Regardless of your plant’s age, your control system is now one of its most critical components.
You cannot operate effectively in the 21st century without a modern control system designed
for the way your plant works now — and for the way it will work in the future. Upgrading your
control system is much more than a “rip and replace” exercise. This four-part white paper series
details the optimum process for upgrading your control system; in this third paper, we will focus
on designing a 21st-century control system and the importance of selecting the right migration
partner to carry out your plan.
Once you’ve made the decision to upgrade your control system, the first step is to pick a
migration partner and begin the planning and design process. A migration partner could be a
DCS manufacturer / OEM, the manufacturer of the system being upgraded, an architecture and
engineering (A&E) firm, or system integrator / automation partner.
Each of these options has positive and negative points.
DCS manufacturers / OEMs are inherently flawed as optimum automation partners. While they
understand control systems and products better than many other vendors do, they only truly
understand and support their own products and systems. If you want to partner with them,
you will be locked into using their system or products; they allow very little room to choose
A&E firms are also flawed. They typically do the entire project, and are not used to focusing on
the techniques of migrating and upgrading existing control systems. These firms are also usually
interested in providing the lowest-cost material from countries with the lowest manufacturing
costs. This means that, while they may provide the “named” OEM product, the auxiliary products
may not be best-of-breed.
Finally, many control system integrators are relatively small. “Pinto’s Law” — coined by Jim Pinto,
an automation entrepreneur and pundit — has held for years that integrators, being regionally
based because of response time, were not able to grow past a specific small size. Now, of course,
some control system integrators have broken through Pinto’s barrier and are capable on a global
level, but the majority of control system integration firms continue to be small and regional. If you
are a global enterprise, selecting a globally capable integrator is often the most effective choice.
Overall, you need to keep in mind what you want your control system to do.
An upgraded control system should make the operator’s life easier with a state-of-the-art
interface, best-of-breed alarm management, intelligence to enable recovery from fail states and
the ability to upgrade seamlessly and easily using standards-based products and software. .
The control system you’re designing should simplify both the collection and visualization of data
so that the operator and the engineers can best see optimized data. You should build in the
capacity to export and import data from other systems and sources — both horizontally within
the plant, and vertically throughout the enterprise. Your new control system must be inherently
secure from cyber and physical threats, both intentional and accidental. Your design should
make use of the best practices in control system architecture, such as server and workstation
virtualization, bus-type technologies and distributed I/O
Most important, your new control system should deliver increased reliability of the control system itself, and efficiency and productivity in the process. People who understand both your process and your old system and will make improvements on how you run your plants, should implement your new control system.