Control systems can operate successfully for decades. But, there comes a time when they need to be replaced. Thankfully, there are ways to modernize these systems opportunistically, on the plant’s or facility’s schedule, while also minimizing downtime, risks and costs.
In this podcast, Emerson’s Aaron Crews joins me to discuss the innovative DeltaV IO.CONNECT which simplifies the process of modernizing control & automation systems from many different suppliers.
Give the podcast a listen and visit the DeltaV IO.CONNECT page to learn more about ways to simplify the modernization of your control systems.
Jim: Hi everyone. I’m Jim Cahill with another Emerson Automation Experts podcast. As control systems age over the years, there comes a time when they need to be evaluated on what to do to continue to meet the needs of manufacturers and producers. Today, I’m joined by Aaron Crews, who leads our modernization team to help these companies evaluate their options and recommend paths forward.
Aaron: Hey Jim, how’s it going? Thanks for inviting me.
Jim: Oh, you bet. Looking forward to our discussion today. Now I know you were a victim of one of my earlier podcasts and shared your background, but for our listeners who didn’t catch that one, can you share your background and path to your current role?
Aaron: Yeah, sure. I’m one of those rare cross breeds. I’m an Aggie and a Longhorn. And my undergrad is chemical engineering. So I’m a ChemE have that going for me. Basically out of college, I had a couple of different jobs, but really started my career with Emerson about 16 years ago and spent a lot of that working on modernization projects. And so I’ve got a lot of experience, in the, deep into the project world and how those work. I left Houston about 10 years ago and came to Austin and helped build out and managed the modernization center here in Austin. So if you’ve ever been, anybody out there’s ever been to Austin, you’ve probably visited that center as part of that and managed that for a while. And then for the last eight years or so I’ve been managing the modernization team globally and helping projects around the world be a little smoother, a little easier.
Jim: Thanks, Aaron. Now that director of modernization is an interesting title. What does that actually mean for automation and control system users?
Aaron: That’s a good question. We use the word modernization. We know what it means, but a lot of people out there maybe don’t. What we’re really talking about is updating your automation technology, your control system technology taking these systems that 20, 30 plus years old and transitioning them to modern automation. And that of course has a lot of challenges, but at the end of the day, you’ve got a modern system that can do all the different things that you’re trying to do to run the facility better.
Jim: Okay. So what are some of the drivers that prompt companies to consider modernizing their control system?
Aaron: One of the big ones, of course, is just obsolescence. Like all technology, these control systems fade over time. If you think about it, a lot of these went in before people even had PCs before they had the internet, before they had Ethernet– all that kind of stuff. So those technologies are getting pretty out of date in a lot of cases. And so the systems go obsolete and as end users, you don’t really get to pick when that happens. The technology just does it and you have to deal with it, which could be a challenge. The other thing is, as they get older, it’s just harder to find support. So people have trouble finding the right resources to work on these systems.
Just funny story. We were trying to get some training on one of these old systems for ourselves, just so we knew more about it. And we found a trainer, which was cool. That was pretty hard to do. He’s 83 years old. , still working still in high demand. So there’s a lot of these systems that are out there. And the people are increasingly hard to come by. So that’s a big part of it. But then the big thing is you want to be opportunistic. So a lot of folks are trying to just deliver more for the business. Automation does a ton for, for their operations terms of driving production, making things safer, making things more environmentally sound, keeping costs, under control, all that kind of stuff. So everybody has business goals and they’re trying to do that. Automation’s a good way to do it.
Jim: Now I hope I’m recording podcasts or whatever the technology is at 83. I want to be that kind of with it. So you get out and speak with a lot of customers. What are some of the challenges they face that you hear about? You mentioned a couple there, but are there any others that, that come out?
Aaron: Sure. One of the things that’s kind of sad, but interesting about these old systems or any system really is you have thousands and thousands of instruments and they’re all wired into the system. So you have thousands and thousands of wires that have to be cut and re-terminated .
