Breathing new life into your machinery with 'Machine Upgrading'

Just about every manufacturing company has machines that still work, but do not offer the capabilities allowing for a digital transition. They often have limited sensors and in many cases lack computing power. Many entrepreneurs are therefore wrestling with the question of whether these machines are still sufficient to achieve the required quality and economic return. However, there is no need to throw these old machines on the scrapheap just yet. Instead of simply replacing them, it can sometimes be more cost-effective to bring those machines completely up-to-date with smart adjustments. Flanders Make and a number of partners have now written a whitepaper on 'Machine Upgrading' to show companies how they can achieve this in practice.


Benefits of an upgrade

Upgrading machines has many benefits. Cost saving is an important first argument. Many entrepreneurs are still holding back from making the digital transition for their machinery. They postpone investments because they consider first of all the replacement of their machines, which of course involves serious financial efforts. As a result, they may completely miss the train to Industry 4.0. Instead of simply replacing these machines, upgrading, in which components of old machines are optimised with new functionalities, is gaining in importance. The benefits of a machine upgrade are not limited to the financial picture. It also offers a form of security. We know what existing machines can do and how they perform. New installations always come with some uncertainty. After all, just because something is new, does not necessarily mean that it works better. New machines also raise questions about training. Will a new machine be sufficiently user-friendly? Will all production workers be able to work with it or do they also need to invest in training?

"Just because something is new, does not necessarily mean that it works better."

Another shortcoming is that few factories have physical space in surplus. Building a new production line in parallel or taking an existing plant out of service for weeks at a time is simply not possible. No factory today can afford a standstill of even a few days. Finally, from the point of view of sustainability, the investment in renewal is not always justifiable. Many installations have lost very little in terms of mechanical performance if they are being properly maintained. Replacing these machines with new ones is not only a waste of money, but also puts a useless extra burden on the environment.

Of course, 'Machine Upgrading' comes at a cost, but in the long run, your business will benefit financially. An upgrade makes these machines more productive and flexible, gives them more and better functionalities and makes them easier to maintain. The machines will last much longer thanks to the makeover.


Supporting businesses with field labs

The benefits of 'Machine Upgrading' are clear, yet at present there are very few practical examples. In order to support companies in the transition to Industry 4.0, the Flemish government has set up various field labs, including the field lab 'Machine Upgrading 4.0'. This field lab shows companies how they can upgrade existing industrial systems to the Industry 4.0 level without major additional costs. In addition to inspiration, companies receive support in making a cost-benefit analysis and guidance throughout their upgrading process. Flanders Make is one of the partners in this project and we’ve published an inspiring whitepaper (in Dutch only) with practical advice on the subject. For this, we worked together with machine builder VINTIV from Beringen and with the Flemish Innovation and Enterprise Agency (VLAIO).

Making the right choices

More specifically, the whitepaper teaches companies about cost-benefit analyses, determining a suitable approach for upgrading machines based on four types of possible transformations (electrical, mechanical, digital and regulatory compliance), the choice of technology and, finally, the implementation of a customised plan to modernise your machines. With all these tips, you can give your machinery a second life and save quite a lot of money.

How do you start this whole process? It all begins with the preparation of a corresponding business case, which will provide answers to many questions. In addition, you can analyse the planned investments and find where the hidden costs are. Another challenge is to calculate the return on investment, taking into account the benefits of new technologies and improvements.

It is also crucial to consider which adjustments are most necessary. There are an enormous number of technologies available in both hardware and software. For instance, you can decide to upgrade only the controls or to simultaneously invest in mechanical innovations as well.

Smart implementation

Finally, it is important to implement all plans in a smart way so as to minimise downtimes and production losses. The whitepaper therefore suggests using the so-called V-model, a verification and validation model in which each step must be completed before the next may be started. This model ensures that your end result will fully comply with the specifications laid down beforehand, including any changes that may occur during the process.

Do you want to know more about machine upgrading?


Our whitepaper 'Machine Upgrading 4.0' goes into the details and covers all stages of the process. You can download it free of charge via the button above. However, we only have it avalaible in Dutch for now.

In addition to this whitepaper we’ve also organised a webinar on this topic. You can view it here.


Ted Ooijevaar - Senior Research Engineer

Ted Ooijevaar - Senior Research Engineer

Ted Ooijevaar is a Monitoring Technology Domain Lead and Senior Research Engineer at Flanders Make since 2015. In this role he defines, leads and performs industry-driven applied research and development to support companies in the manufacturing industry. Ted received a PhD degree in field of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Twente and has special expertise in the field of sensing and monitoring, signal processing and data analytics, dynamics and mechanics, modeling and experimental testing.

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