Until the latest and greatest industrial technology comes free of charge, legacy equipment is always going to be an important part of any manufacturing process.

Systems are being updated constantly, from robotics to sensors to industrial computers, and it’s simply not possible for most factories to be state-of-the-art 100% of the time. And while manufacturers and IT guys wish everything was brand new all of the time, we need to work in a world where that just isn’t the case. It’s not uncommon for many manufacturing spaces to have equipment that is two decades old still doing its part on the production line.

New technology and old technology are always going to live and work together, which means we have to make sure that modern equipment can interface with the legacy models they’ve come into replace or augment. 

Luckily, modernization of legacy equipment has become an important issue all throughout the industry, and there are more ways than ever to teach old dogs new tricks. 

1. Use Video Cameras to Augment a Lack of Data

Keeping an eye on the gauges and readouts of industrial machines isn’t always possible, especially in a heavily automated factory. With modern devices, industrial HMI panels and distant computers are fed a constant stream of information from the manufacturing devices on the factory floor. 

Older legacy devices often don’t have that level of interconnectivity. Many have no data connection at all, or nothing compatible with modern industrial computers. However, all is not lost! Instead of just excluding legacy devices from your manufacturing strategy or relegating them to back-ups, consider instead deploying video cameras.

Video cameras are cheaper and smaller than ever, and can be deployed to monitor anything from banks of machines to individual gauges, or they can be pointed at an entire control panel or gauge dashboard to allow for remote viewing. These video feeds are accessible anywhere, and can be piped directly to an existing HMI panel or adjacent rugged monitor to augment the data readouts from the more modern devices. 

And considering the latest advances in machine learning and image recognition, it may even be possible to have computers recognize the data on the video feed and export things like gauge readouts to a digital format to be viewed and stored alongside the IoT data being drawn from sensors and devices around the factory floor. 

And, of course, since legacy devices are older and generally more prone to failure, having the cameras pointed at them for visual inspection and quality control isn’t a bad idea either.

2. Consider Device Servers

One way to connect legacy equipment to modern industrial computers is through the use of “device servers.” If you’re unfamiliar, device servers allow devices with traditional serial ports to connect to (and interface with) standard Ethernet. 

With serial ports being the most standard data protocol in legacy devices, you can see how handy device servers are to bring older gear online. Plus, device servers tend to be rack mount PCs (or DIN rail PCs), making them relatively easy to install and mount alongside the rest of the gear.

One of the most important features of device servers is their ability to translate protocols from a number of devices. With serial port emulation, these industrial computers can “pretend” to be any of a hundred different connections on the software side. For businesses with a host of different legacy devices using different connections and data protocols from half a dozen different manufacturers, a device server can do wonders for fostering interconnectivity with modern networks. 

3. Deploy Industrial IoT Sensors

Data is king — in every venture, certainly, but especially in manufacturing and industrial work. Data helps businesses find their weaknesses and strengths, where they can improve and streamline to become more efficient. What practices and policies don’t work, which machines and processes are worth the time, and which are ultimately a waste of space? 

However, an incomplete data set is no data set at all. If only the most modern devices in the production line are able to connect to the network and provide the data, then any analysis becomes useless. Of course, this kind of data is also used to predict machine failures or slowdowns as well, which are even more common in legacy devices, thus doubling the importance of having that connection. 

But how does a modern data-minded business collect information from its older machines? 

One of the great features of the “Industrial Internet of Things,” or a network of connected industrial devices, is that not all of them are prohibitively expensive. And, in fact, many of the smaller sensors can be attached to legacy machines to provide the connected feedback and data they would otherwise be lacking. And it can be done at a fraction of the cost of replacing the equipment in question. 

Connected IoT sensors that detect factors like vibration or temperature can be fitted to any older machine with minimal cost and install time. Even these simple sensors can be used to first find normal operating parameters and then to warn the nearest HMI or CNC panel when the legacy machine has exceeded these parameters and is likely to breakdown or fail.

4. Find a Vendor with Customizable Industrial Computers

While most off-the-shelf computers come equipped with only the latest ports and interface connections, it is possible to find modern computers that are designed specifically to bridge the gap between the old and the new.

Customizable industrial PCs can be configured to meet an individual factory’s needs, whether they need an embedded computer, panel PC, or industrial rugged tablet. Their motherboards, expansion cards, and hardline connections can all be swapped around for company’s specific legacy needs. Not only are you getting a new machine, but you’re actively improving the old machines. 

Serial ports of all configurations can be plugged into compatible, modern industrial computers to keep them running and relevant long into the future. 

That old RS-232 serial connection on your industrial weight scales or CNC controllers doesn’t have to feel like an anchor – a new industrial computer can be retrofitted by the right manufacturer to work with nearly any kind of equipment.

A Long Legacy of Success

As you can see, there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater! Or live without important data that comes from . . . the baby. It’s not a perfect metaphor. 

Still, legacy devices are an unavoidable part of any venture and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so we might as well leverage all of the newest, inexpensive methods of keeping that equipment relevant and in good repair as long as possible. 

To learn more about integrating industrial computers and automation strategies with older manufacturing devices, contact the experts at Cybernet today for information, quotes, or advice.