Ensure Operational Reliability With Machine Control Upgrades
June 21, 2021
Machine control (MC) is a general term that refers to a software and controls system which automates and oversees the functioning of material handling equipment (MHE), such as: conveyors, sorters, or automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). Consisting of a controller or specialized computer that processes commands, an electrical panel that routes the commands to the equipment and a user interface (UI), MC supports three primary functions:
- It receives and interprets input and output (I/O) data from diagnostic sensors, panel inputs and photo eyes.
- It calculates responses based on that information, such as gap spacing, merge functions, accumulation patterns and diverts.
- It produces output responses (such as speed changes and directional switches) and actuates lights and sounds.
The importance of MC is often underestimated, as it plays an essential role in distribution center (DC) process flows:
- Ensuring products move at the desired rate
- Smoothly transitioning inventory flow from one process area to another
- Increasing or decreasing in volume within a specified amount of time
- Optimizing existing labor resources
- Enhancing overall accuracy of product movement throughout a facility
The concept of “machine control” is often confused with warehouse management software (WMS) and warehouse control software (WCS). The three systems work collaboratively, but in separate layers, with each having its own place within an operation’s functions. WMS manages inventory, labor, capacity and orders/waves. WCS directs the functionality of automation and transportation systems, and frequently provides the human-machine interface (HMI) access point. Underpinning it all is MC, which synthesizes the control components — such as cameras, scanners, sensors, variable frequency drives (VFDs) and motors — that make the mechanized systems work.
Because MC provides the critical foundation upon which all other warehouse systems run, it’s important to plan for continuous upgrades from the outset of system implementation. In a recent webinar, From Obsolete to Modern: The Upgrade Path for Machine Control Reliability, we explored the benefits of engaging with a provider of lifecycle support services (LSS) to ensure continued equipment reliability while minimizing unplanned downtime.
Benefits of Machine Control Upgrades
Typically, MC systems have a 10-year lifecycle, during which period intermittent updates and upgrades to key components should be made to mitigate the risk of a control system failure. A lot can — and does — change in a decade, including:
- Hardware — As equipment ages, it is less likely to be supported by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Further, functionality improvements will likely render the original devices obsolete over time. Hunting for critical components on eBay should not be an ongoing maintenance strategy.
- Standards and technologies — Operating systems are upgraded continually, controller technologies’ speed and capabilities improve, connectivity and communications protocols evolve, and newer devices deliver more functionalities in smaller packages. Staying up to date with the latest advances will help to ensure operational flexibility and agility.
- Business requirements — A system installed a decade ago was designed for a specific set of then-current and anticipated operational, inventory, customer, market and overall business needs. Chances are, those circumstances have changed, with increased throughput, stock keeping unit (SKU) proliferation, e-commerce and omnichannel fulfillment expansion, and/or new track-and-trace compliance requirements.
By partnering with an experienced LSS provider to manage and coordinate ongoing MC upgrades, your operation can prevent downtime while optimizing efficiency throughout its material handling operations. The ideal partner will create and implement a turnkey solution that significantly reduces your risk through a variety of service offerings, including: parts, assessment services, training, upgrades and 24x7 technical support. Additionally, your customized MC lifecycle plan should include routine evaluations of system health, risks and maintenance practices to meet (or exceed) established benchmarks.
To learn more about engaging Honeywell Intelligrated’s LSS to maximize the functionality and lifespan of your operation’s MC — while preserving your uptime and maximizing your performance and return on investment (ROI) — please view this webinar.
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