Industrial Control System Migrations: 5 Considerations to Move Forward

Jan. 25, 2020
Two factors driving the upgrade or replacement of legacy control systems are increased component failures and lack of replacement parts due to obsolescence. The risk associated with losing control of a process can be significant when equipment fails.

Today’s industrial manufacturers are faced with an increasing pressure to update or replace legacy control systems to maintain a more efficient, highly functioning, and sustainable control system infrastructure.

Navigating the best path towards a new, optimized automation system offering is key to future success. Migration projects, however, are extremely complex and the risks can be high without proper planning and the right team of experts. Manufacturers must carefully weigh the resource demands and system options while continuing to meet customer demands for higher-quality products and to stay competitive in an ever-changing market.

Before implementing a control system migration, it’s best to have a planned and disciplined approach. To help pave the way to a successful migration, take a look at the following five key considerations:

1.             Project justification
Determining what the control system migration scope should include, how much the project will cost, how long it will take are all important, but defining the potential return on investment (ROI) is key to getting management buy-in. As many corporations think in terms of business goals, objectives, and strategies, it’s best if the migration benefits can be tied to desirable business outcomes. Thus, to justify a migration, first identify and document the desirable business outcomes, such as:

•               Make more product by increasing facility throughput;

•               Improve asset utilization;

•               Address regulatory compliance issues;

•               Reduce unplanned downtime;

•               Improve pricing through better quality control;

•               Reduce variable costs such as corrective maintenance services; and

•               Reduce fixed costs like legacy system support contracts. 

The key here is to apply the known benefits that will result from a migration to the business goals that the company is trying to achieve. The right time to develop this justification is during the upfront planning phase.

2.             Upfront planning
Performing the right amount of engineering during the front-end loading/front-end engineering design (FEL/FEED) planning stage is proven to reduce overall project cost, minimize risk, decrease scope changes after authorization, and increase the likelihood that a project meets or exceeds its financial goals. Risk greatly increases without a scope that has been defined and agreed upon by the various stakeholders. Performing an appropriate level of upfront engineering while still allowing for some scope evolution is critical to getting your project started on the right foot. With automation migration projects, the cutover plan affects all scope areas and therefore needs to be decided up front. A good FEL effort provides the following:

•               I/O list;

•               System architecture;

•               Comprehensive project execution plan (PEP);

•               Installation and commissioning plan;

•               Project schedule;

•               Total installed cost (TIC) estimate;

•               Total cost of ownership (TCO) estimate; and

•               Analysis for platform selection. 

Engaging the right team early in the process with subject-matter experts who understand the legacy platform along with current standards and best practices is key. Be sure to include plant operations, maintenance, and engineering resources on the project team whose knowledge and feedback is critical. Utilizing a qualified third-party automation solutions provider will bring considerable expertise to the team and help utilize proven best practices that will deliver value throughout the new control system’s entire lifecycle. If you wait to engage an expert partner later in the project, many aspects of the scope will already be cast in less desirable ways due to decisions made up front.

3.              Innovate for real improvement
Considering the many limitations of a legacy automation system that was designed and built 20+ years ago, manufacturers must innovate—not simply replicate—the functionality of their existing legacy infrastructure. Limitations in the older technology prevent open communication to smart field devices, subsystems, and higher-level enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Operators are less effective using outdated human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and their response to abnormal situations is inhibited by poorly functioning legacy alarm systems. A migration is the ideal time to reevaluate your current operations and leverage new, innovative technology to develop a custom-fit offering that improves safety, operational efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability.

Modern control systems contain valuable new technologies and compliance with standards that offer significant opportunity to improve asset utilization and fully realize the benefits Big Data and increased connectivity provide. These new technologies have been developed to enhance operator effectiveness with high-performance graphics, reduce operational risk with proper alarm management tools, and ensure effective cyber security protection against malicious attacks on control system vulnerabilities.

4.              Project execution plan
As with any complex project, a detailed project execution plan (PEP) is essential and should include defined roles and responsibilities, risk matrix, quality plan, testing plan, training plan, resource-loaded schedule, and other appropriate items before jumping into execution. A full-scale control system migration needs additional planning to minimize unit downtime and determine the exact requirements for final cutover. Many benefits are often realized if the project team maximizes the amount of pre-outage work and associated testing prior to planned facility outages or turnarounds (TARs).

Disciplined testing and commissioning procedures executed by qualified resources are critical for safe and efficient startup. Shortcuts here inevitably lead to ongoing operational problems costing many times the minimal savings from reduced commissioning time. Thus, risk identification, mitigation, and cutover planning are critical elements to incorporate early in the PEP development.

5.              Team collaboration
Collaboration is key to getting the right team to effectively work together and avoid problem areas down the road. Good teamwork can be fostered through regular communication and clearly defining roles and responsibilities, so everyone is on the same page. As with any project, you want to minimize unnecessary scope changes. Automation projects, however, need to allow for an appropriate level of scope evolution as not every detail can be defined up front. Having the team recognize and respect this characteristic will help to reduce the stress on everyone involved.

It is important to build relationships with all personnel involved—especially plant operations and maintenance groups. Anticipate resistance to change and account for culture obstacles as a risk. With a strong internal team and a third-party partner with the expertise and skills required to successfully integrate and implement automation system components and technology, manufacturers can guide the migration to success and maximize the return from their new automation investment.

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