There are many reasons for converting machines and systems – both from the operator’s and the manufacturer’s point of view. Increased performance, modernization, automation, process engineering adaptation, savings in resources, service life, digitalization … are just some of the reasons cited in field reports. Conversions take place within a tight time frame and involve both risks and opportunities for manufacturers and operators. They require good project management and appropriate organization on both sides.
Over 30 participants from the special machinery and plant engineering sector were first introduced to the topic by speaker Peter Thomin, VDMA Business Advisory.
A survey of those present showed that around 50 percent of conversions are carried out due to changes in operating conditions and/or stricter product requirements. The reasons for this lie in potential savings and parts availability, such as the discontinuation of control components. Changes in environmental conditions or reaching wear limits, on the other hand, are only relevant for 10 to 15 percent of conversions.
Conversions and spare parts are the strongest revenue generators in service. In the “VDMA Customer Service Key Figures”, conversions are shown separately and account for at least 5 percent of total services on average in the industry. The majority of companies associate conversions with strong growth expectations. Half of the companies surveyed are proactive, while the other half offer conversions on request.
Proactive conversion packages and individual system conversions
Two companies, the Reifenhäuser Group and the Neuman and Esser Group, reported on their experiences in the conversion business.
Robin Schäfer and Nicolas Bröcher are responsible for the sale of conversions for plastic film production lines at Reifenhäuser and explained three customer motivations as examples
- More efficient production / return on investment
Detailed sample calculations for the return on investment are prepared together with the customer. In order to avoid problems with supposedly guaranteed values, tolerances in the input values and aspects for which the customer is responsible must be taken into account.
- Overall Equipment Effectiveness
Timely replacement of electrotechnical components (drives, PLC, HMI, etc.) can significantly extend the operating time of systems. The replacement of expiring components is actively offered to operators at Reifenhäuser.
- New products, new markets
The conversion of existing systems for the production of films with different properties and materials and for other applications is often initiated by the operator.
One of the prerequisites for successful conversions at Reifenhäuser is meticulously maintained plant-related documentation. Proactive conversion packages and individual system conversions are offered and implemented. The latter are the more complex, elaborate projects with a higher volume. The company has its own capacities for conversion sales in the areas of sales, project planning, order management and processing, project management, design and software.
In the conversion process from inquiry to acceptance, budget offers and risk assessments in the various categories are made before a qualified offer can form the basis of an order.
Staged initiation process for conversions
NEAC Compressor Service operates in a completely different market environment. René Anke, Head of Technical Consulting at NEAC Compressor Service GmbH & Co. KG, reported on the challenges involved in conversions of or on gas compression systems. Entire production facilities in the chemical industry or critical infrastructure in the gas supply sector often depend on their availability. Stricter regulatory requirements and third-party certifications characterize the business, with delays or failures resulting in extreme consequential damage.
Compressor systems are designed for a specific application and every change to the parameters leads to modifications. This first requires a feasibility check and a rough simulation of the desired new operating mode. This so-called preliminary check is carried out free of charge. The next stages of technical clarification and an engineering study for the compressor and peripheral system components are carried out in return for an engineering order. Only then can the implementation of a conversion be offered and commissioned.
Due to the extensive engineering and a detailed risk assessment, this staged initiation process is an accepted process for compressor operators. Conversions enable adaptation to new technical specifications and process conditions and can be implemented more quickly than new installations. Very close cooperation between production and service is required during implementation. A close exchange with the new machine sales department prevents friction losses and contributes to customer loyalty.
“Protect the investment”
A lively discussion among the participants revealed a high level of risk awareness in the companies. The opportunities for customer loyalty and support as well as positioning in the market are seen and actively exploited. One insight unites everyone: conversions are not done at a desk, they require competent action on site, from the first offer to acceptance.
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The event was organized by ProduktionNRW. ProduktionNRW is the cluster for mechanical engineering and production technology in North Rhine-Westphalia and is organized by VDMA NRW. ProduktionNRW sees itself as a platform for networking, informing and marketing companies, institutions and networks with each other and along the value chain. Significant parts of the services provided by ProduktionNRW are funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.