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How Do You Know When to Upgrade Your Control System?

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Industry 4.0, IoT, Digital factory, etc. are some of the concepts that are making headlines in today’s industrial world. Industries around the world are starting to make the shift, and understanding the benefits associated with these technologies, but a mass-upgrade still seems like a long shot. Why?

It has been almost four decades since Allen-Bradley released its highly popular PLC-2 family, and more than three since General Electric’s Series 6 system came out. Soon after their release, these systems became the norm of industrial automation, and to this very day remain deeply rooted within plants and industrial assets. Some may argue that these systems are close to becoming extinct, but the level of reliability they offer have almost made some manufacturers addictive.

Nonetheless, the emergence of new technologies has taken conventional automation systems like PLCs to a whole new level, something unimaginable during the 70s or the 80s. The market landscapes have changed, and at one point or another, a decision will have to be made whether it’s time to upgrade or not.

Let’s look at the factors and requirements that fuel the need for an upgraded control system:

  • Reliability issues
  • Discontinued technical support and spare parts
  • Hard-to-procure accompanying services
  • Unavailability of technicians
  • Difficulty in providing internal or third-party support
  • Need for expansion that can’t be handled by conventional systems
  • Standardization
  • Enhanced performance
  • A highly interconnected environment

Reliability may be the strong suite of decades old industrial equipment, but at the same time it serves as a liability. Technical and customer support is quickly eroding for such equipment, and vendors are actively encouraging users to buy new automation systems. Not only is the hardware becoming obsolete, the spare parts and accompanying services are becoming rare, some being available only through inhouse development. This puts the entire system at risk of a collapse, due to any unexpected error that the engineers and technicians are unaware of. In addition to hardware becoming obsolete, major software vendors have also discontinued support for their operating systems and application software that are a prerequisite for such hardware.

The use of age-old equipment also drives up the maintenance costs due to the discontinuation of support. Companies would need to hire and train special personnel for managing and diagnosing the equipment, and would need to do so for as long as the system is in place.

You’ll know it’s time to upgrade when the current system is unable to meet your increasingly complex manufacturing demands. Modern industries require a highly coordinated approach to manufacturing, which can only be possible through networked connections, intelligent functions and a mesh of sensors. Unfortunately, such features aren’t offered by earlier equipment models, which mostly rely on hardwired, burnt routines to get the job done. Furthermore, the use of conventional equipment bottleneck’s the entire system from top to bottom, making it hard for workers to enhance productivity and induce higher plant performance.

Here are a few items that would need replacement or upgradation during a redesign:

  • Server-level applications, e.g. HMI
  • Controllers
  • I/O
  • Networks and field wiring
  • Interfaces to ancillary systems
  • Space requirement
  • Alarm management
  • Compliance with safety standards

Interested in learning more? Talk to one of our professionals at PanelShop.com.

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