01 Oct 2022 Whitepaper, Automation

Modernization is the process of updating the existing hardware that is no longer produced or supported to hardware that is in production and supported by the manufacturer. This is an issue almost every business that uses automation will eventually have to address. I will put forward my perspective on the topic with pros and cons but ultimately each business will have to make the decision eventually. This is by no means an exhaustive review of the different approaches because each system will have specific considerations.

One avenue that companies can pursue when modernizing their obsolete hardware is to change the hardware to a competitor. This might make sense for a company that has been plagued with issues concerning their current manufacturer or if their current manufacturer’s costs are prohibitive to updating. This avenue comes with hidden costs though and sometimes those costs would be more expensive than the cost of their current manufacturer’s hardware, at least in the short term. The hidden cost can be reprogramming controllers, rewiring hardware, reconfiguring SCADA and HMIs, and downtime. Another aspect is the technical capabilities of the personnel that will be servicing the equipment. Moving to a new programming platform will require the personnel to learn a new programming environment.

Another direction a company can take is to stay with the current manufacturer and utilize the upgrade path the manufacturer has designed. One of the main benefits to this approach is the conversion can be done incrementally as the old hardware fails. Wiring issues are usually addressed by the manufacturer to minimize the amount of rewiring that needs to be done. This option is usually the most straight forward and easiest but can also have unforeseen expenses and delays. The existing hardware age and any specialized features will be some of the determining factors to the ease of converting. With this option there can also be retraining for the programming software of the new hardware.

Overall staying with the same manufacturer gives the most benefits when modernizing but each company is unique so listening to their needs and understanding their operations will allow you to assist them in making the decision. Whatever path a company chooses to take it is better for them to plan and address modernizing on their own timeline than to wait till the old hardware fails and be forced to address it.