Corporate IT systems are regularly renewed and upgraded, roughly on a 5 to 7 year schedule. Yet industrial automation systems are often left to run to outright failure using decades-old hardware and obsolete systems.
There are several reasons this is the case and with it, opportunities for greater efficiency can be missed. Also, if automation upgrades are put off too long, the viability of business is at risk.
Hardware and Complex Wiring
The front end I/O of traditional industrial automation systems is typically hardware intensive and involves a lot of wiring connections. Therefore the I/O designed to be robust for years, but it is also very costly to change-out.
The processors that sit on-top of the I/O are also specialized units, and costly to replace. The controllers usually see service for a decade or more. Upgrades to firmware or board replacement are required to maintain serviceability.
The upper layer of servers and workstations is often pushed much past any IT standards. These computers are usually located in more difficult environments so they are stressed beyond the typical IT installs.
Clearly there is a need to upgrade the industrial side of the business as much as the office IT, to ensure the core asset of control software is secure and efficiency improvements from superior control processing power are realised.
Yet upgrading is a struggle in most corporations whether they are large or small.
Complexity & Communication
Automation upgrades are more complex and to communicate details to stakeholders and decision makers is a challenge. Creating the necessary reports to articulate justification and to intelligently organize a path forward is a difficult process for small automation groups based on-site.
However, it is very important that the organizing and prioritizing process is done so that projects can be assessed when there is an opportunity to move forward.
Systems Choices and Costs
Automation systems are not all the same. New systems that leverage commodity based IT products, and use computing power for the control level will be easier to install and maintain. When it comes time to upgrade, these systems are identical to IT level systems and thus easier modernize.
Clarifying and Optimizing the Path Ahead
Clearly identifying the parts or areas that pose the most risk to the operation in complex automation systems, is a good way to develop a path forward.
When systems are analyzed through a risk assessment matrix approach, planning usually falls nicely into place, in a way management and stakeholders can appreciate
Industrial automation systems are complex and pose a greater challenge for maintenance and upgrades. Sound assessment, organization and prioritization of upgrade options will communicate effectively to stakeholders for budget planning.
In selection of new or replacement options, look to use open IT-based systems that offer the most flexibility for maintenance and upgrades in the future.