Walking the high wire09 September 2021

The ABB Drivebase app provides drive-specific technical resources

How do you balance replacing older or already-obsolete drives and controls against maximising their service lifespan – and what are the other key influencers at play? By Brian Wall

Here is a common scenario: one of your essential and long-serving motors or pump controllers suddenly fails. Worse still, it is now obsolete. With no off-the-shelf replacement (or spare parts) to hand, reinstating normal operations is likely to prove a painful process – and at what cost to productivity and profits?

At what point might it have been sensible to abandon the old, even though still functioning quite happily, and invest in the new? Taking that route can in itself involve a substantial financial outlay, but is it prudent to risk a critical equipment failure that sees production grind to a halt and even greater expenditure to remedy the fallout?

Getting the timing right of any investment in new equipment is often going to be something of a high-wire act. Yes, it could be seen as profligate to go ahead when existing drives and controllers may still have more to give. But many would argue it is something that needs to be done anyway – issues of longevity aside – to keep pace with new technology and not fall behind competitors who have embraced the latest generation of sophisticated drives and controllers.


Matthew C. Pownall, motion service manager, ABB UK points to the huge strides that have been made in motor and VSD technology in recent years, arguing that “embracing the trend towards digitalisation does not necessarily have to involve replacing legacy equipment at all, and little in the way of downtime.”

By way of example, he references the ABB Ability Smart Sensor, a device that attaches directly to either new or legacy equipment across the powertrain, including motors, bearings and pumps. The smart sensor turns the motor, bearing or pump into a smart device, tracking temperature, vibration and other variables, and feeding it, via the cloud, into a dashboard accessed via plant terminal, or even a tablet or smartphone.

“It lets operators have a constant view over performance and maintenance requirements, allowing potential faults to be identified and fixed before they turn into failures, while affording unprecedented opportunities to optimise the powertrain,” he states. “The smart sensor is a low-cost solution that brings legacy equipment into the digital age, without the need for wholesale replacement.

Moreover, digital solutions, such as augmented reality (AR), open exciting new opportunities for virtual collaboration and support,” he adds. “For example, service engineers can now provide their assessments remotely, minimising potential health and safety risks, and reducing downtime and total cost of ownership.”

Keeping track of legacy assets can also be a challenge, but solutions are available to make it easier, states the ABB manager. “A lifecycle assessment [LCA] streamlines the process, providing a dynamic inventory of your VSD and motor installed base, logging age, location, criticality, operating environment, service history and part replacement history, allowing maintenance and upgrade strategies to be tailored to the needs of each device.”

Meanwhile, the demand for industry to reduce energy consumption and lower carbon emissions has never been greater. Pownall says: “ABB Ability technologies enable an end user to analyse their data more intelligently, providing insights to energy-efficiency improvements to help reduce carbon emissions and bring down overall energy costs.”


One company focused on ensuring the durability and long life of such equipment is Mitsubishi Electric. Having already pioneered a more collaborative approach to designing and delivering automation systems employing low-power drives, the company has set up a new network of drive solutions centres (DSCs) composed of regional partners supported by Mitsubishi Electric and chosen for their knowledge and expertise.Partners announced so far are Total Automated Solutions; Lawrence Electrical Contractors; Newton Tesla (Electric Drives); and Engineering Systems & Projects.

The knowledge developed by the new DSC network is being actively shared to improve all areas of service delivery for customers: from design and installation to ongoing service and site support. A key aspect of the DSC, states Mitsubishi Electric, includes on-site service for optimisation, updates and repairs. Also, part of the offering is smart condition monitoring and predictive maintenance for various components and systems, helping to avoid unscheduled downtime.

For over 30 years, one North West-based cement manufacturer had specified high-power Mitsubishi Electric variable speed drives (VSDs). Originally supplied and installed by DSC partner Newton Tesla, each of the VSDs has clocked up on average 242,000-plus hours, running 24/7 in between annual maintenance shutdowns.

Prior to this year’s shutdown, it was decided to take the opportunity to upgrade the largest of the eight ‘kiln critical’ cooling fan VSDs, rated 280kW at 610A. Newton Tesla supplied the original VSDs and was awarded the contract to carry out this important upgrade. The drive solution? To retrofit the Mitsubishi Electric FR-MT-A140E with the latest FR-A840-610-EC VSD (which has the same rating).

“The upgrade was very straightforward,” says managing director George Newton, “despite the 30-year age gap between the old and new VSDs. The mounting footprints were identical, allowing the new VSDs to be fitted easily into the existing control panel, providing a seamless integration with the power management and I/O signals from the plant control room.”

He also notes that the new A840 series VSD run much cooler than its predecessor, due to the latest generation power devices, and this resulted in greater accumulative power savings. Also, the Mitsubishi Electric A840 VSDs use CC-LINK IE FIELD connectivity as standard, as well as an embedded PLC, which can be programmed using the FR Configurator software.

The upshot, reports Newton Tesla, is that the Mitsubishi Electric VSDs can be readily retrofitted across the 0.75kW-315kW power range, due to footprint compatibility with legacy models – for example, A140, A240, V240, A540 and F540 VSDs.


There are, of course, times when there is no choice but to go ahead with a replacement, for what would seem to be all the right reasons. For example, when a 300kW DC motor failed at a major plastics manufacturing company, the potential downtime and financial losses became all too real. The company was facing a lead time of between eight and seventeen weeks to repair the DC motor. Clearly, that was not an option. An alternative faster solution was needed, and Newton Tesla’s response was a standard AC motor – readily available and typically a third of the cost of a comparable DC motor.

Along with Mitsubishi Electric’s new A800 series inverter, the AC motor provided advanced vector control and a higher torque than the DC motor. Moreover, Newton Tesla was able to supply and install the new motor and inverter control panel, returning the line to full production in 10 working days.

Brian Wall

Related Companies
Engineering Systems & Projects Ltd
Mitsubishi Electric Uk Ltd
Newton Tesla (Electric Drives) Ltd

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