Stress-Free Retirement Planning

Planning for the Retirement of Process Automation Assets is Akin to Planning for Ones Own Retirement; Do It Right and the Outcome is Highly Rewarding

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By Dave Harrold

Just as employers have shifted retirement planning to the individual employee, the adoption of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) process automation systems (PAS) has shifted more of the responsibility for their end-of-life-cycle planning from manufacturers to owner-operators.

For the past few years the aging population of instrument and automation professionals has been widely discussed at conferences and well-documented in major trade-publication. The universal question has been, “What is being done to capture the knowledge of these professionals before they all retire?” Likewise, ARC Advisory Group estimates that about $65 billion of installed automation systems are nearing the end of their useful lives, which means a slightly modified version of that same universal question: “What is or can be done to prepare the aging installed PAS base for retirement?”

Whether it is personnel- or PAS-retirement planning, the most successful outcomes are the result of early planning, heeding the advice from those who have already been there and done that, applying the wisdom of advisors and experts who understand your unique situation, regular and sufficient investments, regular plan reviews and adjustments when necessary, and trusted assistance when it comes time to executing the payout.

Retirement Planning Successes

For every horror story you may have heard about a PAS modernization project that went awry, there are hundreds of successes, mainly because these companies heeded the advice of others, sought the wisdom of experts and planned, planned, planned.

Lubrizol’s Deer Park, Texas, plant’s manufacturing process used a variety of disparate legacy PAS solutions. Desiring to improve product quality, reduce process variability and engineering and operational costs, Lubrizol created a detailed retirement plan for its PAS solutions that included incorporating Emerson’s DeltaV Foundation fieldbus technologies.

Bruce Johnson, Lubizol’s Deer Park manager of instrumentation and control says, “Emerson’s step-wise migration solution provided us an opportunity to gain immediate benefits from our modernization efforts.”

Rod Wetsch, project manager for Dakota Gasification Great Plains Synfuels in Beulah, S.D., is another beneficiary of this kind of pre-planning. “We were looking for a system that could migrate without touching the field wiring, so that we could minimize downtime. Thus form factor was important to us when we were selecting a migration solution. Because we were able to capitalize on reusing the legacy systems backplanes and card cages, we only had to replace the existing electronics with Foxboro’s I/A Series ( form factor using the existing racks, thus completely eliminating the need to touch any field wiring. This saved us an enormous number of man hours in completing the migration, which in the end saved us money by limiting our downtime to a very narrow time frame,” he says.

Erachem Comilog Inc’s Johnsville, Tenn., plant, with assistance from Industrial Concepts, Inc. in Hartsville, S.C., formulated a four-year PAS modernization plan to replace its existing ABB System Six with ABB’s System 800xA, (, add Profibus networks and I/O products, add seven integrated video cameras and increase the number of operator workstations, all while improving product quality, reducing operating costs and experiencing zero process downtime.

Jim Peppers of Hexcel Corp. in Decatur, Ala, explains how his company approached the decision to upgrade or replace its aging PAS.

“In 2002, our management/technical team was faced with deciding if we should upgrade or replace our installed Yokogawa Centum XL system. In order to answer the question; ‘Should we stay with Yokogawa or consider a total PAS replacement?’ we initiated a fairly lengthy and formalized evaluation process of major PAS manufactures. We even attended the engineering course of one of the suppliers in order to ensure that we confidently determined the best path forward for Hexcel. In the end, we determined the best solution for us was to upgrade to Yokogawa’s Centum CS3000 ( system,” says Peppers.

To ensure the evaluation remained as objective and open minded as possible, Hexcel’s technical/management team evaluated and ranked the top PAS contenders against the following factors (not in order of priority):
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  • Advanced control features
  • Advanced problem solving capabilities/Predictive Maintenance/Diagnostics
  • Capital expense
  • Conversion on unique application code
  • Migration path options
  • Operator familiarity
  • Plant information management system options
  • Reliability/History/Track Record
  • Service
  • Space for expansion.

Following roughly the same strategy as Hexcel Corp., Jeff Mueller, engineering manager at National Starch and Chemical Company’s Electronic Materials Division in Salisbury, N.C., was one of the key architects of National Starch’s multi-year Manufacturing Control Technology Roadmap.

Challenged to improve product reproducibility, extend the life of its installed hardware base and include automation for a new, nearby manufacturing facility, Mueller and his team recognized that in order to determine the correct automation partner, they needed a detailed and formal process.

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