Control Systems: Don’t Get Misled by Modernization Misconceptions

Six fallacies often undermine control system upgrades

By Mike Alsup, Emerson Process Management

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AVAILABILITY OF NEW TECHNOLOGY AND FUNCTIONALITY
Figure 7. A phased modernization defers the benefits of the modern system.

The accelerated-phased and rip-and-replace approaches offer another, less obvious benefit — the possibility of taking advantage of the experience of veteran staff who soon will retire. They understand how the plant and control system operate today and thus are in the best position to help with a successful transition to a new control system. We often hear: “The last thing these people want to deal with is a major migration project.” This is, perhaps, another misconception. Many will look at the changeover as a final challenge and may decide to hold off retiring until they’re sure the new system is working well and younger people have learned to use it.

Besides these misconceptions, modernization projects often raise a couple of misgivings:

Misgiving No. 1: Modernizations are risky and expensive. Many people believe this. To a large extent they are correct. Most things worth doing entail some risk or expense but there are ways to minimize the risk and maximize the rewards.

Misgiving No. 2: There’s no need to change. Some people simply refuse to change. They will continue to use an outdated system long past its anticipated useful life and won’t do anything until forced. Unlike those who delay migration until sufficient funds and resources are available, these people are determined to stick with the old no matter what happens. The former are a little late in gaining the advantages of new technology, the latter soon may be out of business and forgotten.

MAKE THE MOST OF A MODERNIZATION
Many of the misconceptions highlighted in this article focus on total cost, cash flow and risk. These obviously are important when planning your automation future. However, too often users don’t quantify and consider the benefits achievable from a modernization. The goal isn’t just to replace the existing system but to invest in tools that improve employee productivity and company profitability. Making modernization decisions without taking this into account often results in “lost opportunity costs.” For example, while extending the life of an existing system may seem attractive, upgrading to a new system sooner normally will generate a better return on investment by making available earlier tools that enhance performance in addressing business and regulatory challenges.

Today’s control systems offer more opportunity not only to take advantage of advanced control, asset diagnostics, wireless technologies, etc., but also to share data with business information systems and use the data to better coordinate the entire manufacturing process, including orders, scheduling, raw material management, actual production (the primary role of the automation system), maintenance, production planning, shipping (terminal management) and, in some cases, billing.



MIKE ALSUP is an automation business analyst for Emerson Process Management, Austin, Texas. E-mail him at Mike.Alsup@emerson.com.

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