Should I Upgrade My Control System? What are the Opportunities, Challenges & Considerations? 

Our Automation team has completed a number of control system upgrades around the world and our skillset extends to a variety of different platforms: Siemens PCS7, ABB, Rockwell & Emerson. After recently presenting at the Siemens Space UG event in York UK, we caught up with Derek Husband, Booth Welsh Senior Control Systems Engineer who was part of the team of guest speakers at the event. Here, he answers some questions on the opportunities, challenges & considerations when undertaking a control system upgrade: 

Is it something you should do?

 The technological landscape in the world of Process Control Systems is rapidly changing.  Control System manufacturers are constantly developing and improving the features and functionality of their products.  The integration of Industry 4.0 technologies in Control Systems promises to deliver improved manufacturing efficiencies and reduce plant downtime through improved visualisation and availability of data, through integration of predictive technologies. There are a number of factors to consider in any decision as to whether or not to upgrade, and whether it makes sense from a cost and efficiency point of view:

Considerations:

  • Manufacturing efficiencies – Are there any features available in the latest versions of the Process Control System components that can make a real difference to how the plant is operated? For example,
    • Productivity Are there new features that make it easier to aggregate data and present in a more meaningful way, to assist operators and management in increasing productivity?
    • Environmental can the new technologies deliver cost savings in terms of power monitoring & consumption?
    • Maintenance Is there new visualisation of status information from instruments and actuators that can aid operators and technicians in proactive maintenance, reducing downtime?
    • Process changes or improvements Are there new features that can allow for improved changes during plant operation, eliminating or reducing downtime of planned production downtime to implement architecture changes?
    • Control System Engineering Are there new development tools, or features available, that can reduce the development and execution time of new projects?
  • Cyber-security– Does the current system have the required level of ongoing support and protection to mitigate against the threat of cyber-attacks?
  • Capex spend– what is the most effective way for your business to invest here? For example, is it spreading the cost of capital expenditure over a longer period or a shorter period?

Surprisingly, it can be more cost effective to do upgrade more regularly, for example with ongoing update support contracts from Control System vendors;

  • Control System Vendor Support– Control system software can become obsolete over time, and support from the manufacturer can be withdrawn. This can restrict options when considering the expansion of the plant or process.
  • Availability of Spare Parts– Control System Hardware can also become obsolete, reducing the availability of spares and increasing the risk of production downtime resulting from failure of ageing equipment.

Challenges:

What issues may be encountered?

  • External interfaces– what other peripheral systems interface to the process control system, and will any changes to the process control system impact on the availability to monitor or control the peripheral systems, for example legacy serial communications links.
  • Footprint/Dimensions – can any new equipment fit within the footprint of the existing equipment
  • Additional Validation – Migration to newer features may require additional validation of the existing control system. Does the benefit outweigh the cost?

The Booth Welsh Process Control Systems team has extensive experience in control systems upgrades in a wide number of sectors including Pharmaceuticals & Life Sciences, Oil & Gas, Whisky & Water. If we can assist with any of your requirements or provide some answers to any technical issues you may be having, please get in touch: https://boothwelsh.co.uk/contact/