And it’s a ton of work involved with all of that. Just the fact that you have to re-terminate all those wires, that you can make mistakes doing that just creates a big challenge onto itself. One of those challenges that creates is just downtime. So plants don’t like to be down for a long time to make these transitions. And that makes sense. If you have the money and the desire to do these kinds of projects than likely your product is sold out. And if you’re sold out, then you don’t want to shut down in order to execute. So that’s a thing. And then there’s just all kinds of technical, physical-related aspects to this. Space is a big one, having the space to put in new equipment while old equipment’s still running.
You’ve got to move all the application code over from the old system to the new system. So there’s a bunch of challenges around that. And then. Like I was talking about with obsolescence, right? You have maybe a whole generation of technology that goes obsolete at the same time. And now across all of your facilities, you’ve got to do these modernization projects and you don’t have an infinite amount of capital. So how can you spread that? Capital out is a big challenge for people as well.
Jim: Wow. That sounds like a bunch of different challenges in there. And I know as we were talking earlier, before recording the podcast, you mentioned DeltaV IO.CONNECT. Can you share what this is and where the idea for it came from?
Aaron: Yeah. So these challenges, we were just talking about a lot of customers who come in and talked with us and said, “how do I work around it? Like, how do I deal with obsolescence and the capital constraints and the rewiring things and the downtime constraints and all of that. And that creates a real puzzle for us. And so we put our heads together as a team and we thought what’s really making this a challenge is moving the I/O. So moving those wires, moving the I/O. that’s what creates all this downtime issue for us and everything else. And that’s, what’s really capital intensive because there’s a lot of work to do in order to make that transition.
So we thought what if we could preserve the I/O? What if we could upgrade the control, preserve the I/O, do it in a couple of steps, save a lot of capital and give you that quick cutover. That was the idea. And so we came up with this brand new product platform that we call IO.CONNECT and it’s software, smart software from Emerson part of DeltaV, that lets you upgrade your control while keeping that I/O in place.
The interesting thing is sometimes that I/O is still supportable for a little while. So you can delay that replacement. Leaving it in place for now saves about 40% of the capital. And you can cut it over with just a couple of connections rather than wire after wire. So the downtime is like almost zero.
And of course, there are benefits when you do replace that I/O, but you still get a lot of benefits. You get brand new graphics, DeltaV Live, and all the things we talk about with HTML graphics and mobility and access to data. New control strategies and all of that. So you do still get a lot of capabilities in terms of improving how the business operates. And then we talked about reducing the capital. Then the remaining work can either be a capital project, or you can shift that maybe to OPEX [operating expenditures]. And so this shift of dollars from CAPEX [capital expenditures] to OPEX is like a trend that we see just generally around our various customers.
Jim: Wow. You had mentioned that 40% and that’s interesting. And you just mentioned that CAPEX shift to OPEX. So how would that shift be made from CAPEX to OPEX?
Aaron: With IO.CONNECT, you’ve already updated the control and the graphics, right? So you just have the I/O left and then you just can replace that over time. The dollar value associated with those I/O replacements can be any size that they need to be. And then in a way, you could consider it a replacement-in-kind at the I/O level. You’ve already done the upgrade from a control point of view. Now I/O hardware is coming out new I/O hardware’s coming in. And a lot of times that could be put on the OPEX budget.
Jim: Oh, that makes sense. That’s I don’t know some of those PCs where you upgrade the microprocessor board or something, but at an I/O level for a plant, but yeah, you can take it in whatever chunk that fits in the operations budget and do that over time.
Aaron: Exactly. So you’re keeping the box, upgrading the monitor to a high refresh rate, high-performance updating the video card. Get the performance out and then, go and update the other pieces as you wish.
Jim: Yeah. And I guess on the bandwidth side of the people, and as they have time to be able to work on it, they can fit it in with the schedule that makes sense for the plant. So I guess that all makes a lot of sense. What about all those wires? You mentioned doesn’t all that labor still needs to be done?
Aaron: Yeah, for sure. With these projects really flexibility is the key thing. So if you did it as part of a big project, you’ve got all these resources that you’ve got to bring into the plant contractors, electricians, to make it happen. But if you have this kind of flexibility, you can just do one cabinet at a time, one card at a time or one channel at a time. And you can be super opportunistic about that. You don’t have to worry about the downtime factor, and you can use resources just from, in the plant to do it. So yeah, the work needs to be done, but it can be done totally opportunistically without all those downsides.
