Your production facility is an income-producing asset – this is where you get products to market and where profits are made or lost. Your control system is the brains of that asset, and it’s critically important to keep that brain as sharp and up-to-date as possible. Failing to give your control system much needed TLC over its lifetime will eventually come back to haunt you. Here are three potential consequences to consider.
Lack of Support
Hang on to an old system for too long, and everyone that knows how to program it will be retired. Controls engineers that used to program controllers like Allen-Bradley PLC-5 and Siemens S5 controllers are in management positions or second careers now. This is a problem for emergency support or system modifications of course, but it also increases the cost and risk of an eventual system upgrade.
If everyone that knows how to program your system has gray hair, you should begin planning for an upgrade today.
Support can also become unavailable from the manufacturer. It’s a safe bet that by the time a manufacturer ceases to support a software package or controller, the options for third party support of those technologies are also very limited. If you have to buy your control system hardware on eBay, you should update your system.
Brand new control systems are initially designed with components that work well together. Unfortunately, technology advances at different rates for various sub-systems, and it takes only a few years before replacement components become difficult or impossible to integrate with the system as a whole. Sub-systems like networks, operating systems, and computer hardware are classic examples of highly inter-dependent technologies that age at different rates.
Usually incompatibility issues mean that replacement of one sub-system has a ripple effect through a control system that requires replacement or modification of other sub-systems. An alternate solution is the addition of new hardware that interfaces between new and old technology. Our recommended best practice is to update as much of a system as possible when any update becomes a necessity. Limited solutions tend to result in Frankenstein systems that are higher risk and more difficult to troubleshoot.
The longer you wait to update an aging control system, the more likely it will be an expensive rip-and-replace upgrade with extended downtime. Lack of engineers familiar with legacy technology and a patched together museum of control technologies will get to the point where it is impossible to simply update individual sub-systems.
Extended downtime can always be eliminated, but the trade off will be in dollars. Limited or no-downtime conversions of running systems can be done, but they are incredibly risky for both the integrator and owner, and that always translates to cost.
Just like any other electronic and mechanical device you purchase – phones, cars, computers – your control system will age, become out-of-date, and eventually fail. Understanding your control system’s lifecycle and planning for periodic and incremental updates at each stage is critical for keeping the brains of your income-producing machine at peak performance. Not only that, it’ll extend the life of your control system and prevent costly full-system replacements over time.
Download our Five Risk Mitigation Techniques for Control System Upgrades whitepaper to learn more about taking a manageable approach to control system upgrades.