Three Ways to Future-Proof Your Automation System

121199433–600pix Whether replacing your HMI, upgrading with new gear or replacing an entire system, here’s how TIA Portal can keep your plant in state-of-the art shape.

Many automation facilities are running equipment that was once state of the art, but now operates largely because it’s too time-consuming to replace it. That’s not necessary – there are ways to gain the benefits of modern technology with little, if any, disruption.

Those who upgrade obsolete equipment can gain solid benefits. Annual returns on an investment in modernized automation can be as much as 30 percent, paying for the upgrade in a very short time while positioning the plant to be more efficient, profitable and competitive. New equipment will substantially reduce costs associated with inventory, labor, waste and energy. Wireless communications, remote diagnostics and standardized plug-and-play components can bring big savings in wiring, maintenance and spare parts.

For decades, many companies felt their control systems and supporting infrastructure worked well enough, so the pain of changing them never surpassed the apparent gains of doing so. Until now. The huge advances in microcontrollers, software and other technologies can be teamed up with plug-and-play equipment based on open architectures. That can yield significant improvements today while setting the stage for ongoing upgrades.

Three strategies

There are three scenarios for upgrading industrial facilities: replacing the HMI, overlaying old equipment with new gear and replacing the entire system.

For those customers that can only afford small amounts of downtime or has a small migration budget, an incremental migration approach can be the best solution. The incremental approach is one where the PLC and/or HMI are exchanged and  the new PLC communicates with the existing I/O. The I/O can then be replaced with the modern I/O as time and budget allows.

Replacing the PLC and/or HMI can provide major benefits and protect existing investments in PLCs, I/O, process graphics and their application engineering and code. This low-cost approach enhances operational capabilities and enables connectivity to MES and ERP systems while also providing tighter integration with IT systems.

A more aggressive scenario is to overlay a plant’s legacy system with new hardware and software. If a plant expansion is needed, the new automation system is installed to co-exist with the legacy system.

Either path calls for coordinated operation between new and old, while enabling a smooth transition to new technology. For example, if the old and new systems are united under one new HMI, their integrated system architecture can offer operating personnel the same look and feel for both systems.

The extra effort brings benefits beyond those of a simple HMI upgrade. Production capacity and manufacturing flexibility will be improved and new doors will be opened so new technology can be added. For example, different automation systems can be brought under control of a common HMI.

The third scenario, completely replacing legacy automation systems, is often the best choice for plant operators. It minimizes the likelihood that key components may be discontinued while extending the lifetime of the process automation system. Maintenance is simplified. Moving to open architectures reduces reliance on existing vendors. Security can improve dramatically. Total cost of ownership is reduced because the most valuable existing assets can be reused.

Major benefits

In recent years, several advances have made it much simpler to implement any of these three scenarios without incurring significant downtime. Siemens has been at the forefront of this movement. To get away from islands that were difficult to connect, the company beefed up its participation in the world’s standards-setting bodies, supporting open standards and interoperability.

Siemens also developed what’s called Totally Integrated Automation. TIA is embedded in over 100,000 automation products including control and safety PLCs, drives, motor control centers, energy management and control, PROFINET/PROFIBUS networking and much more.

The TIA Portal is one element of this architecture. It’s an integrated engineering development and support framework that has the software tools needed for all the steps involved in designing, commissioning, operating, maintaining and upgrading automation systems.

One significant benefit of the TIA Portal is that it lets plant managers manage the facility from a holistic viewpoint instead of programming each device individually. The framework’s extensive library of functional PLC code blocks and object-oriented programming utilizes an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface.

Plant engineers can quickly develop and deploy the control logic and configurations for any number of PLCs, HMIs and motor drives. The TIA Portal tools do all the work that used to require advanced software development skills such as symbolic programming, editing, compiling and debugging, saving hundreds of hours of work while reducing errors to a small fraction of more manual programming approaches.

The architecture also lets companies retain critical legacy code. The TIA Portal’s library feature also lets plant engineers mix-and-match code for various production lines and recipes so they don’t have to start from scratch when they need to create a new production line or process or reconfigure existing ones.

On the hardware side, upgrading to modern PLCs lets companies take advantage of technologies’ huge speed improvements. Controllers and networks are only the tip of this iceberg.

Today’s infrastructure components typically have built-in switching with two or more data ports. That lets network managers set up topologies that save long wiring runs back to a central switch, cutting costs while reducing complexity. Wireless implementations can also save expensive cabling and offer tremendous flexibility and scalability in configuring plant layouts.

Security and safety can also be improved. TIA lets plant engineers establish several layers of security with relatively little administrative effort. Firewalls, VPNs, encryption, role-specific authentication are just some of the security features that can be deployed in a multilayered security architecture

The many companies that still have dedicated safety networks can dramatically simplify their wiring and control architectures by integrating safety and controls on a single network.

Modern PLC technology makes safety integration easy. Greater integration of control and safety systems simplifies complexity by reducing the issues related to different programming procedures and languages; installation and configuration requirements; maintenance; and, last but not least, human errors.

A host of advances in recent years make it far easier to upgrade facilities and gain the benefits of modern, open architectures. Instead of questioning whether an upgrade is necessary, plant manager should ask how to best upgrade and when to do it.

Good planning and experienced assistance can eliminate or at least minimize production disruptions, reducing upgrade times a month or less. With an annual combined system ROI of up to 30 percent, a modernized automation system can pay for itself within a very short time. The time for plant operators to act is now, so their decisions to upgrade today can start paying off sooner rather than later.

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