When to Upgrade

upgradeUpgrade. The word just sounds so good. Up is always a good direction to be going right? Even if upgrading your machinery sounds like the right thing to do, that’s not always the case. Sometimes people get caught up in the latest and greatest and they waste money upgrading a piece of equipment that is still fully functional.

To be fair, the notion of always having the newest, most-updated, most-upgraded gadget is contagious. You’ve got people who who will wait in line to buy the newest phone because the one they got last year will be old in a few hours. Who wants to be the square with the year-old phone? The idea that drives people to prematurely upgrade is that their technology is obsolete and somehow less effective than the new thing, which is not always the case.

Apart from the desire for the bright and shiny, upgrades can be prompted by inaccurate information. Sales people would be slacking on the job if they didn’t try to sell you something. If you’ve got a problem that is misdiagnosed, an upgrade can sound like the easiest solution, especially if continued support seems in doubt.

There are pretty much just two occasions when you need to upgrade controls.

You have to upgrade if there is no longer support for the control

That’s not to say “no longer newly available”. Plenty of companies service components long after they stop selling them new. That’s also not to say that the controls run under DOS or Win3.11 and Microsoft no longer supports them. True, those operating systems are no longer supported but that doesn’t affect you. The Field Service Engineer grabs his normal computer and any computer he would need to work on earlier systems. We keep several Thinkpad T20 units with DOS loaded for work on a variety of different early controls.

If the control is no longer supported that means the OEM no longer repairs units. While there are third party shops that can “repair” drives and motors, if the OEM is no longer supporting a piece of equipment, where would the shops get components from?

If you need something, and the only way to get it is an upgrade then you should upgrade

Say the current controls can’t handle the speed, the accuracy, or the new material you need to meet your goals, then it’s probably time for an upgrade. If new controls provide cost savings they can be justified. If things change in the rest of the plant and your controls are lagging, an upgrade is the answer.

Another reason we hear about is the upgrade for “Cost Savings” on hardware. This makes little sense and we hear it a lot. A client has a machine from 1980, and a drive fails. Repairing the drive is expensive, more than buying a new drive, so of course you upgrade the machine to new drives. Right? The problem is there are 3 drives on the machine, and the new drives don’t run with the old motors, so now you’ve got 3 new drives with 3 new motors. Oh yeah, and the drives don’t wire up the same as the old ones so now you’ve got to replace the entire control system with six weeks of downtime on a machine that’s almost a quarter of a century old that you were going to get rid of next year. That’s not really the more affordable option…

So when do you upgrade?

  • When you can no longer get repairs for your equipment and you’re running out of spares
  • When it provides a significant cost justification based on speed, accuracy, or capability.

Hold out on upgrades until they are absolutely necessary, because upgrading next year may mean you get a newer control than is available this year, meaning that the lifespan of the control may be several years longer.