How a Controls System Upgrade Boosts Your Plant’s Efficiency

July 13, 2022 - Author: Dan Idzikowski , Senior Instrumentation and Controls Engineer

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In manufacturing, research, and development, your business outcomes are only as good as your equipment. Running a reliable system with optimized performance and efficiency can provide a critical competitive advantage.

Buying industrial equipment isn’t like buying an iPhone. You don’t upgrade just because a new model is available. Most manufacturing systems include expensive, bespoke equipment designed to last for decades. A controls system upgrade can give this equipment a new lease on life for a fraction of the cost of equipment replacement.

Technology moves fast, and today’s control platforms are faster and more powerful than ever. They’re also designed to seamlessly integrate into existing plant networks.

Benefits of a controls upgrade

There are myriad ways a controls upgrade can give your plant’s productivity a boost. Here are just a few:

  • Optimized performance. Modern control systems can collect, store, and analyze tremendous amounts of data. They can provide operators critical information to boost energy efficiency, troubleshoot errors, and reduce downtime. The computing power of an upgraded controls system can help you operate your entire plant more efficiently.
  • Remote access. New controllers have remote support capabilities so you no longer have to be in front of a machine to troubleshoot it.“You can have fewer people looking over more processes,” said Dan Idzikowski, Senior Instrumentation and Controls Engineer at ACS. “You can monitor performance from anywhere in the facility using the plant network or even from outside using a secure web connection.” Combined with error alerting, your upgraded controls could automatically alert an on-call operator to a failure in the system, even if it happens off hours. In some cases, the operator could log in to the system and either clear the alert or resolve the issue remotely.
  • Increased visibility. A controls system upgrade is an opportunity to integrate disparate equipment and sensors into a common control network. You should be able to view information about your systems from any screen in the plant. This whole-network visibility helps operators make better decisions about how to prioritize their time.

When to upgrade your controls system

When the system is no longer supported

Your controls system has both software and hardware components. Both will eventually reach the end of their useful life.

When software versions are no longer supported by modern operating systems, it’s time to upgrade. Using legacy operating systems or operating unsupported software versions is not only inefficient, it puts your system at risk for virus and cybersecurity threats.

When the manufacturer of your controllers stops supporting your legacy hardware, it’s time to plan for a controls system upgrade. If you’re left scouring eBay to find replacement parts, a minor hardware failure could have a ripple effect through your entire facility’s ability to operate.

“It can be a world of hurt if something goes down and you don’t have a stock of replacement parts,” Idzikowski said. “When you can no longer purchase your hardware direct from the distributor, it’s time to think about upgrading your system.”

When you’re upgrading integrated systems

When you’re upgrading mechanical systems, it’s best to complete a controls system upgrade at the same time to ensure the controllers can communicate effectively with the new equipment.

Whether upgraded controllers are talking to worn-out equipment or legacy controllers are trying to understand more powerful new equipment, at a certain point the age difference between systems can just be too much.

“The best thing to do is definitely to upgrade across the board,” Idzikowski said. “Software, controlling hardware, and mechanics. Just upgrading one system does not mean your process has been upgraded.”

A controls system upgrade also creates an opportunity to bring all of the controls systems on your site under one umbrella. Maintaining multiple controls systems creates issues with visibility, maintaining parts inventory, managing software upgrades, and maintaining training requirements.

Assessing your controls system

Under the right circumstances, a controls system upgrade can maximize your facility’s efficiency and give you a competitive edge. If you’re ready to talk about upgrading your controls system with a solution custom tailored to your needs, reach out and request a quote.

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