ARC 2011: Hot Loading and Grey Bearding

Feb. 10, 2011
Two interesting new buzzwords I picked up here at ARC in Orlando yesterday are "hot loading" and "grey bearding".

From my very limited grasp of the concept, hot loading addresses the time and risk to stop production every few months for software updates. The time alone, no matter how effectively scheduled, is lost production. But more importantly, the risk involved if there are unintended consequences to your software upgrade could create a nuisance or real trouble.

Hot loading, quite simply, involves running two identical parallel systems where you update software by downloading updated version while retaining old one in case you need to revert back.

Admittedly this takes a major change in any organization’s  approach to automation which has tremendous implications on the design of control systems.

Hot loading involves maintaining two views of your database (old and new, one active and one passive) where you can upgrade your software into the passive version and watch all effects it has on the plant production allowing dynamic reporting during the evaluation mode. You can evaluate the software upgrade for both expected and unexpected consequences. For instance, what happens after a restart?

In the case of unintended consequences, you are able to return to previous version without reloading old version and without process impact.

If all is well, you convert to new, upgraded system and now retain the old as the passive system.

Hot loading software updates allows for safer operation and more predictability. According to the presentation at ARC (from which I have taken the liberty to quote from extensively), hot loading mitigates and anticipates any adverse impact before it happens.

Another buzzword, grey bearding, involves the much talked about aging of the engineering population.  The dilemma is, how do you capture all this knowledge before the experience walks out the door?

It’s one thing for a team of “grey beard” engineers to work through a problem that results in a process change, but the concept of why that change occurred, and the e-mail discussions showing the genesis of that change, are buried or lost.

So a new engineer will inherit the change, never knowing the logic and rationale behind the design modifications.  

How important is this?  Not sure, but it seems a shame to lose all these “lessons learned.” One panelist earlier in the week, however, remarked, “I don’t know why everyone is so upset about all of us retiring. We came in as kids ourselves and figured it out, and I’m sure the next generation of kids will come in and figure it out too.”

From a supplier's perspective, the grey beard dilemma may represent fantastic opportunity. If you've been shut out of a plant for years, new, fresh faces may represent a chance to change things up in your favor! Sometimes a new team will not bring old prejudice's into play.


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