At last month’s AFPM Q&A and Technology forum, Emerson’s Marcelo Carugo participated in a roundtable discussion on managing the lifecycle of distributed control systems (DCS).
…a trade association representing high-tech American manufacturers of virtually the entire U.S. supply of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, other fuels and home heating oil, as well as the petrochemicals used as building blocks for thousands of vital products in daily life.
Q: When is the best time in a lifecycle to begin a DCS upgrade?
A: If your strategy is to keep your system current (versus keep the current system), then your lifecycle planning should look at several things, all of which should be tied back to minimizing the risk of negatively impacting performance.
- Is your current system supported? Your DCS supplier should have a well-stated lifecycle support guideline that is readily available to you. Knowing the timeline for support of the system hardware and software is critical to planning. In addition to the system vendor support itself, attention should be paid to the support coming from third parties (e.g. Microsoft for cybersecurity patches).
Running on software and/or hardware that is out of support can ultimately result in an increased risk of unplanned downtime, which typically far outweighs the cost of doing the upgrade.
- New features that are introduced should be evaluated as well and considered for upgrade planning purposes. Practically speaking, most customers do not upgrade to each release. So, when planning an upgrade, there is much merit to have an ongoing relationship with the system supplier to understand what the plans are for upcoming releases – including timelines, new features and enhancements to existing functionality.
- Compatibility with integrated systems is another aspect that needs to be considered. When are they being upgraded? What is the impact of that on your control system and vice versa?
- Plant operating schedule is just one business consideration that comes into play. That said, depending on the system and other factors, it is usually possible to perform an online upgrade (i.e., no downtime required for the upgrade). In these scenarios, planning, planning and planning become the most critical factors for success!
Some key points and justifications for upgrading a DCS include:
- The typical upgrade period is every couple of years. Validated batch plants and large continuous plants usually experience longer upgrade periods. Few if any systems are able to adopt every software release. However, all systems are subject to patches and revision releases.
- Software Updates include new features to enable improvements in the plant’s operation resulting in increased plant business results.
- New products and technologies become available when software is kept current resulting in increased investment life and plant results.
- Many software changes are made to preserve compatibility with the computer platform, embedded software and external interfaces, which extends the life of the system.
- Ongoing lifecycle support, such as Emerson’s Guardian Support, provide service notifications matched to system content and pertaining to availability and sustainability of the control system resulting in better decision making and improved capital efficiency.
- Efficiencies accrue for multiple systems if all are kept current resulting in maintained plant results and increased investment life.
- Improved asset reliability and reduced downtime resulting in maintained plant results.