Every one of you in the business of automation and manufacturing information technology, has been faced with the need to modernize the technology that your company uses to manufacture. As technology reaches obsolescence, the supportability becomes more complex to sustain. In the world of automation controllers, vendors support their automation platforms for decades – literally until the demand for the semiconductors used in the circuitry is no longer high enough to sustain for the OEM. GE, Siemens, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric – support their legacy platforms 10 to 15 years after their latest platforms we released. @GE_IP for instance, released the 90/70 PLC in 1989?, and in 2001 or (some year around then), released the Rx7i tech. In the last 2 or 3 years, it has become increasingly challenging for GE to repair or replace key components of the Series 90 stuff. @ROKAutomation released the PLC 5 somewhere around 1986 and I found a lifecycle notice dated 2012 that indicates it is time to migrate to Logix. I first saw a Logix rack in the early 2000s so you do the math. All the major players have similar stories and my point is unless a migration offers your business a specific quantifiable technical or financial advantage, you are not likely to get funding.
By and large a PLC is a PLC. Some vendors have a technical advantage in one application, while others in another, but just like everything else for which you are a consumer, people buy what they like, or what is easy to use – or both. But when you are looking at migration from an existing platform to a vendor’s current tech (I am going to yell now) THERE IS A HUGE LIST OF ADVANTAGES TO STAYING WITH YOUR CURRENT VENDOR. Each one of these vendors does a great job of creating a hardware migration strategy that includes creative integration of legacy tech with new so the migration can be incremental. Software tools to convert the logic will exist and though they never convert programs 100%, that is a good thing. Even if the tool only does 25% of the work (most convert like 70%), the remaining work likely should be done manually anyway to take advantage of more efficient instructions and standard programming methods. In addition, a vendor will be highly motivated to provide any technical resources, and commercial incentive to keep you using their great products.
Having a system integrator familiar with your process, expertise with the legacy and current tech, and with the experience to know where the caveats exist – can ease the pains of migration. Even if you are going to handle the work yourself, you will never regret paying a few bucks to a team who has done it before, and asking them to participate in the project planning.
Closely examine your reasons for migration. Ask yourself:
- Why Modernize? Is there a technical or commercial advantage for my business? Can I make my product better? Faster? Cheaper? Reduce downtime?
- Why might I want to wait? Is a vendor about to release something new? Cheaper? Better?
- Is the cost / benefit factor making it difficult to sell the idea to your organization? (Toward Zero may be able to help you with this)
- What are the cultural requirements for modernization? Is your IT group upgrading your software all the time? Are you thinking about collecting more process data? Are you consolidating equipment and processes?
- What are the technical requirements? Will you have to upgrade field I/O? Networks? Support tools? Does your team have the technical experience with both the old and new technology to perform the modernization with excellence?
Modernization projects are often a great way to gain competitive advantages. They can also cost you dearly if you don’t properly weigh your risks and build a comprehensive plan. Involve an expert and do it right!
Don Rahrig - www.towardzero.com