Modernization of industrial automation and controls can be a daunting task for any facility. There are many different questions to be asked. You may find yourself wondering if it is the right time to upgrade, worrying about how much it will cost, and feeling overwhelmed by the idea of such a massive undertaking. Despite this, setting a clear and organized plan can help make this process as painless as possible. In this blog, we will discuss the process of developing a plan for automation modernization.
The first step is to gather internal experts and stakeholders. A project of this magnitude will inevitably need the input and approval of many different people such as executives, financial experts, line operators, and more. A meeting of these minds will help the employees of your facility transparently discuss ideas and concerns upfront. Once this is complete, you can move on to the second step: development of a thorough internal specification. To carry out this step, you and your team will need to answer questions in four key areas: network configuration, facility environment, data & reporting needs, and network security needs.
A common impetus for modernization is the need to improve interconnectivity amongst your facility’s networks. There are a number of things to consider about your network configuration. Among these are the system’s current configuration, whether or not your networks are separated, how well your machines work in tandem with one another, and whether or not your production systems are connected to the enterprise and business systems. Modern advanced automation systems address all these needs, providing systems that are integrated, communicate with each other, and operate with enterprise-level business solutions. Incorporation of these features will ensure a facility is performing at optimal capacity and quality.
Slowed production, dips in quality, or high repair costs are all good reasons to begin upgrading to a new automation platform. Despite the cost, the return on your investment will pay off in many other areas. Things to consider include the state of your facility, whether or not your machinery is operating at the proper rate, if you need to cut staff but increase production, and how difficult it is to find parts for your hardware. The addition of modern industrial automation controls will not only improve machine uptime, but also increase production efficiency, decrease part replacement costs, and improve safety.
Data and Reporting Needs
Having smart devices enabled in your plant provides advanced data capture and reporting capabilities. In turn, this allows you to determine which areas within your facility that are under-performing earlier and act on them faster. In order to identify the best areas for smart devices, the following questions should be posed: What data must be collected? Is there a standardized method of collection? Is it a manual or automated process? Is there currently data you cannot capture? And lastly, how long does it take to identify and address areas that are under-performing? These considerations will help provide a direction for the next steps of modernization. In addition to this, automated data capture allows operators to inspect site machinery, product, and personnel performance remotely.
Network Security Needs
The security of the networks in your facility should always be a top priority. Upgraded automation components can not only protect your plant from outside attack but also internal operation errors. If you need to improve network security or access permissions, the addition of advanced automation components can be a huge boost. Cyber attacks on industrial facilities are surprisingly common and continuing to increase in frequency.
Upon addressing all four of these areas, you and your team can move on to step three: considering the future of industrial automation and controls. In addition to your facility’s current need, you may also want to think about what will be needed in the future. By introducing upgraded components now, your facility will be more compatible with future advancements such as wireless routers access, virtualization, cloud computing, and remote services. All of these are on the rise and may be needed in your facility sooner than expected, and waiting to upgrade until your systems fail could cost millions in losses. Being proactive with industrial automation and controls upgrades can prevent this and prove a long time benefit.
Encompassing steps one through three, step four is to write a specification (spec) document that covers all of the following:
The fifth and final step is to, using your spec document, consult vendors and integrators for vetting and pricing. It is critical to find partners you can trust to provide a fair quote and assess your plan for practical use. These extra people can help you think of things you missed, as well as complete budgets, timelines, and other preliminary designs.
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