Case Study: Circuit Board Maker Upgrades Five Machine Controls Over a Holiday Weekend
Gorilla Circuits outgrows 13-year-old “black box” controllers, installs state-of-the-art controllers that it can support in-house. Integrator re-writes software vs. translating code line by line.
As Gorilla Circuits Inc. built its printed circuit board fabrication business over the past four decades, it acquired production equipment from a number of suppliers. When control systems purchased in 1998 started to suffer from reliability and lack of support, the company decided to upgrade its hardware.
Downtime is never an appealing portion of upgrades, and it’s particularly loathsome in the highly competitive circuit board market. That’s why Gorilla decided to use a four-day holiday weekend to upgrade five etching machines in its 60,000 square foot facility in San Jose, Calif.
The 13+-year-old Siemens Step 5 platforms were state of the art in the mid to late 90s, but they were being asked to do more every year, making it apparent that an upgrade was needed.
“Gorilla wanted to upgrade to equipment they could maintain in-house. We looked at the complexity of their systems and their financial constraints and decided to upgrade with Siemens Step 7-1200,” says Andy Whitworth, a co-founder of Volo Technologies Inc. of Roseville, Calif. Together, Whitworth and his partner Ben Jones have nearly 40 years of experience in industrial automation.
The maintenance issue was critical for Gorilla, since the Step 5 gear was effectively a black box that they couldn’t support in-house. Upgrading was important over the long lifetimes of the capital equipment, which controls the chemical, rinsing and dry chambers in the etchers that create a circuit board’s critical copper traces. The S7-1200 is Siemens newest family of controllers, so it has far more diagnostics capabilities than its 1990s-era predecessor.
Once that decision was made, Volo created a migratory roadmap based on Siemens technology that included custom electrical design, HMI and PLC programming, on-site startup, customer personnel training and a full documentation package.
When the July 4th weekend drew near, Volo’s team started the transition by identifying all the existing I/O points and labeling them in the control panel. “We generated a cable schedule for the lines that needed to be terminated. Effectively, we gave them a document that provided a step by step changeover procedure for the cable structure so they can swap out hardware and maintain traceability,” Whitworth says.
Once that task was completed, the S5 was removed. The hardware change from S5 to S7 was fairly straightforward, but the software side was more challenging. Volo’s team rewrote the functionality of the S5 for the new S7 controller.
“We identified the S5 program functionality and translated it into the written word, saying how the system operated step by step. The customer then confirmed that functional document, and we wrote the new program for the new platform,” Whitworth says.
This new program also fit in with Gorilla’s goal of supporting its own system. “This was a generic OEM program that incorporated functionality for several machine models across the OEM’s range, the annotation was also English translated from Italian. Gorilla wanted it simplified so they could easily understand it, even a few years down the road when new people might be working with it. We simplified the programs so they can support it going forward,” Whitworth says.
That conversion process is much more difficult than a typical line-for-line transition, he adds. That’s because Volo’s programmers had to fully understand how the program is intended to operate and ensure that the new software does what’s expected of it. “That’s much more difficult than simply converting a program on a line-by-line basis, where you don’t fully need to know what the program actually does,” Whitworth says.
The upgrade didn’t stop at the controller. A number of field devices including valves and instruments were upgraded to match them with the state-of-the-art technology. Though the pressure was on, Volo completed the transition within the tight timetable.
Looking further beyond the PLC platform upgrade, Gorilla requested an intuitive HMI interface. When its equipment was installed in the 90s, the range of operator interfaces was limited compared to what is available today. Now, a new full-color touch screen interface incorporates simple user-friendly controls and detailed status. A comprehensive alarming and diagnostics system allows operators and engineers to quickly diagnose system problems.
A simple program management screen allows operators to create new program profiles and edit existing ones. A simple press of a button allows operators to download program parameters to meet the changing need of the customer products. Since the upgrades in mid 2010, the units have been operating at full capacity without issue.
The work was completed over the holiday weekend, but in some ways it’s not yet finished. Gorilla wants to network more of its equipment, so Volo put the hardware and structure in place to make that simple upgrade. First off, the units included Ethernet capabilities on the controllers and HMIs. In the second phase, the five machines will be added to a new plant Ethernet network.
“The final steps will be to install Ethernet cabling to network together the units and for Volo to develop a WinCC Scada application,” Whitworth says.Have an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>