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Retrofit stands for counteracting the cost-intensive replacement of technically obsolete machines. Instead, plants are brought up to the latest state of the art – in other words, a second chance for your equipment. A retrofit can save not only money, but also time and resources. Small and medium-sized companies in particular benefit from this.

What does retrofit mean?

The term retrofit is made up of two words: “retro”, which means backward in Latin, and the English word “fit”, meaning to adapt. In combination, the word retrofit describes the process of “turning old into new”. In industry, it refers to the adaptation of existing equipment to current technical conditions. Since the equipment is usually solidly built and largely functional, it can be modernized comparatively inexpensively with technical updates.

What distinguishes retrofit?

It is a cost-effective alternative to purchasing new equipment. The overhaul can increase parameters such as energy efficiency and product quality of the supposedly old machine and extend its service life. Before a plant leaves the company, it is checked whether components such as controls or automation can be upgraded.

Major advantages of retrofit:

  • Investment costs: The upgrading of technically obsolete equipment is usually more cost-effective compared to new purchases. This is one of the advantages which are considered to be particularly desirable.
  • Employees: Employees with many years of experience are familiar with the operation of certain machines. If the equipment is replaced, the operation would have to be relearned. If modernization is done instead, it retains most of its functions. This can save a great deal of retraining effort and resources.
  • Industry 4.0: By adding sensors, for example, technically obsolete machines can be networked with the Internet of Things (IoT). Digitization enables data to be transmitted almost in real-time. Subsequently, this data can be used for analyses and as a basis for essential decisions.
  • Conversion and parking space: Since the original machine does not have to be disposed of or repositioned in the case of an upgrade, it usually remains in its accustomed parking space. This saves cumbersome rebuilding of the machines and a great lack of space.
  • Increasing potential: If a machine is modified and its foundation is retained, its original potential can be utilized. Since its purpose is not changed, various adjustments lead to improvement. This exploits the potential of the equipment and, in the best case, can improve product quality or increase its efficiency.
  • Legislation: In order to meet legal requirements even with aging equipment, modifications or extensions of the equipment prove to be particularly advantageous. The requirements that must be met include, for example, emission reduction or occupational safety.

Furthermore, companies benefit from the availability of new parts. While spare parts for older models are usually more difficult to procure, new machine elements are produced more frequently and can therefore be reordered more easily. In addition, key plant characteristics such as functionality, productivity, and usually also quality can be optimized and increased.

Of course, it must be taken into account that not every machine can be updated. In cooperation with a specialist, individual assessments can be made as to whether retrofitting makes sense. In addition, safety regulations should always be checked and adapted on the basis of the legal situation (machine safety, employee protection).

What approach can be taken?

A systematic approach is essential when retrofitting machines. At the beginning, a detailed analysis is required. This includes answers to the following questions: What goals are being pursued, how can these be achieved, and what concrete information is needed to achieve the goal? Information about machine utilization, energy consumption, program or machine status plays an essential role.

In addition to the striking financial advantages that result from an upgrade, resource-saving effects, such as the elimination of time-consuming employee training, are decisive criteria that speak in favor of retrofitting. Before a retrofit, the feasibility is clearly checked and smart targets are defined afterward. New purchases of expensive equipment are therefore not always necessary and can lead to an extended service life of efficient equipment with comparatively little effort.