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The case for system migration

The case for system migration
Equipment obsolescence can threaten a manufacturer's productivity and the need to upgrade is an ever-present concern.  However, the complexity of developing a system migration plan in house can be an intimidating prospect. Jez Palmer from Schneider Electric explains how, with a little help from the experts, system migration need not be such a daunting process.

In today's economic environment, the demands on the control system have increased, going beyond functional and regulatory performance. It has become a tool to not only manage the plant, but also one that can reduce energy consumption and costs, cut emissions and provide quick and precise information from field to management, supporting both production and business decisions. Some of the older systems, which have been in existence for 20 years or more, no longer deliver on all of these requirements, which has placed increasing pressure on companies to upgrade their automation systems.  

A control system is considered at the end of its useful life when the user acknowledges that it is either holding them back from making improvements, such as changes to their manufacturing processes or maintenance practices. Some older systems also lack the visibility needed to prevent abnormal situations, breakdown or unscheduled downtime. Similarly, when the upkeep of a system becomes impossible due to limited spare parts availability and high costs, control systems users need to take a closer look at their systems with the intention of assessing the risk and developing system migration plans.  

In recent years, rapid manufacturing change has also driven the need for higher flexibility and speed with shorter product lifecycles and shorter production runs.  This has presented a challenge to older production lines and equipment. To meet these demands, an open and collaborative production environment that embraces standards and can address the full scope of applications is essential. So too is the ability to provide an open framework for production management or MES applications that allows transparent access to data from multiple applications to the right people, whenever it is needed, regardless of where it resides in the system.  

However, despite the strong arguments in favour of system migration, it is not always an easy process and can seem overly onerous. Manufacturers need to conduct detailed audits, address obsolescence challenges, review lifecycle plans of their installed base products, determine future goals for their plant and develop an action plan for modernisation of their control systems. When the installed base is audited, it is easy to discover varying degrees of maturity as well as multiple generations of products and operating systems all running on a single process. Systems evolve over time with modifications, upgrades and expansions which may not be well documented by the users and only become apparent on closer inspection. This leaves the manufacturer with a multi-generation installed base which may not be uniformly synchronised to meet today's and tomorrow's regulatory requirements, meaning multiple, complex decisions need to be made.

Evaluation process
Plant management operators need to start the evaluation process with the desired end state in mind.  Not all parts of the control legacy will need replacing and the real challenge is achieving flexibility in solutions that allow the manufacturer to preserve the assets worth keeping. Serious consideration should be given to whether to keep the existing hardware modules, integrate a new software range and whether to preserve or recreate any familiar graphics with which operators are familiar. These decisions in turn each have an impact on how much downtime, which translates directly into losses, the migration requires.

Dedicated solutions providers, like Schneider Electric, now exist to offer solid project management and help operators understand all levels of their system in order to make these difficult decisions and minimise costly downtime and risk.

Schneider Electric has addressed the need for the creation of collaborative systems with the introduction of its PlantStruxure - a process automation system solution which includes a suite of production management software solutions. The solution includes networks and communications which are built on Ethernet to facilitate transparent communication between the field, process, plant and enterprise. Once implemented, users benefit from high availability of systems across all process levels, helping to meet the demands of keeping unexpected downtime to a minimum, lowering production costs, ensuring targets are met and reducing potential harm to both people and equipment.  

These expert solution providers help manufacturers master their entire migration process to ensure a quick return on their control system migration investments and facilitate an easy transition towards an open collaborative system, such as PlantStruxure. Needs and situations are unique to every customer and the migration solution will be custom by definition. These dedicated organisations initiate all stages of the migration process, from discussing the goals of the manufacturing plant to carrying out the audit and identifying alternative scenarios and migration paths for evaluation. This allows for a step-by-step transition to the latest state-of-the-art offerings, whether through a complete, phased or incremental system migration.

Schneider Electric's Automation and Control Planning Guide leads the customer through several questions which need to be considered, making it much easier for them to identify their key objectives and evaluate existing legacy. Once the migration strategy is decided upon, the customer can choose whether the conversions are carried out by Schneider Electric, an authorised systems integrator or the customer themselves. No matter what strategy is acted upon, the conversion should leverage special hardware product tools. These may include a rack adaptor or harness conversion that addresses wiring termination and labelling to minimise downtime on changeovers and maximise cost efficiency.

Strong project management is necessary to ensure the success of every migration system. Customers need their system migration project managers and owners to coordinate in order to deal with the who, what, when, where and how regarding the system migration and to ensure alignment with the customer's internal production schedule.

It can seem daunting for a manufacturer to consider these processes, but by addressing the issues in detail and with a little help from the experts, system migration to an open, energy efficient and collaborative production environment is achievable and logical. With the focus on providing continuous operations, increasing plant maintainability and efficiency, the result is reduced energy wastage and lost revenue, leaving users with manufacturing flexibility that will stand the test of time.
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