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Breathing New Life into an English Coiler

2024-02-26 paneel in machine

Project Summary:

  • Eltra designed and installed a new control system for an existing machine.
  • The new control system was custom-designed based on current usage.
  • Challenges included outdated schematics and international differences in technical standards.
  • Eltra also implemented a new safety scanner to create a safer workplace.

For many years, the machine had served faithfully. But increasingly, our client’s coiler began to exhibit issues. To avoid any potential problems, Eltra engineered an entirely new control system. Hardware Engineer Teun Siemons, Software Engineer Marco Brandt, and Service and Inspection Engineer Jasper Diepstraten were the pivotal team tasked with bringing the machine back up to speed. They discuss the unique challenges of updating an existing piece of machinery and how Eltra contributed to a safer workplace at the client’s site.

Could you briefly introduce this project and the machine?

Jasper: “This project involved retrofitting the control system of a coiler. We designed a new control system for an existing, older machine that coils insulated pipes onto spools. This machine is stationed at a client I frequently visit in my role as Service and Inspection engineer. We noticed that the machine was aging: critical parts from the old control system were being phased out and were no longer available, which could lead to extended downtime. To prevent this, we built a new control system. The machine has now been updated to current standards and is much more stable.”

What does a retrofit involve?

Teun: “The first step was to assess how and for what purposes the machine was used, as well as its configuration. As we were already familiar with the machine and the client, this process was relatively simple. For instance, we already had access to the old schematics. We also captured the operator working with the machine on video, which helped us see exactly what actions he took. From this, we developed a software capability profile. Our goal was to keep things the same for operators as much as possible, so our client would not have to retrain its staff.”

Marco: “After mapping out the functionalities, we designed the software. We conducted most tests in our workshop. With a new machine, these would typically occur at the machine builder’s location, but that was of course not possible with an existing installation. In our workshop, we set up motors and sensors to simulate parts of the coiler, allowing us to conduct extensive testing before installation on the real machine. Finally, we installed the control system and conducted a brief dry run. After commissioning the coiler, we remained on-site for several days to ensure everything functioned correctly.”

Is working on an existing machine different from working on a new one?

Teun: “Absolutely. We worked with existing schematics, which often turned out to be inaccurate. For example, modifications had been made over the years that weren’t documented and some things had been installed incorrectly during the original setup. Moreover, the machine was from England, which uses a different system for wiring numbering. We were caught off guard by this during installation, but quickly resolved the issue by rewiring.”

Marco: “Retrofits also involve working with pre-existing components that you might not be familiar with. For instance, this machine uses a brake that responds slightly slower than those we are used to. Because the coiled pipes accumulate a lot of tension, they would immediately start to unwind if the machine paused even briefly without the brake engaged. We only discovered this after installation, while a truck driver was waiting for a spool we still needed to produce. It was a stressful situation, but we managed to resolve it effectively.”

Were there any other aspects of this project you’d like to highlight?

Jasper: “By chance, we noticed an employee eating a sandwich within reach of the machine. That part of the coiler was deactivated, so there was no immediate risk. But if an accidental startup occurred, it would quickly lead to a dangerous situation. We recommended that the client install a safety scanner to disable that section when someone is nearby. By installing the scanner, we were able to create a safer workplace, which always feels good!”