It’s a question we’ve all heard before, but when it comes to older programmable logic controller (PLC) installations, it’s not an answer you want to find out the hard way. While some components can be found and purchased online, if your primary source for replacement parts is a site like eBay or obsoletePLCparts.com, it’s likely time to upgrade your system.
So you want to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into your food processing facility — but where do you start? These tools have grown increasingly popular, and you’ve likely heard people discussing different platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. But how do you get access to these tools and what can they do?
Three layers of cloud computing
When it comes to introducing machine learning to your processing, think of it as a three-tiered ecosystem:
1. Service providers (AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure)
2. IoT solutions partners (system integrators, data experts, etc.)
3. End users (Facility operator, plant owner, etc.)
As more food and beverage processing moves from mechanical to automated, it’s important to hire the right people who can operate and troubleshoot from the plant floor. Once you have qualified technical staff in place, transferring knowledge about your automation and controls systems to them is crucial.
At Stellar, we often help food manufacturers configure new facilities, so we understand the process and what it takes to make it go smoothly. When it comes to training your plant personnel on the automation and controls, follow these tips for an efficient startup at your next facility.
A growing number of food and beverage processing facilities are investing in robotics and automation, as the technology continues to advance and costs continue to normalize. These tools can be a game-changer for many businesses, offering benefits such as reduced operating costs, upped throughput and increased food and worker safety.
That said, such a significant investment requires careful implementation. Before incorporating robotics into your facility, consider these important best practices to ensure you invest wisely and efficiently.
How old is the control system at your facility? In most processing plants, the control system consists of field instruments that are wired to I/O cards which feed to a central PLC controller. Operators communicate with the PLC through a human machine interface (HMI) computer.
While the lifespan of an HMI computer is about the same as a typical desktop computer, the instruments, field wiring, I/O boards and PLC controllers last a lot longer — and the mentality of most operators is: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Upgrading a control system is a costly investment, and, as a result, many facilities have field hardware that is decades old.
So, when is it worth upgrading your control system? And what options do you have?
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