DCS Migration: Failure Is Not an Option

And Doing Nothing Is Not a Solution. DCS Migration Is an Opportunity to Design, Implement and Maintain a 21st-Century Control System That Will Help Industry Processes Be More Efficient and Safe

By Matt Sigmon

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Many others haven't been so proactive, yet these Followers are now beginning to embark on similar endeavors. They are starting and completing evaluations; developing preliminary estimates and schedules; and laying out roadmaps for their migrations. Some in this second category are further along than others, but all face similar challenges, including vendor selection, funding approval, and figuring out how to migrate thousands of I/O and application programs to a new system with little or no downtime.

Finally, a number of manufacturers, the Laggards, are in reactive mode and have done little or nothing to plan for or begin migrating their obsolete systems. In a recent discussion, one controls engineer told me his management' will not begin replacing their old DCS until equipment failures that can't be remedied with parts refurbished on-site cause process downtime.

Failure should not be an option, yet for some industrial manufacturers it's a very real possibility, particularly those in the third category. With no plan, no funding approved and no migration work completed, they potentially face production downtime, loss of efficiency and diminished market presence. And without an effective, proactive plan, they will likely struggle to secure funding, fail to thoroughly evaluate their options, and spend too much when they finally begin the process of migration.

Even so, there is time and opportunity to plan for success, implement the right solution and move your organization forward. How? Here are some key steps that should be put into practice post-haste.

First, start planning now. Don't delay any longer. In 1961, President Kennedy issued a great challenge to the American people and to a specific team of engineers, scientists, pilots and others. But it took more than a challenge for the goal to be achieved. It took years of planning, research, effort and continued refining of the solutions and designs. The team did not quit after the Apollo 1 tragedy, and neither did it quit when faced the impending disaster of Apollo 13. Failure was not, and should not, be an option. Plan the work and work the plan, and start planning now. Incorporate all the stakeholders in the design team, and demand the assistance of vendors and control system integrators at the very front end of the project.

Second, remember that you must develop the project in light of the business goals of the enterprise and the place of the plant in the company's overall financial strategy. Funding for migration projects will likely not come easily or quickly, and you will need a strategy and plan in order to secure it. The sooner you take the first couple of steps, the sooner you can get funding approved, and begin implementing a holistic plan that addresses not only the obsolescence of your existing systems, but also helps you drive process improvement.

Third, get the right people on your team and challenge them to deliver. Remind them failure (e.g., downtime, loss of production, etc.) is not an option, and success is achievable. You likely can't go this alone, and you'll need a team that possesses the right aptitude and attitude for success. Look for partners and team members that understand your needs and goals and will be mutually committed to your mission's success. Be careful of biases and excuses—they'll lead you down the wrong road or hold you back. Seek out those who are objective and experienced. They can be found in your supplier community, in the control system integrator community, and among your plant operators and maintenance staff.

And fourth, but not last, as you face challenges, setbacks and delays, go back to your plan, revise your solutions and keep moving forward. Stagnation and apathy will result in missed opportunities and possibly failure. As the Apollo 13 mission taught us, never panic and never give up on finding the right solution. Lay out the options, consider them objectively and develop a migration and funding plan that meets your objectives and results in success. 

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