3 Ways to Reduce Automation Modernization Risks

When organizations continue to run mature or obsolete supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), there are several business risks they could be facing, including increased and/or extended downtime and a variety of cybersecurity vulnerabilities. However, the possibility of requiring downtime to execute a modernization, along with other perceived risks of moving to an updated system—such as compatibility issues—prevent many companies from executing a much-needed modernization.

Following are three recommended steps to minimize the impact and risks of a needed automation update:

Execute in well-planned phases.We’ve seen many organizations shy away from modernization because they envision the project being performed as a rip and replace that requires a complete shutdown for many days or weeks. But at George T. Hall (GTH), we understand an extensive shutdown is not an option for most facilities, as lost production can be quite costly. Instead, we believe a well-planned, phased approach to modernization is more practical.

While we customize our modernization plans to meet the specific needs of each company we work with, let’s look at one example of how this works by reviewing a modernization we recently performed for a gold mining company. We engaged with this company when they decided to modernize their 25-year-old PLC control system, which included 13 hot standby Quantum systems. From our initial conversations, we knew a multi-year phased modernization plan would be the most practical option for converting this legacy system to a modern system using Modicon M580 process automation controllers (PACs) and X80 I/O. An overview of the three phases of this project, and the allotted downtime we were required to work within, is provided in the table at right.
Capitalize on scheduled downtime.To do this, a modernization plan likely needs to include hybrid solutions designed to support old and new portions of the system simultaneously. In the example described above, we had to demonstrate our understanding of the conversion requirements and the capabilities of the new software and hardware platforms when we provided our initial proof of concept. This included showing that we could complete the required work during the company’s scheduled downtime windows. We also showed how the hybrid systems in use between phases of the upgrade would not have compatibility issues. The hybrid system in place between phases II and III is shown in the  image at left.

Select an integrator with proven modernization experience.While many integrators have experience performing SCADA and PLC modernizations, not many have been around long enough to have extensive experience working with legacy and modern systems. At GTH, we have many decades of experience serving as a platform-agnostic integrator and we are well-versed in working with a wide variety of software and hardware for SCADA systems.

We also have developed proven methods and systems to help us further minimize downtime and risk during modernization implementations. For example, as described above, a standard part of our modernization process is the extensive factory acceptance testing (FAT) we perform on our solutions. We also supplement this testing with extremely thorough documentation for all our systems. Additionally, we have several industry certifications and partnerships that provide our customers with early access to innovative technologies as well as higher levels of support. In this example above, our status as a Certified Automation Partner with Schneider Electric gave us access to UMAC, which made it much easier and faster to convert from the existing PLCs to the modern PACs.

Download our white paper to learn more about mitigating control system risks and inefficiencies with a well-planned phased SCADA modernization:

Michael Howard is vice president of system integration at George T. Hall Company, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about George T. Hall Company, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.

Sponsored Recommendations

Crisis averted: How our AI-powered services helped prevent a factory fire

Discover how Schneider Electric's services helped a food and beverage manufacturer avoid a factory fire with AI-powered analytics.

How IT Can Support More Sustainable Manufacturing Operations

This eBook outlines how IT departments can contribute to amanufacturing organization’s sustainability goals and how Schneider Electric's products and...

Three ways generative AI is helping our services experts become superheroes

Discover how we are leveraging generative AI to empower service experts, meet electrification demands, and drive data-driven decision-making

How AI can support better health – for people and power systems

Discover how AI is revolutionizing healthcare and power system management. Learn how AI-driven analytics empower businesses to optimize electrical asset performance and how similar...