Tidal Wave of DCS Replacement On the Horizon

Manufacturers are either phasing out, or no longer supporting legacy distributed control systems, and the cost of maintaining legacy systems is outpacing the cost of migration. But those attempting migrations have discovered that the piecemeal approach to retrofitting older systems is riddled with problems.

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Many industries are facing a “tidal wave” of distributed control system (DCS) replacement in the next five to 10 years. Manufacturers are either phasing out, or no longer supporting legacy DCS systems, and the cost of maintaining legacy systems is outpacing the cost of migration. (This column is based on a presentation the author gave at The Automation Conference, hosted by Automation World in May.)

>> Click here for coverage of the 2012 Automation Conference. 

A DCS migration yields a positive return on investment by increasing uptime, improving operator visibility, lowering maintenance costs and reducing product switchover time. Companies are looking for solutions that improve operation, don’t break the bank, and can be sustained and improved for a generation. 

Manufacturers attempting migrations have discovered that the piecemeal approach to retrofitting older systems is riddled with problems. Project paths are determined by input/output (I/O) tag counts. Manufacturers focus on hardware and software replacement, resulting in increased down time. Current code is converted, for better or worse. Finally, responsibilities are divided among stakeholders, resulting in little buy-in overall.

A DCS migration process that starts with building the business case, then incorporating planning, delivery and sustainability into one cohesive solution—a process that Maverick Technologies calls “DCS Next”—shows better returns.

Getting the right fit
As with any professional service relationship, the manufacturer and automation service provider need to meet and determine if there is a good fit between their organizations. Both the products required and the relative size of the project needs to be considered. For example, if the manufacturer has multiple systems and technologies, a control system supplier who offers a single technology platform may or may not be a good fit.

>> Find an Integrator. CSIA offers an online directory that can help manufacturers find the right integrator for their migration project. Visit bit.ly/csiadirectory

The size of the project also has a bearing on the automation service provider chosen. Does the automation service provider have the proven processes, access to resources, technical capability and process knowledge to execute a successful migration? 

If you’re the manufacturer, you need to select a service approach that makes sense for your operation and fits your culture. Relationships that are built on trust provide more value in the long run.

Deliverables expected
Planning needs to be a continuous cycle of assessing business requirements, developing project plans, defining system boundaries, understanding inputs and outputs, and refining the system details. Automation service providers can be expected to deliver a complete plan for DCS migration, including the business case, project budget, I/O list reconciliation, detailed project execution plan, defined interfaces with information systems, vendor comparisons, plans for commissioning and documenting the work, training and transfer of ownership. As the project develops, manufacturers can expect detailed design drawings and functional specifications.

Once the initial migration has occurred, manufacturers will want to lock in the gains achieved by implementing a preventive maintenance program and ongoing staff training on the new tools and software. DCS migration is not a ‘replace-and-run’ solution. Continuous improvement is necessary to sustain the gains and contribute to key productivity indicators.

The control system is the manufacturer’s primary tool for running the operation. Profit margins, quality control, production and inventory management, and safety all hinge on the process control systems. A DCS migration is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make your manufacturing business better.

Paul Galeski, P.E., paul.galeski@mavtechglobal.com is chief executive officer at Maverick Technologies and a Control System Integrators Association (CSIA, http://csia.connectedcommunity.org) Certified member. Galeski also is a Certified Automation Professional and ISA Fellow. 

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