If a machine no longer works, you have two options: you can buy a new one or retrofit your current one. To make the right choice, you need to weigh the pros and cons of each option. At Viscofan process engineering manager Neil Luckham tackles this common question as follows.
The Viscofan Group is the world leader in casings for meat products. The company has production facilities in several countries around the world. One of them is located in Hasselt, where Neil Luckham is responsible for the machines.
“Every year we check the machines in our plant to determine which machines needs extra attention. There are two main reasons why it is useful to take a closer look at them”.
When Viscofan expects an increase in demand for a certain product. “If the machine does not meet modern expectations, there is a good chance that it will not be able to cope with this extra capacity.
If they want to increase the yield of a certain machine. “For us, ‘yield’ is a broad concept. Extra speed, for example. Higher quality. Or more automation.”
Modifying another machine, retrofitting or buying a new one?
“The next step is to decide which solution is the best. Can we modify another machine that is currently being used for a less popular product? This will give us more capacity to meet the higher demand for a more popular product”.
“Or is it better to focus on that specific machine? Should we buy a new one or retrofit the existing one? The return on investment is a crucial factor in making this decision”.
Cost estimation versus result.
“Thanks to our experience, we are able to make a fairly accurate cost estimate ourselves. This rough budget is sufficient for the first decision”.
“Then it comes down to comparing those prices with what the result will be. What do we get for the money we invest? What yield will our investment have? A retrofitted machine will never exceed the capabilities and quality of a new machine, but sometimes the difference in price is substantial. On the other hand, it is not always wise to choose the cheapest solution.
“After we have chosen between new and retrofitting, we ask several companies for quotations. Once we have received them, it’s all about the proposed solution, service and pricing. We also find ‘service’ to be a broad concept: from the professional approach of the company to factors such as proximity. And once again: the lowest price does not always win”.
“We also require compliance with certain legal and safety standards, as well as with our internal regulations. Nothing unusual, but some companies are better at this than others”.
Testing comes first, trust will follow later
“It is normal that you prefer companies you have worked with before. When you receive two proposals that differ little, you tend to choose the more familiar name. Because you know the service, communication, liability … are all good”.
How does an unknown mechanical engineering company win a place among the companies with which Viscofan has already worked? “There is only one way to find out if a company can keep its promises: place an order. For example, we usually give them a small test order first – and I think most companies do. Only if we are sure of their competences, we trust them with a major investment.”
Acting proactively = more flexibility
Neil concludes with a final opinion on retrofitting. “Don’t wait too long. Good mechanical engineering companies such as VINTIV usually have a well-filled order book. Ask for your quotations well in advance so that you can place an order flexibly when it suits you best”.
“Viscofan has a strict one-year budget cycle. To give me the flexibility I need as an engineer, at the beginning of a year I try to get a good overview of what I want to do next year. I try to predict what investments will be needed to keep our machines in good condition. Do I need a new one? Which machines are eligible for a retrofit? And I immediately request quotations”.