Many industrial control systems (DCS, PLC and / or HMI) are perilously outdated and in need of replacement.

Control System migrations can definitely be intimidating projects for industrial process control professionals to plan and implement.

But at Western States Controls, we’re up to the challenge, and we’re here to provide solutions. Control System Migrations are a vital piece of our core services. 

We understand the intricacies and meticulous project planning, front-end engineering design, and experiential expertise required to design and execute a successful plant control system migration. 

In this post, we’ll discuss five best practices and benefits for control system migration projects. Here’s what you can expect to learn:

  • Preserving the value of your legacy system intellectual property 
  • Leveraging the benefits of latest-greatest industrial process technologies 
  • Minimizing the impact on operations
  • Minimizing cost
  • Creating present and future business value   

The size, scope, and current state of the DCS migration market is staggering. The global industrial process experts at Process Heating provided some eye-opening statistics: 

The struggle in maintaining aging automation platforms is very real. According to ARC Advisory Group, there are $65 billion worth of installed distributed control systems (DCSs) nearing their end of life, with many of those systems over 25 years old. Unfortunately, manufacturers experience a much greater rate of failure with aging components, along with a host of other associated issues and risks, not least of which is the scarcity of suitable replacement components.

That’s an excellent high-level summary. And the number of PLCs nearing end of life is just as staggering. And it’s not uncommon for our team to encounter systems and components that are 50+ years old.

Part of the reason the plant control system migration marketis so large, whether it be DCS or PLC, is because so many plant managers, engineers, and executives have put off the replacement of critical industrial plant and process infrastructure.

And while the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” does make a valid point in some cases, it also has it’s limits.

When components are more than ten years old, especially computers, operating systems, and electronics, there is a significant risk that you might not be able to get direct replacement components or tech support.

The DCS evolution has taken place from its origins in providing local plant control access to operators by placing control panels within the plant, often on the operations floor. Innovation then gave rise to the central control room that provided operational visibility of all process controls from a single control room. Control panels and consoles were now consolidated but lacked integration.

Modern DCS systems offer the best of all industrial process control and automation worlds. Industrial and automation engineers can now take advantage of distributed operational controls with full remote centralized management, control, and monitoring capabilities.

That’s the primary driver of DCS technology migrations in 2023.

So, where does the migration process start?

western states controls dcs plc hmi migrations

Preserve the value of your legacy system’s intellectual property wherever possible. 

There are numerous reasons for doing a control system migration. These reasons range from corporate acquisitions to plant expansions and consolidations to equipment obsolescence, and everything in between. 

What’s the bottom line? Maintaining your existing functional and effective control processes, algorithms, and workflows is always a desirable and cost-effective approach. This is your collection of years of running a successful operation, and it’s valuable intellectual property.

There is no way to predict the future of your operations that’s quite as accurate as your operational history.

We always work closely with our clients during a project’s initial FEL and FEED stages to carefully analyze their current automation and control processes. You need to closely examine what’s working, what needs to be upgraded and changed, and why. 

What’s next?

Leverage the benefits of latest-greatest process technologies. 

DCS / PLC and HMI upgrades and migrations do not occur very often, primarily because they can be expensive, operationally intrusive, and time-consuming. So you need to get the technology selection, design, and infrastructure right the first time. 

Automation and industrial process control technology has come a long way in the last 25 years and has grown exponentially in the last ten. Data protocols and systems are becoming more universal and open. 

The FEED stage of your project is an excellent time to make some crucial long-term decisions on which technologies are appropriate for the different operational levels of your plant’s engineering design.

Operational levels prioritize the safety of your people and processes first. These Level 0 systems are always the most critical. Then additional levels defining operational efficiencies, centralized management, economics, scalability, maintainability, longevity, etc. can be prioritized and analyzed in a technological context.  

This enables the technology and vendor selection phase of the process.

Once you’ve prioritized your plant’s critical operational levels, and selected technologies and vendors, it’s time to start thinking about the project’s phases, especially downtimes.

western states controls dcs plc hmi migrations

Minimizing the impact of DCS / PLC migrations on operations. 

There will almost always be some level of downtime or dead time involved in a process control upgrade or migration project. Our team understands the critical nature of planned system and equipment downtimes.  

We’ll work with your team to create a project plan that’s logical and executable inside the guardrails of your operational boundaries. It starts with prioritizing critical process components and infrastructure. 

The next step is identifying potential downtime requirements, and designing fall-forward and fall-backward contingency plans. Now the project can be coordinated with your personnel, critical product vendors, consultants, and scheduling windows.

What about project costs?

Smart cost and budget optimization for control system migrations.

DCS / PLC migrations do not present an all-or-nothing choice. A phased approach to your technology migration and upgrade can create opportunities to use existing componentry and infrastructure as you complete your project over several months, quarters, or years. Duration will depend on the size, scope, and goals of the project.

Existing technology infrastructures, components, and protocols, including 4-20mA controls, fieldbus, PLCs, pneumatic systems, etc., will be analyzed for longevity, functionality, maintainability, and Total Cost of Ownership. This process will help determine the project’s stages, timing, and budget. 

A meticulous analysis of your existing framework of technologies needs to take place in the context of technology-enabled future plant and production objectives. A financial analysis must also examine new technology ROIs, TCOs, and scalability.

Utilizing cloud-based IIoT technologies may also potentially shift some existing capital expenditures to the operating expense side of the ledger.

All of these data points should be considered in order to create maximum business value.

Creating present and future business value. 

We’ll help you ensure that you’re taking advantage of the best technologies available for your industrial automation processes and future goals within your budget guidelines. This includes the analysis and selection of open, standardized protocols, system architectures, fieldbus, IIoT, and cloud technologies where appropriate in order to select the best vendors and solutions available.

At Western States Controls, we have over 30 years of experience designing and implementing industrial process control automation systems. Our team of experts can help you upgrade and migrate your existing DCS, PLC and HMI systems to significantly improve plant performance, reliability, and safety. 

In a technology world that’s constantly changing, you need a partner with the experience and knowledge to help you keep pace. That partner is Western States Controls.

Innovation, engineering excellence, and unsurpassed product quality are at the core of everything we do. Want to talk about the right solution for your industrial process? Or maybe you just have some questions? 

Wherever you are in your Control System migration journey, call us at (925) 371-9871, or get in touch online today!