No matter how solid a piece of automation control equipment is, at some point, it reaches the end of its lifecycle. PLCs can last for decades without issue, but eventually it becomes time to upgrade to newer technology. Spare parts become scarce, DOS programming software no longer runs on your Windows-based laptop, and the burden on your team to maintain the old technology is too risky. Modernizing your PLC system becomes necessary for every organization at some point.
As in every aspect of business, automation technology changes over time.
Every ten or twelve years, every major automation manufacturer releases a new product line that replaces one of their old lines. Each time these new ‘faster, smarter, smaller’ controllers are released, you must decide whether or not to migrate over from the old technology to the new technology. While it’s not necessary to upgrade your system every time a manufacturer upgrades their product lines, over time the spare parts and support for the older platforms go away, and eventually, migration becomes necessary.
Benefits of a PLC Migration
Regardless of what reason drives you to upgrade your control systems, there are a number of benefits to modernizing your PLCs, whether in part or in full, including:
Today’s PLCs are based on the latest processor chip-sets that are the fastest to hit the factory floor. Sophisticated redundancy algorithms, robust programming tools, and fast I/O buses provide huge performance upgrades in a much smaller footprint. And it’s also a great time to make efficiency improvements in the performance of the machine.
Enhanced Communication and Information Sharing:
With built-in communication standards like Ethernet, Profi-Net and others, today’s PLCs can easily connect to other plant systems and get easy access to information for optimized productivity. Network connection allows cross-communication between PLCs and can be connected to a data collection system for real-time machine information.
Spare PLC Parts:
Of course spare parts will be readily available for years to come for the new system you select. But getting rid of the old system may allow you to get rid of (expensive) spares held just for that system. In addition, if you migrate to a controller family that you already have running elsewhere in your plant, you can leverage your existing spare parts inventory.
Avoiding Unscheduled Downtime:
The chances that a newly upgraded machine with the latest PLC technology will fail is much lower than that of a machine with legacy controls. And who can’t use a little more sleep at night?
You will receive the best hardware and software support with newer PLCs. And if your maintenance team is already trained on the new platform you have chosen, you’re that much further ahead of the game.
Upgrading a system to the latest technology provides a host of benefits, but getting from point A to point B (or, from concept to completion) can pose some challenges if not managed properly. It’s important to have a solid plan of attack before you upgrade.
Ideas to consider include:
When can I take the machine down and for how long?
How will we operate our facility while that machine is down?
Besides the cost of the replacement hardware, have we considered the total cost of programming, re-wiring, installation and training?
Are there any changes to the performance of the machine that we should address?
Working with a knowledgeable partner with a proven process and an experienced team who knows all the ins and outs of migration mitigates many of the risks. Rely on a partner who can guide you through every step of the way.