Edit by Khatia Shamanauni
Everything has its own life cycle, from birth to death. So do machines. When they reach the end of their designed life, they should be replaced. But some companies proved that outdated equipment could start a brand-new life cycle and perform even better.
It may sound unrealistic to many that out-of-date machinery in factories can be refurbished and brought back to life without the need to replace it with expensive modern equipment.
It’s widely believed that almost every factory loses between 5% and 20% of their productivity due to downtime, resulting in losses of millions of Euros. And this happens when obsolete machines can save resources and prevent significant production losses after upgrading.
“To be honest, it sounded unbelievable that after refurbishing old machines, we would be able to save money,” says Asia Savino, executive assistant at Podium – a high-end wooden kitchen producer in Switzerland. She recalls the time when she first heard about the refurbishment. “Today, I realise that it’s possible and we made it,” she says.
Once unthinkable has become reality for Gorenje too, manufacturer of high quality domestic appliances. Majda Meza from R&D Gorenje, describes the refurbishment process of robot cells in dishwasher production as a great opportunity that came at just the right time. “We are able to renew the most critical equipment, reduce maintenance costs and increase effectiveness,” Meza says.
Outdated machines represent an acute problem for companies. In most cases, they not only consume much more energy, but machine failures also cost more time and materials. Replacing them might be even more challenging. Modern industrial equipment often requires huge financial investments.
Refurbishment has become a cost-effective solution for some businesses. RECLAIM, a European Union-funded project, offers an opportunity to restore old industrial equipment, improve efficiency, and lower costs and carbon footprints.
Previously unimaginable, it is now real
Podium is among those companies that are in the final stages of refurbishing their equipment. For example, the wooden kitchen manufacturer purchased a drilling machine in 2005. But after 17 years and more complex requests from customers the machine’s poor performance became a concern for the company. Refurbishment allowed them to both maintain the old machine and improve it significantly.
“The machine has been improved in two ways: the first is a mechanical component – previously, the process was manually carried out, now it is fully automated. For the software part, refurbishment provides us with the opportunity to connect our very old machine to unique software”, says Asia Savino.
Although the refurbishment process at Podium is still underway, the company has already prevented significant production losses.
Due to a mechanical problem, the drilling machine previously couldn’t deal with particularly small wooden pieces. Sometimes these pieces fell on the floor, and they had to throw them away, and create new ones. “It was a waste of materials and a waste of time too”, says Asia.
Podium no longer has to deal with this kind of problem after refurbishing the machine.
The company replaced the wheels that transport the wood pieces from the start point of the machine to the inside part where operations take place.
In addition, a guide of the machine has been modified since it was no longer adaptable. “We have adapted this guide to the new equipment so that they can be automatically inserted into the pieces instead of manual insertion”, says Asia. As a result, Podium managed to increase productivity by reducing production time.
Also, if an unexpected stop was occurring and the company’s operator was unable to solve the problem for any reason, it was usually necessary to bring the supplier to the factory. This person no longer has to come to the site to fix the problem. After refurbishment they can do it remotely.
“It may seem simple, but in reality, it’s a huge advantage for us. We spend less money,” says Asia.
Without refurbishment, Podium would have had to purchase a brand-new machine, which could cost more than half a million Euro. Whenever a company purchases a new machine, they have to train their operators and the new equipment needs technicians. All of these involve additional expenses, which have been avoided at Podium through refurbishment.
The right opportunity at the right moment
Obsolete machinery served as a headwind for Gorenje too, a manufacturer of high-quality domestic appliances. “We were very concerned about the renewal of various equipment in our factory,”, says Majda Meza from Gorenje, in Slovenia.
Robotic cells are crucial to the production of dishwasher inox tubs at Gorenje dishwasher factory. But most of the equipment dates back to 1994. Some of them experienced operation failures and unexpected shutdowns as they approached the end of their designed life. Aside from that, spare parts were practically unavailable due to the machines’ age.
“As a result of the RECLAIM project, robot cells equipment will be refurbished with an extended lifetime of 15 years. Furthermore, overall effectiveness will increase, with less maintenance and production costs. It will improve the product quality and reduce environmental impact”, says Majda Meza.
Gorenje has already modernized and renewed most of its obsolete robots. By upgrading programmable logic controllers (PLC), data can now be monitored and collected. Additionally, spot and seam welding machines and control systems have been renewed. The welding machines and hydraulic aggregates were equipped with new sensors for predictive maintenance. Another significant improvement among many is establishing the capture and recycling of cooling water.
“We will be able to handle certain problems more easily because we will be able to help ourselves with data that we did not have before”, says Meza.
The Gorenje production expert adds that the company releases a new generation every five years and without proper equipment it is impossible to manufacture new products and keep up with the growing demand.
“It would have been impossible for us to remain competitive in the market with such old technological equipment. The cost of downtime and the unavailability of spare parts would have become an unmanageable problem, and productivity would have dropped significantly. Even more serious problem would have been our inability to produce tubs for new projects using this type of obsolete equipment”, says Meza.
At Gorenje, 80% of the refurbishment has already been completed. Without the option to upgrade, the company would likely have had to invest in a new production line for dishwasher tubs and gradually stop the existing one.
“That would have required a substantial financial investment.” – says Majda Meza.
Machine obsolescence in the manufacturing industry no longer means that companies should replace them with expensive new equipment. The experience of various companies shows that businesses can preserve valuable resources by refurbishing obsolete machines instead of discarding them.