Life Cycle: Management of Process Automation Control Systems

Life cycle management of process automation control systems

When a process automation system is installed, the life cycle of the system is at its start. So many decisions and adaptations of the system are yet to be made, and a lot of maintenance is to follow. But how do we make these changes manageable and preferably changeable without stopping production? 

Life cycle management of computer hardware

The most obvious life cycle that is defined is the hardware life cycle of the control system. It is often very clear what to change preventatively and how to make changes when upgrading. For instance it makes sense to preventatively change hard drive in a computer system, we often replace 1 hard drive in a raid system every year, but the computer system layout will have to support it. So the choice of the hardware layout at the initial investment, will often decide the life cycle support choices. 

Changing the computer hardware every 5 years or so, is also a common practice. This does however mean that  automation systems become dependent on the operating systems, as the hardware manufacturer often does not give drivers for older operating systems, and so the newest operating systems have to be use on new computers. This can often lead to having to upgrade process automation software because of a hardware change.

Looking at making the life cycle support more easy is therefore preferable, delivering a virtualized process control system is a way to ensure that computers can be replaced without changing the actual process automation system software. It can also make it easier to do any changes that would normally require a computer shutdown, as a virtualizaed system can be move to a new computer while running, and so computers can be shutdown without the software being impacted.

Life cycle management of automation hardware

The automation hardware in a process automation system is often capable of running 20 to 30 years. So it does not need to be replaces at a frequent rate. It does however make sense to stay current with the control system features, meaning that a PLC or IO systems might be replaced to facilitate an easier change to a more current control system version. Witht the current growth of IOT based sensors, even a much simpler version of IO system might be implemented, in which a distributed set of IOT modules send the data to a PLC using Ethernet. But a transition to using IOT, will also include more IT based hardware in the loop, and those will require a more frequent inspection and replacement life cycle.

Life cycle management of  control system software

Software also has a life cycle, although it might not be so clear. Because software and engineering systems for process automation change with every release of a control system. It is often very useful to not overlook the fact that a 20 year old software system is much more difficult and time consuming, to migrate to a new version of that same control system then a 5 year old system. Therefore it makes sense to upgrade the control system software every 5 to 10 years. Leading in these choices is often the path forward for the process automation system.

If a process automation system is to be kept running for 50 years, it might be very useful to look at what control system will be current in 10 to 20 years from now. This might not seem so easy, but it will set you on a defined upgrade path, and it will ensure you will have software programmers and hardware available in 20 years.

A current example

Looking at a change of control system for process automation that is happening now, is Siemens PCS 7 for instance. PCS 7 is still a current product, and will be for some years to come, but Siemens have already introduced its replacement system in PCS Neo. Due to this early announcement, companies can already get themselves on the upgrade path to PCS Neo, so the eventual change over will have less impact. Siemens PCS Neo will run on the same hardware as PCS 7, which means that an investment in PCS 7 now will carry over to PCS Neo in future.

Being informed helps make a good decision

So in the event of buying or replacing a process automation control system, it would help to get in touch with companies like iAUTOMATION. A company that know the current control system products, and also knows the next generation of control systems, can help you define a clear policy for the life cycle management of your process automation system. Also making the switch to a virtualized production environment will help manage the industrial IT systems, and the impact of having to change computers.

Example of preventative maintenance schedule of an IIT system

If a system gets too old and incompatible to the current generation of process automation systems, a migration of the control system might be needed. This would involve a mapping of the old control system to a new or different control system. iAUTOMATION has done many migrations of control systems, and depending on the control system chosen, a migration of PLC code can be done automated. It is often the visualisation system that needs to be recreated by manually, and so time will be spend testing en building the new solution.

On many occasions these migrations can be done with minimal disruption of production, as it can be done in phases. But it is still more costly then an upgrade of a control system.

Life cycle assessment

As a good understanding of your system and costs involved in moving forward is important, iAUTOMATION can do a life cycle investigation for you. We will deliver a life cycle report, with the current state of the process automation and control system, a clear advice on preventive maintenance, and an advice on upgrade paths. iAUTOMATION can also help you with the execution of a life cycle plan for your process automation or industrial IT environment. Are you interested in an objective life cycle assessment of your process automation system? contact [email protected]