Making the connection

Werner Electric retrofit system brings equipment into the digital age

Posted on Jul 12, 2019 :: Plant News
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Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Sometimes the best ideas come from customers.

That’s the case with the Intelligent Retrofit Installation System, or I.R.I.S., which Werner Electric Supply developed to help a customer that wanted to upgrade its motor control center (MCC) units so they could connect to the ethernet/IP.

“We thought about what the best path would be forward. We couldn’t find a solution, so we created one ourselves,” says Andrew Jaeger, project manager-motor control centers for Werner. “I.R.I.S. allows us to bring facilities into the 21st century.”

In most facilities, MCCs are outdated and not connected to intelligent devices, which would allow employees to monitor the machines remotely and collect data on how they are operating, among other uses. Replacing MCCs is not only expensive because of equipment and installation costs, but also because of money lost during downtime, Jaeger says.

“This doesn’t require a big capital spend. It can be a phased-in approach,” Jaeger says. “We estimate the device can help a business save 40 to 50 percent of what it would cost for a complete replacement, and there’s a lot less downtime.”

Jaeger and Justin Wildesen, network solutions design manager – CCNA Industrial for Werner, teamed up to develop I.R.I.S. The process starts with installing a network designed to the converged plantwide ethernet standards put together by Rockwell Automation, Cisco and Panduit that would allow an organization to merge its IT and IoT devices on the plant floor.

Werner also designed a special top hat assembly — a specialized metal box that sits atop an MCC that simplifies conduit routing, enhances wire bending space and matches the look of the rest of the machine — that can be customized per installation, but primarily acts as a horizontal cabling load side termination point. That allows installers to put in a lower-cost 300-volt shielded cable to extend from the pull box to the zone enclosure where the longest cable runs. From there, the ethernet cable connects to the end devices.

“That’s a unique part of this and provides you with one cable coming out,” says Jaeger, who adds that development took about six months from the time he and Wildesen began drawing up ideas to working with manufacturers on building the device. “The system we have allows for direct port-to-port testing and troubleshooting while moving the majority of network equipment to more friendly IT locations.”

Connecting legacy machines to the IoT opens a whole new world for manufacturers. Jaeger says I.R.I.S. allows machine remote monitoring and control from a device via ethernet cable, linking an older motor center to the connected industrial operations.

“Being connected is a plus in so many areas. It can help with preventative maintenance since it collects data, such as how much energy is being used on a machine,” he says.

I.R.I.S. debuted at the 2019 Process Controls Forum, which was held in early May at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, and Jaeger says the response was positive. One great aspect of I.R.I.S. is as technology evolves, it will be easier to update the machines, he says.

“There are so many MCCs in industrial facilities that have legacy networks or none at all. I.R.I.S. provides those facilities a path forward and does so in a flexible, financially responsible way,” Jaeger says.