Titus Crabb January, 28

Time for an Upgrade?

The decision to upgrade an automation system is difficult. Often the decision is forced on a plant owner by the manufacturer obsoleting a key piece of automation hardware. The expense, risk of downtime, and the disruption to daily operation are very real factors that keep most plant owners putting off the decision.

Often upgrades are viewed as a direct cost with no ROI which makes them difficult to sell to senior management. Who really wants to ask for a large capital expense to replace a perfectly good, operating system?

Looked at from a different perspective though, upgrading an automation system can be an opportunity to provide some very real new benefits to a plant. The core motivator might be eliminating the risk of lengthy downtime as obsolete parts fail, but an upgrade can provide so much more. Here are a few things to consider:

+ Consolidate diverse hardware and software platforms and reduce future training and spares inventory costs.

+ Upgrade to new hardware and software platforms that provide access to modern technology such as mobility (smart phone and tablet integration into your HMI/SCADA), and MES system integration.

+ Increase the security of your system with modern operating systems, software, and plant floor level security appliances.

+ Virtualize your HMI/SCADA or use a web-based platform to future-proof your system against the inevitable changes in computer and operating system technology.

+ Modernize plant floor networks to Ethernet and install an Ethernet infrastructure. The cost savings when adding future equipment, and the data available from new instrumentation is worth it.

+ Consider a phased approach that spreads the cost out over time. In some cases, upgrades can even be performed using maintenance budgets with no need to justify capital expenses. Start with a solid Master Plan.

+ Be realistic about timeframe. Working around operation schedules, physical space limitations, and solving legacy equipment integration problems takes time. Reducing the pressure of schedule will reduce down-time risks by ensuring things are done right the first time.

+ Consider more than just the automation system. Time and environment take a toll on instruments and wiring too.

+ Be sure to account for operations and maintenance training costs for new software and hardware. A lot has changed in the last 10-15 years since your system was installed.

+ Don’t limit your thinking to the traditional “big boys” of automation software and hardware. Technology has left some of these software packages behind, and new solutions are rapidly gaining ground to the great benefit of their customers.


Contact us if your automation system is using any of the following obsolete components:


AB PLC-2, PLC-5,    SLC-100, SLC-150

Modicon 884 & 984

Siemens S5

Square D SY/MAX

GE 90-30

Windows XP, 95, 2000, & NT

And many others


Is your control system obsolete? Download our latest white paper, "5 Risk Mitigation Techniques for Control System Upgrades", to learn how to take a manageable approach to a control system upgrade as well as five strategies to use to mitigate risk during your upgrade.

Download the White Paper



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