Putting a new face on old extruder line

June 9, 2016

Many of the trends having an impact on the OEM market are also relevant to the aftermarket. Scott Barlow, president of Integrated Control Technologies (ICT), Coppell, Texas, said that operator and maintenance training is a challenge for many extruder plants. Many workers on the plant floor are screen-oriented, and companies have a hard time finding employees who are comfortable working with older controls, he said.

A second challenge for processors is that many older extruder lines operate with a lack of data. "A lot of extruders are operating their machines in the dark," he said. "All they know is their throughput." He sees a demand by processors to collect and archive data on operating parameters such as temperature and pressure, and to review archived data to troubleshoot quality problems.

In Barlow's view, knowledge of the extrusion process is absolutely crucial when upgrading older controls. He recommended that extrusion companies considering a controls upgrade hire a systems integrator who is thoroughly familiar with the extrusion process. He also said that processors considering an upgrade should specify the scope of the work that needs to be performed.

Barlow noted that ICT conducts an extruder audit for companies considering an upgrade. He said ICT's Tempcom replacement control system can be applied to any extruder in an upgrade. "The way the screens look and the way the machines operate is identical," he said, adding that standardization makes the jobs of both operators and maintenance staff easier. He is a proponent of PLC-based controls, which he notes have a long track record and are very stable in a plant environment.

He explained that the replacement control system has a common core program that can be modified. It can be applied to almost any extruder regardless of the type of product. "Ninety percent is the core program and 10 percent is customizable to the machine. That creates a consistent design with just a little bit of flexibility that we can apply to whatever the application is," he said.

Barlow said the trend away from proprietary software makes tying together machinery in an extrusion line less labor-intensive and less expensive. "On the plant floor, with everything Ethernet-compatible and being able to communicate simply, a lot of the [costs of integrating equipment] have been taken out," he said.

Another advance in extrusion controls is that control components are smaller, and some have been integrated into smaller packages that can perform several functions.

John DeGaspari, senior correspondent

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Integrated Control Technologies Corp.972-906-7445, www.integratedcontroltech.com