If you’ve just completed a facility or control system modernization, or if you’re considering an upgrade soon, don’t leave out that all-important last step. Lock in those gains with post-project support to make the most of your investment.
Everyone at the plant, including you, knew an upgrade was inevitable. It was simply a matter of time. Modernization was going to be “The Answer” to the issues plaguing your patchwork legacy system.
Now your dream “factory of the future” has become a reality. You and the team worked hard to overcome production and equipment challenges, perhaps like these:
Alarms! Multiple alarms. You know – the hundreds or even thousands of alarms that occurred every week. Operators were so overloaded with information, they could barely manage to silence all the alarms – much less properly react to them or safely locate and fix all the underlying problems.
HMI Hieroglyphics. Outdated human-machine interface (HMI) displays often showed critical operator information in a confusing graphical format, splitting the control system data on multiple overlapping screens and making it more difficult to react to abnormal situations. Was the HMI helping or were you just coping with it?
Compliance Risk. Perhaps there were potential compliance issues that put the company at risk for fines…or worse. Got reports?
Documentation Woes. As in many facilities, the process was likely adjusted or modified to handle production issues that cropped up, but those changes may not have been fully documented at the time, increasing production risk. Proper workflows can’t be shared if they’re not written down, especially if information on equipment modifications just isn’t there. With workforce attrition, the tribal knowledge that kept operations going could have been lost. Oh, and by the way, were facility records paper or digital?
Playing in Double Overtime. The usable lifespan of a typical legacy process control system today is not just “late in the game”; it’s been in overtime for years – and most are approaching double overtime or even “sudden death.” A legacy system depending on obsolete or aging assets is constantly pushing the envelope, begging the question: How long will it hold out?
Parts Are Parts…Not. With more and more spare parts becoming unavailable from manufacturers, becoming dependent on the aftermarket for quality spares just piles risk upon risk.
Nothing New Under the Sun. Maybe you didn’t have time to think about innovation because it took every resource you had just to avoid downtime. Now you’ve taken the time to think about your process operation from a new, innovative viewpoint and realize the benefits that weren’t possible before, from getting the most out of your usable legacy equipment to adding those new assets to the mix.
Exiting Experts. Operators who understand and know legacy systems are becoming more and more difficult to find and retain. Upgrades and modernization are needed to ensure that both existing and oncoming workforce resources can adapt to the system quickly, efficiently and safely.
It’s the Economy, Stupid. At some point in time, we all know that it costs more to keep the old car running than it does to buy a newer model. A so-called “classic car” is expensive to buy or restore, and it continues to be a money pit as parts become impossible to find and every solution has to be “custom.” It’s just wiser to upgrade and bring in the shiny new model, and once you’ve done that – wow! The gains! Now you’re enjoying the benefits of modern connectivity, advanced safety features, improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions. Once you drive your new “smart car,” you can’t imagine how you ever got along without it. And the same goes for your “classic” plant or mill.
The Post-Modernization Happy Dance
So now here you are after a shut down, turnaround or major upgrade, and your process is running like a dream – finally! Perhaps you just finished a major control systems project, migrating thousands of I/O to a shiny new platform that now delivers improved agility, flexibility and analytics. Maybe you just added an amazing new manufacturing execution system (MES), utilizing that infamous “big data” to save money, manage inventory, get more throughput and improve quality. The new high-performance HMI (HP-HMI) graphics provide much better visibility for operators, and the new alarm management system improves performance and safety. The process control system is locked in with tight tolerances and purrs like a kitten. Operations are so reliable, you can even exhale now and again. Life is good.
Well, until it isn’t.
After all you’ve achieved through modernization, it doesn’t make sense to let efficiencies degrade to a point where you could potentially lose the gains you paid for and worked so hard to achieve. Locking in these new gains and ensuring continual improvement should be a critical piece of your modus operandi.
Control systems have thousands of potential variables, and all of them continually drift, change or fall out of spec as time goes by. Even if each process variable moves just a tiny bit every year, when you add them up the collective change is significant. Inevitably, the plant itself evolves and changes over time. The underlying operation cannot be static. As it evolves, the automation dynamics are certainly different than when you first upgraded, and modifications are periodically needed to optimize operations.
Additionally, what if you need to modify a production line, reduce energy use, respond to new business scenarios or comply with a new regulation? How do you stay agile and flexible while controlling total cost of ownership (TCO) year over year?
If you don’t have resources on board with enough bandwidth and expertise to help you continually optimize your process and regularly provide operational support, consider working with an automation solutions partner who can help keep – and even improve – your amazing new level of plant performance.
You’ve made a revolutionary change, now stay competitive with evolutionary improvement.
Operations Support 24 / 7 / 365
Ongoing support makes a ton of sense whether it’s remote monitoring and management or on-site maintenance and support. A good automation solutions provider can help stay on top of the many tasks you need to get done but can’t because you’re keeping the plant online every day. Tasks like:
Calibration Cadence. When and how are your field instruments calibrated? Do you have the NIST standards available and the right equipment? Do you have an easy way to digitally document the calibration and any replacements or repairs?
The Diagnostic Dilemma. Consider having your routine system diagnostics run from a remote support center with qualified personnel who will alert you of any alarms or issues and walk you through best practices to take care of the problem quickly and safely.
Compliance Checks. What regulatory agencies are on your “worry” list? As industry standards change or new regulatory requirements are introduced, it’s easy to fall out of compliance. Make sure you’re following the regulations and standards for your industry.
Evergreen Documentation. Your new system is likely well documented. But every time work is done at the plant or any change is made, the system should capture the information. Do you have a process in place for regularly documenting adjustments to equipment, even during a turnaround, or are you struggling to capture minimum information? With the right infrastructure, this documentation just happens. When even a small change is made, that information is automatically moved into the master database. A good solutions partner can help set up a process to help capture, collect and store data, so you don’t need another entire modernization project in the future just to get your documentation up to speed. Less risk, less worry and more sustainability.
Freedom to Run. Running lean, mean and agile is the way to go, so keep your resources applied doing just that. Your third-party partner, who knows your business and works seamlessly with your internal team, can help provide routine support and absorb any maintenance tasks.
Safeguard Your Investment
Whether you are just starting an automation project or have already completed your facility modernization, an excellent continuous improvement program and ongoing support is essential to lock in the gains that your new system can deliver. It’s the smart play to safeguard your automation investment and stay on the cutting edge of performance for the long haul.
Your business is a living entity that changes and adapts over time. Keeping your process optimized is always a priority, but when you can share support responsibilities with a trusted and knowledgeable automation services partner, your competitive edge becomes more razor sharp.