Jim: Okay. I get that. So what about support, ease of use, some of those issues that you mentioned a little earlier?
Aaron: It’s easier to find people for sure. The software is a hundred percent new, latest and greatest, in this case, DeltaV software. So it’s much easier to find the resources, the training to just use the system.
All of that is, is easy. You don’t have any legacy software that’s still around that you have to update and upgrade and all of that kind of stuff. The fact that you’re a hundred percent on new software really helps with that. And then the interesting thing is that even though support gets a lot better because you’ve got a modern system, you’ve got great global local support. Lots of times the support costs go way. Just because it’s easier to source those parts and everything else. They’re not as in demand. And so things can be cheaper overall compared to when you’re trying to support these really old systems.
Jim: Yeah. Both the people side and just the scramble and it’s better that you’re in control of when you have time to work on something coming up versus reacting to something. Not working with these older systems. With the customers who have had some run time with DeltaV IO.CONNECT, what’s been their feedback.
Aaron: The initial response is that they’re extremely excited. Most people didn’t realize this kind of thing was possible. It’s, it’s an all new technology that we’ve created to help solve this problem. A lot of folks have come and visited us here in Austin, where we have our test facilities and all of that and walked through it and gone through those detailed reviews and seen. Obviously, this needs to be super robust, and has to be a really reliable, redundant, highly available connection between control and I/O. And feedback has been great along those lines so far. And so these customers have started moving with this. We’re just doing early deployments. There are obsolescence deadlines. Some of the big ones are in 2025.
And so there’s not time to waste as far as that is concerned. So we’ve already got these early deployments going out there to get customers familiar with the technology and then they’ll expand it from there, between now and when they hit that deadline.
Jim: Yeah. So it sounds like you want to at least get that first one going, get some experience and then figure out your path to get through all the systems and things that you have. So what I/O systems do you support and when is their expected release?
Aaron: DeltaV IO.CONNECT is it’s a platform that’ll have different drivers over time. The first one that we’re releasing is for Honeywell TDC 3000 systems. And so if you have a TDC 3000 system, you can keep the PIO. That’s what that I/O subsystem is called there. And so we have a PIO driver for I/O connect. That’s the first one that’s out of the gate. That’s the one that has the 2025 deadline.
So many people are clamoring to figure out their plans between now and then. And that is released now for those early deployments. And then the big projects will start going out there in January of 2023. And then right after that, we’ll have the release of a Rockwell driver. For 1756 I/O, 1746 I/O, a couple other I/O types that’ll be part of that driver and we’ll just keep expanding it from there. So it’s designed to grow and expand and support different types of I/O as customers run into these different types of issue.
Jim: Yeah, that’s nice building it out as a platform and just based on need or if any other deadlines start coming up on people with other systems to grow it out from there. So I guess just to wind this all down, where can our listeners go to learn more about DeltaV IO.CONNECT and who can they connect with?
Aaron: Yeah, to find out more just go to Emerson.com/modernization. And there’s a form there that you can just submit. If you want to learn more and stay up to date as everything rolls out. Over the next couple of weeks, you might see a lot more content popping up on that website as we promote it and get everything out there, of course it’s a brand-new product.
But yeah, you can just submit it there and we’ll get back in touch with you.
Jim: And I imagine for those that hear this podcast before the third week of October, will it be available there at the Emerson Exchange conference in Grapevine, Texas.
Aaron: That is a great idea. Great plug… definitely will be available there. So we think if you want to come check it out, if you have plans, or might could be nearby the Dallas area towards the end of October, then it’s a great time to come check it out and kick the tires and ask any questions.
Jim: Yeah. You get a chance to get face to face with Aaron and the guys on his team and fire away your toughest questions for them. Aaron, thank you so much for joining the podcast and sharing all about DeltaV IO.CONNECT with our listeners.
Aaron: Yeah, thanks again for inviting me. I really enjoyed it.
-End of transcript-