If legacy equipment has been working effectively for 50 years, what has really been gained from upgrading the production line to brand new equipment? Would it not make more sense to source an exact match for the part, and live out another few decades of reliability and predictability?

Testing matters

Concerns over sourcing reconditioned obsolete parts are common, but are soon quashed by the right supplier. The main concern is whether the part is up to standard. Ask your obsolete part supplier about the testing and checking processes that take place before a part is dispatched—they should be thorough.

By choosing a reputable industrial parts supplier, reconditioned equipment will always be cleaned, serviced and upgraded to optimum working order before it is put back onto the market. A reconditioned motor, for instance, would be tested extensively to ensure it functions properly and is free of defects, and the supplier should be able to prove this testing has taken place.

[pullquote]Similarly, the supplier should provide a guarantee for the product’s reliability. EU Automation, for instance, offers a 12-month guarantee on its reconditioned parts.

No country limits

When the hunt is on for a specific process control part, obsolete part suppliers should be willing to go to the end of the earth to help customers. An extensive in-house stock certainly makes it more likely to have a part available for immediate dispatch, but there may be situations where the parts supplier needs to work harder to find a specific part. For example, a U.S. parts supplier may need to import a rare part from as far as Europe, Asia or Africa, and this shouldn’t be a problem.

In these cases, make sure there are no hidden rush fees, handling fees or other hidden charges. Ask the questions upfront so there is less likely to be uncertainty when the invoice arrives.

Plan ahead

So far, the aforementioned examples have been somewhat reactive, waiting for parts to break down before sourcing the replacement. As parts in a factory or processing plant get older, it becomes more important to think ahead of time. This means building the relationship with an obsolete part supplier now to discuss the potential availability of specific legacy parts. After all, knowing who to call could mean the difference between a day of downtime, and a week.

Similarly, advancements in condition monitoring are helping maintenance managers gain real-time insight into the condition of parts. It’s providing insight into when a part may break down in the future. Not only is this enabling more effective maintenance, for example, replacing a bearing before catastrophic failure of an entire machine ensues, it means that obsolete machines that will need replacing in the next year can be sourced now.

The infrastructure is in place to keep downtime attributed to part obsolescence to a minimum. Find an obsolete part supplier that has the sheer determination to find the right part, no matter how rare it may be.

While sourcing discontinued fizzy drinks such as PepsiNatural may be a challenge, finding suitable parts replacement doesn’t have to be. That said, we’re pretty sure we could track down the elusive soft drink if you wanted to quench your thirst during the search for obsolete parts.

Jonathan Wilkins is director at EU Automation. He can be reached at [email protected].

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