Aging Equipment: Update, Upgrade or Take the Bus?

By Larry Johnson and Vince Warne

Everyone who has owned a car or two has, at some point, been forced to decide whether it’s worth it to continue putting money into the one they have, or if it’s best to move on to a newer model.

The equipment on your plant floor is no different. Maybe you’ve done everything you should to maintain it, but it’s not as reliable as it once was. At the same time, you may be losing productivity, or at least not reaping the benefits of advancements in technology.

Knowing When

Early-generation equipment is reaching the point where it’s forcing companies to decide whether they should update or upgrade. Here are some telltale signs your equipment is aging out:

• Ten or more workers are necessary to run the line;
• Control systems are becoming dated or obsolete;
• The equipment manufacturer has stopped supporting your control system;
• You feel like a hostage when it comes to obtaining replacement parts;
• Maintenance has become time-intensive or costly; and
• Semi-automation is your only option.

Of course, justification for investing in all-new equipment can be difficult, but maybe not so difficult if you really do the math. The cost of making updates may not be as far off from new equipment as you might think—especially considering how fully automated equipment helps amid labor shortages.

The Other Option

When considering a new car, there’s always the option of getting rid of your ride altogether and taking the bus. For many of us, that would be a complete lifestyle change—relying on the bus to be on time and standing there waiting for it to come. You’re at the mercy of the transit system, and you’re stuck adhering to their schedule and bus stop locations.

As you consider equipment options, it might seem worthwhile to outsource one of your most critical functions: insulating glass (IG) production. And that might make sense, but only if your supplier is extremely flexible and extremely reliable. Otherwise, you might find yourself “waiting at the bus stop,” disrupting production.

On the other hand, producing your own IG gives you complete control over a critical process, including the quality and consistency of products, the flexibility to build units to your own exact specifications and the ability to make adjustments in real time.

After the Decision

If you’ve decided that it’s time to move on to new equipment, then it’s time to think about what will help future-proof your factory and your business.

Here are some critical questions you should ask:

• Will this solution reduce the number of workers on the line and maximize floor space?
• Does it enable me to enjoy the advantages of full automation?
• Are parts easy to source locally with documented drawings and part numbers?
• Will the software be easily integrated into my other operating systems?
• Will it improve the quality and performance of my end products?

In the end, only you can decide what’s best for your business. If you are looking to improve, the question might not be whether or not you can afford to upgrade, but: can you afford not to?

Larry Johnson (left) is vice president of sales and Vince Warne (right) is Eastern sales manager for Quanex Building Products.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

DWM Magazine

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