Control system migration: surviving the 'perfect storm' to improve performance — Part 2

Honeywell Process Solutions Ltd

By Process Online Staff
Tuesday, 14 November, 2017


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Industrial companies are faced with an increasingly competitive business environment and control systems that are becoming obsolete. The fast pace of technology development opens up new opportunities, but this is being offset by an increasing skills shortage. Incremental migration coupled with outcome-based service programs can help an organisation move forward and reduce TCO.

As explained in Part 1 of this article, proactive is the new normal when it comes to keeping automation technology up to date. Companies that migrate to a newer, more effective control system gain a significant advantage over competitors that simply wait for assets to reach end of life. The ‘doing nothing’ option simply isn’t viable.

Upgrade before operational issues arise

Industrial organisations must immediately do proper planning and budget allocation for control system upgrades in order to avoid resource scarcity. Leading global automation suppliers have data indicating hundreds of thousands of legacy DCS nodes and thousands of software licenses will soon become obsolete or phased out.

It is clear that inaction on migration strategies is causing existing services to be underutilised and, by early next decade, a crossover will occur where demand for control system upgrades will outstrip the available qualified resources.

Before migration to a new automation system can take place, most companies require a strong financial justification for the needed capital expenditures. This justification compares the cost of continued operation with the DCS to the costs and benefits of migration to a modern control solution. Together, these factors comprise the total cost of ownership (TCO).

Process control systems don’t have moving parts and aren’t subject to normal wear and tear, so reasons for migration must go beyond basic loss of functionality to other more complex areas.

The upgrade possibilities for a legacy DCS include:

  • Technology refresh involving the replacement of legacy electronics with modernised ones providing improved efficiency, lower power consumption and environmentally friendly materials
  • Technology upgrades involving the replacement of existing equipment with newer generation technology that enables improved performance, reduced maintenance costs and new operational and functional capabilities
  • Intellectual property upgrades transitioning current control strategies, applications and HMIs to more advanced technology


Put an effective project plan in place

The first step in preparing for a control system migration is developing a comprehensive project plan. This involves working with all stakeholders — including operations, engineering and plant management — to align on scope, risk assessment and the overall project roadmap. Project participants should evaluate and prioritise what is important from their individual perspectives. This helps to create ownership and a shared vision throughout the organisation.

In the early stages of a control system migration, the project team should identify the primary objectives for technology upgrades. These may include:

  • Increased control system reliability
  • Reduction of risk
  • Enhanced alarming capabilities
  • Improved historical capabilities
  • Expanded access to DCS information from third-party systems
  • Improved overall intercommunications capability
  • Increased security capabilities (often overlooked)


As part of good engineering and project management practices, companies should determine the best time to migrate and identify the optimal migration path associated with clearly defined goals. They should also define the project through front-end engineering and use a proven approach with comprehensive checklists and detailed cutover plans. Lastly, it is important to define intermediate operability and training plans.

Besides a scheduled turnaround, there are a host of other factors that enter into the optimal timing for a migration. These include:

  • Production rates
  • Holiday schedules
  • Availability of support
  • Release dates of software and associated functionality
  • General business outlook


Increasingly, control system migrations are performed ‘on-process’ using technology that replaces the existing user interface and provides modern functions, while retaining the original system’s controllers, field connections and devices. With this approach, all or part of the old DCS and the new automation system operate simultaneously, allowing elements as small as one control loop at a time to be migrated to the new platform. If the plant has a redundant control architecture, on-process migration allows an upgrade to the next system release while maintaining view and control of processes.

Collaborate to reduce costs and risks

The success of a migration project can be ensured by initial preparation involving the control system supplier and their migration specialists. The supplier’s expertise, combined with extensive data gathering and analysis in the early stages of the project, help reduce the effort and risk involved in migration. Close collaboration with the automation vendor can also minimise interruptions to process operators, and eliminate loss of control and view of the process.

Knowledgeable assistance from the control system supplier can include:

  • Strategies for migrating and supporting existing control system nodes
  • Proposals for consolidating legacy control systems to drive down costs and enhance safety
  • Recommendations for ensuring the reliability, robustness, security and future expandability of process control networks


By working together, automation suppliers and end users can set forth a plan to help plants take advantage of the latest control innovations without compromising their initial investments. In addition, they can utilise long-term support to maintain intellectual property in graphics and advanced control. Such a holistic view not only ensures facilities have a smooth transition to the latest automation system, it also pinpoints areas of potential improvement that can be addressed using new technology, resulting in a higher ROI than just addressing the obsolescence issue.

The aim of any modernisation effort is to minimise process disruptions and preserve existing field wiring while reducing system footprint, engineering and installation effort. To this end, users should compare the cost of different ‘migration in place’ strategies with a traditional ‘rip and replace’ approach.

