When retro means forward
For System TM, replacing an outdated control system for wood processing machines with a 100% B&R solution lead to a more efficient interface between onboard components and increased capacity by up to 50%. By replacing custom components with standard B&R technology, System TM has streamlined its spare parts supply and can now offer its customers improved service.
When System TM – a global supplier of machinery for the wood processing industry – needed to replace an outdated control system on its cross-cut series, the original plan was to find a supplier of system components that could solve the retrofit challenge without affecting the overall performance of the machine. What System TM was aiming for was a conversion rather than a development project.
After several unsuccessful trials with other suppliers, B&R was asked to join the project – not only with a complete set of compatible components, but also with its team of experienced system engineers. Shortly after the initial tests in 2011, System TM realized that the task of retrofitting showed signs of numerous small improvements. What started with a 10-millisecond improvement, and thus a capacity increase of one extra plank per minute, eventually added up to a 50 % capacity increase of the entire machine.
Timing is everything
The wood processing industry has undergone tremendous changes since the financial crisis. Many small wood processing businesses that typically had 3 or 4 automated cutting machines have been replaced by fewer, much larger sawmills with up to 15 automated cutting machines and a fully automated flow from the infeed through to inspection, cross-cutting, finger jointing, molding, laminating, stacking and more.
The intense competition and the absence of human operators on the factory floor create demand not only for further automation, but also for optimized utilization of both human and manufacturing assets. The hunt for continuous improvements – however small they might be – is a central focus area for System TM.
According to System TM's COO Thomas H. Olesen and his staff, the improvement couldn't have come at a better time, since the market at that point was calling for higher speed and improved capacity. "Although we initially saw the conversion as an inconvenience," says Olesen, "the outcome has brought us a valuable competitive edge due to the unexpected scale of improvements."
"Since the conversion, we have used B&R's programmers on several occasions as if they were part of our own organization. This has been beneficial in situations where our team was tied up with other work, or in projects where B&R possessed special know-how that helped us speed up development." Thomas H. Olesen, COO, System TM
The turning point
Back in 2011, System TM was in a position where it could no longer supply sufficient spare parts or soft-ware upgrades, and the conversion was becoming urgently necessary. At first, the company intended to upgrade the control system with components from their existing supplier. When all trials in this direction failed, however, the company began its search for a supplier that could match the rather strict requirements.
In B&R, System TM found a solution provider that was also able put a team of programmers and engineers at their disposal. The joined commitment was, according to Olesen, a turning point and one of the main reasons why the cooperation has yielded such great success.
"At the time of the conversion we were involved in a lot of ongoing projects," recalls Olesen, who was heavily involved in the selection of B&R and the subsequent system integration. "It was therefore abso-lutely crucial that the conversion could take place as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Standard replaces customized
The switch to a fully B&R-equipped control system – complete with an industrial PC, motion controllers, servo drives, PLCs and I/O – opened up the possibility of more efficient internal communication. So, even though the change of interface and communication fell somewhat outside the scope of the planned conversion project, System TM decided to pursue these new opportunities.
Previously, all communication between the individual system components was controlled by a customized industrial PC. In the retrofitted solution, the customized PC has been replaced by a standard industrial PC that primarily handles the HMI, accessed through a multi-touch panel. All data processing and internal communication between the different components now takes place via integrated onboard controllers. The distributed architecture allowing internal communication between the individual system components has been the main contributor to the capacity increase. The fact that the entire retrofit challenge has been solved using standard components is of great importance to System TM.
"We implement machines and large turnkey solutions around the globe," says Olesen, "so we need to have easy access to spare parts wherever the customer may be situated. The switch from custom system components to a solution based on standard products not only eases the supply of spare parts, it also puts us in a position to offer improved service."
Sharing knowledge is the key to success
Since the challenging conversion project in 2011, System TM has based all of its control systems on B&R components. System TM still attributes the success of the project to B&R's high-end programming assistance.
"Since the conversion, we have used B&R's programmers on several occasions as if they were part of our own organization," explains Olesen. "This has been beneficial in situations where our own team was tied up with other work, or in projects where B&R possessed special know-how that helped us speed up development."