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Plant modernisation for manufacturers

World Cement,

Why modernise is a question asked by many plant owners and operators. While it may be the case that current process automation and safety assets are performing adequately at present, a key underlying question is whether the plant is performing to its full potential and capability – and, crucially, can it continue to do so well into the future?

It goes without saying that systems deemed cutting edge even ten years ago will not currently be able to deliver the technology benefits and performance that developments over recent years have turned into a reality. Ageing legacy technologies are increasingly difficult and costly to operate and maintain. This can significantly affect a company’s ability to support new business targets or apply new technologies and solutions to increase and improve performance. The complex design of legacy systems is often based on outdated technologies, making them problematic to change and slower to respond to market trends.

There are a number of influencing factors that drive the need for plant modernisation within an organisation. They can be wide ranging, from replacement of legacy control systems, to the demand for greater flexibility driven by the continually changing requirements of the process marketplace on a global competitive landscape.

Examining such factors in three key areas: IT infrastructure, IT security and Lifecycle costs, makes a compelling argument as to why plant operators should continually assess the suitability of the plant’s current status and its potential to deliver the future operational excellence and security requirements. Questions in these areas are central to the future prosperity and performance of any plant.

IT infrastructure

The IT industry is an ever changing market with increasingly shorter product lifecycles on equipment driven by a need to be more flexible, work faster and process significantly higher volumes of data. IT and its links to manufacturing continue to develop and organisations are increasingly reliant on these interfaces and systems. Issues such as obsolete PC and server hardware, and the often limited support for legacy operating systems, create real risk for the end user who has to balance the operational requirements of the plant with necessity for investment into the plant’s IT infrastructure.

Traditionally, distributed control system (DCS) vendors had more control around the development lifecycle of an IT operating system with, indeed, many organisations developing their own product to be used exclusively with their DCS platform. This provided the end user with some guarantee around system support, but this strategy provided increasing challenges for the DCS vendor to continue to support, maintain and develop their own systems.

The move towards and full adoption of ‘off the shelf’ products has allowed much greater flexibility with both the end user and the DCS vendor benefitting from the R&D investment and the resulting developments in technology and functionality provided by the IT industry. The trade off and the continuing issue for both the end user and the DCS vendor is the relative short lifecycle of an operating system in comparison to the life of the production facility and DCS product. It could be argued that this is the main driver behind the migration of the process critical visualisation layer of distributed control systems.

IT security

The worlds of IT and manufacturing continue to become more integrated within the process automation market. As a result, the significant rise in the threat and occurrence of a cyber attack is now an issue facing many manufacturing organisations. Typically, IT from an automation perspective, has received less focus and investment than the business system operational IT platform. However, this mindset is slowly starting to change as the potential huge risk to the organisation has been identified. Legacy operating systems and hardware provide tough challenges in terms of being able to maintain a secure plant and often results in a requirement to modernise the IT critical to the automation of the process. Defining and implementing the necessary steps to ensure that plant systems are safe and secure against cyber threats that could halt expensive production and invoke reputational damage is increasingly moving up the priority list for plant operators.

Protection of investment and lifecycle service strategy

There are large amounts of legacy systems currently within the UK plant infrastructure. The operation phase of a process plant constitutes a significant share of the overall life cycle cost over a typical 15 - 20 year asset of a plant control system. As such, the requirement for modernisation services provides investment protection and has a significant impact on the operations of an organisation. By adopting a plant modernisation strategy such investment can be protected and the inherent risks around IT infrastructure and security negated.

For some the assurance and guarantees that come with control systems such as PCS 7 offer a future proofing approach so that legacy issues and risks are a thing of the past. It has required lifecycle guarantees built in so that manufacturers can follow a managed approach to plant modernisation aims and objectives. Lifecycle services provide a guaranteed method of ensuring that all significant software updates and phased IT infrastructure refreshes can take place as part of the operational costs of the manufacturing plant and this approach will ensure a secure and updated system can be maintained throughout the asset lifecycle.

Whether it’s lowering the total cost of ownership, increasing operational efficiencies, avoiding obsolescence, protection against cyber attack and future proofing the performance potential for a process manufacturing plant, modernisation needs to be on the agenda in order to minimise risk and maximise operating potential.

Written by Steve Leech, Siemens Industry Automation

Edited by Callum O'Reilly

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