Typical migration alternatives can include:

  • Moving control to current hardware to preserve the installed I/O and all of the existing engineering (ie, obsolescence avoidance/intellectual property preservation)
  • Moving control to current hardware to preserve the installed I/O and re-engineering to the current control software (ie, obsolescence avoidance/control modernisation)
  • Moving control to current hardware, upgrading to new I/O and re-engineering to the current control software (ie, platform and control modernisation)
  • Removing the control system, including I/O, and completely re-engineering all of the control software (ie, rip and replace).


Properly planned and implemented, control system migrations enable industrial organisations to migrate legacy control platforms at their own pace, allowing new controllers to be added at any time and integrated with existing equipment. They also permit the upgrade of subsystems and function blocks to new controllers whenever the user decides.

Realise the benefits of modern technology

Once industrial organisations have upgraded to the latest automation technology through an up-to-date advanced DCS platform, they will enjoy the benefits of improved operational efficiency, greater process reliability, reduced risk and increased plant productivity. Additional advantages will be realised though lower operating expenses (OPEX) and capital expenses (CAPEX).

An advanced DCS platform may also employ scalable capabilities for project execution and system management, including virtualisation and cloud engineering solutions, and remotely configurable universal I/O cabinets, which allow for late-stage design changes, reduced footprint and minimal hardware required for implementation. This approach reduces and in some cases even eliminates marshalling, simplifies engineering and configuration during the design phase of a project, and saves on installation costs. Additionally, the use of advanced collaboration and HMI technology gives users the ability to share information across multiple locations and simplify engineering and operations across thousands of distributed assets.

Sustain assets with outcome-based support

It has never been more crucial for manufacturers to continuously improve their operations and respond appropriately to changing market conditions, while upholding the best performance standards and reducing total cost of ownership. Companies need to employ a knowledgeable staff, manage the complexities of open technology, plot an appropriate technical direction applicable to their specific situation, and maintain the correct alignment between support and business strategies.

Most plant automation departments are challenged just keeping their heads above water but are aware they have issues to address, not the least of which are missed opportunities to improve performance. Operations should move beyond traditional transactional business approaches and engage in a true relationship with an automation partner who takes ownership for outcomes.

Some control system suppliers provide flexible control system support programs that offer agreed service levels rather than prescribed quantities of materials and labour. This ‘pay for performance’ approach takes a strategic view to minimise the total cost of ownership, guarantee performance and utilise the automation system to improve business results. The programs are based on shared risk and reward, comprehensive life cycle coverage, risk and change management, best practices, and a clear support contract with specific performance benchmarks.

With an outcome-based service solution, the customer hands partial or complete responsibility for system support to the automation vendor. This means they no longer have to worry about the complications of skills competency, parts maintenance, technology roadmaps, etc. The two parties agree on scope, outcome levels and a fixed cost, and the customer maintains governance. The services can be delivered to stabilise existing platforms (addressing remedial requirements to bring the system to a supportable basis) or sustain their performance for a period of time (supporting the system while improvements are being made, and then implementing outcomes-based responsibility).

Outsourced services can also employ a ‘pain/gain’ model for the automation supplier versus key performance indicators (KPIs), which imposes penalties if a loss of view (LOV) or loss of control (LOC) occurs. All this hinges on the system’s integrity, meaning it needs to operate with supported hardware and software implemented to best practices. The project begins with an assessment of plant performance, an audit of the existing system, benchmarking and risk assessment. Then a maintenance plan is developed that is unique to the site.

When fully executed by the automation supplier with guaranteed system performance, outcome-based support services provide preventive maintenance routines based upon proven best practices. They also deploy continuous system monitoring, which offers alerting to support incident management and diagnostic data for reporting, availability, capacity and problem management. Support experts are responsible for identifying automation and cyber vulnerabilities, and remediation requirements, and a dedicated performance manager has active management of all incidents and plans.

Conclusion

For industrial organisations, a successful modernisation program can help reduce total cost of ownership, increase production rates, meet regulatory guidelines and manage risks, extend the life and performance of systems, and improve response to changing business demands.

When it comes to plant automation systems, there is no upside to inaction. Control system migration projects, although challenging, have the potential to deliver great value to industrial operations. The process used to arrive at migration timing and scope has considerable influence on whether that value is actually achieved. The most critical consideration is planning: the more upfront detailed planning performed, the lower the risks in the execution phase of a project.

A well-planned and executed automation migration ensures seamless integration of new technology and continuous life cycle support for legacy systems. It also puts the end user in control of the plant modernisation strategy, allowing them to determine component investments and how much longer to maintain current capabilities. The transition to new technology can be executed with practically no change to physical wiring and intellectual property.

Whichever migration strategy is implemented, comprehensive outcome-based support services can maintain and enhance automation systems throughout their entire life cycle, helping sustain the benefits of investing in new technology.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/Theerapong

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