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The New Age of Vintage Machinery

May 28, 2021
A control system upgrade has put an automotive supplier’s +30-year-old diecasting unit at the cutting-edge of digital process control.

Very often a machine update has less to do with new equipment and everything to do with how a specific machine is operated – or how it is controlled. A control system upgrade by diecasting specialist Italpresse Gauss has brought a vintage high-pressure diecasting machine into the digital age for Ningbo Boli Automotive Components, a nonferrous foundry in China’s Zhejiang Province.

Ningbo Boli is a subsidiary of Ningbo Heli Mould Technology Co. Ltd. producing various automotive parts by sand casting, high-pressure diecasting, and gravity casting. It operates 13 Italpresse diecasting machines, including four 750-metric ton, IP750T HPDC machines still operating well after more than 30 years.

“Their casting performance remains far better than newer, cheaper machines with the same closing force,” explained Zhuxi Lin, project manager at Ningbo Boli. “So, we didn’t want to scrap the equipment and replace it with domestic machines, new or otherwise. Instead, we talked to Italpresse about upgrading the equipment, especially the control system.”

Picking one IP750T to upgrade first, Ningbo Boli had determined the project’s priorities. Scrap castings had to be automatically separated from good castings while the new system had to support digital data collection, remote access, and injection data analysis. Any solution had to collect, store, and display relevant process data like the injection curve in real time, while making it possible to remotely access and export data so that managers could monitor diecasting production easily.

At the same time, the system had to be simple and user-friendly so operators could easily supervise, monitor, and control the tasks performed by the machine. Ease of use also would allow new technical personnel to learn how to operate it quickly.

Two years ago, in May 2019, Italpresse Gauss supplied a technical proposal and quotation for an equipment modernization program focused on installing the IP LV (Light Version) supervisory control panel system. The IP LV already had been the focus in more than 40 successful upgrade projects, though this would be its first deployment in China.

Installed in October 2019, the IP LV at Ningbo Boli was designed specifically to replace older Italpresse control systems like the System 2000, System 3000, System PC, and Digistar. It employs the Gefran display controller, which is compact, fast and easily accessible for maintenance. The system’s fanless, 15-in. operator panel offers full touchscreen control and can record, monitor, analyze, and display injection data in real time – especially convenient for equipment maintenance technicians and machine operators alike.

IP LV’s fast network connectivity supports remote machine control and operation via VNC. Its Ewon industrial router enables remote troubleshooting and monitoring by on-site or offsite engineers, and makes the machine Industry 4.0-ready, with comprehensive data collection and export abilities.

“A big attraction was how short the whole upgrade period would be – Italpresse predicted one week of commissioning and delivery,” according to Lin. “In fact, the project only took five days and compared with installing new equipment the cost was far lower.”

With only the electrical control system upgraded, the mechanical operation of the IP750T remains unchanged. However, it’s now possible to use the features of the updated control system to optimize the legacy machines’ performance to improve productivity and quality.

“Italpresse Gauss met every one of our requirements with this EMP, which has proved to be a very cost-effective solution,” Lin said. “We are very satisfied with their efforts and with the better performance of the upgraded machine, especially its new digital capabilities.

“The IP LV control system upgrade is a great option for older machines that are still working well but whose control systems are obsolete,” Lin concluded – adding that the remain three HPDC machines would be upgraded with the IP LV system, too.