Factory automation systems manufacturer Omron has refined its parallel upgrade system, which enables manufacturers to complete line upgrades for redundant electrical hardware and control systems without impacting on production, increasing downtime or compromising operational efficiency for automotive manufacturers.
Omron South Africa (SA) application engineer Japie van der Westhuizen says his team first developed the parallel upgrade concept in 2011 after an automotive client had to deal with unforeseen breakdowns on its existing system. The problem was exacerbated by the system’s spares being obsolete. The client could not afford to allocate time for a shutdown period to drastically change the existing system. The team has twice since implemented this solution on different lines at the automotive manufacturer.
The parallel upgrade system comprises a completely new control system – including new programmable logic controllers (PLCs), human machine interface screens and remotes – meant to replace the existing system. Van der Westhuizen explains that the transition was achieved through supplying and installing new panels, junction boxes, cables and wiring to and from existing field devices, so that the new system runs parallel with the existing system.
The PLCs serve as a wiring link between the two systems. They are connected by a wiring harness that links up to the input/output interface. The wiring is usually completed over weekends or during lunch breaks to limit the impact on production.
Van der Westhuizen comments that this parallel approach enables the client to continue its operations while the new system is being programmed. On commissioning, the system affords the client peace of mind, as it has an existing system to fall back on if problems should occur during the transition to the new system.
Further, commissioning times are reduced significantly, owing to the switch-over capability between the old and new system, which allows for some commissioning to be done after hours and over weekends. “This ensures that the client need not schedule additional stops to production to facilitate such upgrades, which, in turn, provides the client with more time to concentrate on the business and production levels,” Van der Westhuizen states.
Each upgrade is unique, as it depends on the type of existing system and equipment the manufacturer uses, as well as its requirements. As a result, Omron makes allowances for special communication devices, new ideas or equipment that clients want to implement to streamline the production process. Additionally, the solution is not exclusive, as Omron can install the parallel system using third-party equipment and control systems.
While Omron says other factory automation manufacturers might offer similar parallel services, to its knowledge, it is the only factory automation manufacturer that has successfully completed such a transition.
The Omron SA team believes that the solution epitomises the meaning of customer service and key account management; the company hopes to continue to build on strong client relationships through lateral thinking.