Obsolescence and lack of technical support typically drive the need to replace legacy control systems in manufacturing. Typical questions that surface during these discussions include: Do we just replace like-for-like? How big of a cutover period will production give us to rip out the old and put in the new? Are there inherent problems with the legacy system that we should correct as part of the project scope? Are there ancillary systems that will also need to be replaced along with the legacy control system? Is our instrumentation working and accurate? Will our network need to be updated? Should we increase our data mining efforts to create better analysis tools for management? Do we embrace mobility technology? Do we spread this migration across multiple years due to the complexity or overall cost? Do we increase the project scope to include our digital transformation plans?
The answers to these questions can produce a range of results. The right combination of answers and a competent integrator partner can lead to significant and noticeable improvements in a plant’s operation along with bringing to life your Industry 4.0 initiatives.
A catalyst for broad improvement
Let’s face it, risk factors such as time and money (mostly money) are the big influencers on migration projects. So, when is it really time to undertake a control system migration? Is it time to migrate when replacement components are only available on eBay or Craigslist; or when the legacy system is so old that only one guy knows how to troubleshoot and maintain the system; or the plant manager stresses when daily production quotas cannot be met because the old control system routinely faults and the operators and maintenance struggle to find the root cause leading to disruptions of manufacturing work flow; or when a company-wide Industry 4.0 initiative is mandated but the control system stakeholders know the legacy system cannot provide a sufficient data and communications platform.
All of these situations, and many more, can all be addressed with the proper plan and the proper partner.
Migrations of legacy control systems can be the catalyst to making improvements across the board—from production operations and on-site and remote technical support to predictive maintenance, energy management, and system security. However, replacing systems ‘like-for-like’ does not typically provide the opportunity to enhance the usefulness of the new automation system for the stakeholders. Migrations do not necessarily need to steal an inordinate amount of cherished production time for the cut-over with proper planning and execution.
Capital budget limitations can be overcome by developing a multiple year plan based on a well thought out, phased migration model. Technology platforms can be advantageously used for the business, meaning that, as you consider such migrations, be sure to reach out to your IT counterparts to see what’s in their plan for systems convergence. In these discussions you can identify potential overlap in solutions and budgets.
Existing operational problem areas can be addressed during the migration, and the project budget most likely will not experience a sizable burden as some of the issues operators and maintenance deal with can often be fixed in the control code or HMI. Migrations can utilize industry-accepted programming and graphical standards to make the operator’s day-to-day job more efficient and effective as well as improve the operations engineers and technician’s ability to troubleshoot problems faster.
Legacy control system migrations are the ideal time to prepare for Industry 4.0 functionality. For example, developing a common information model for process and event data across the enterprise can serve as the foundation for other initiatives. Access not just to data, but to contextualized data, is paramount to the success of forward-thinking data-driven projects. What’s more, additional capital might be available from the Industry 4.0 budget for these system enhancements. And the payback, in many cases, is almost always immediate, as clients routinely glean process and operational insights that had been previously masked, unnoticed, or unknown.
Stephen Malyszko, Chief Executive Officer at Malisko Engineering, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). See Malisko Engineering’s profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.