New visibility into the DCS lifecycle

Solvay Green River is developing a 20-year vision for the future of its process control system assets.

By Keith Larson

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Kevin Kelley learned the value of control system lifecycle management the hard way.

Following three losses of control system power in 2012, the process control foreman at Solvay Chemical’s Green River soda ash production facility in southwestern Wyoming oversaw the long-delayed replacement of the unit’s heretofore “uninterruptible” power supply (UPS). Replacing the UPS itself went smoothly, but then 64 of 300 associated control system power supplies failed to power back up. After not a little scrambling to keep the unit up and running, the team discovered that the 14-year-old power supplies in question had a recommended replacement interval of eight years. “It really bit us,” Kelley said.

So began an ongoing journey at Solvay Green River to better understand and proactively manage the lifecycle status of the plant’s process control systems. Kelley shared Solvay’s story in his best-of-conference presentation, “Solving the Lifecycle Management Equation,” at this week’s Yokogawa Users Group conference in Orlando. Today, the plant’s CENTUM VP R5 system from Yokogawa encompasses some 12,000 I/O points, 22 Field Control Stations, 17 operator stations, six engineering stations and eight plant servers. Further, it controls processes spread out across 20 miles.

Staying current a challenge

“Industrial control systems are put into operation with the expectation of long-term performance, often spanning many years,” Kelley said. During that long lifecycle, maintenance requirements often change due to factors such as innovations in technology, new releases in software and hardware, end of support for certain components, and technology refresh cycles for workstations and servers. And for modern control systems that use Microsoft Windows operating systems, patches and security updates represent an added burden. Other complicating factors include system and software release and revision cycles, backwards compatibility with older systems, as well as availability and support of hardware components. 

Because of these many challenges, end-users need a simple way to understand the ever-changing environment of control system lifecycle management, Kelley said. “As a manager it’s my job to get the most value possible out of our control system investments. Users such as Solvay must be able to define a lifecycle strategy for their control systems that provides them the best return on their investment without sacrificing system security or reliability.”

Lifecycle report boosts visibility

Even as Kelley and Solvay struggled to get a better handle on the lifecycle status of the plant’s automation assets, Yokogawa had begun preparing a lifecycle management report that would facilitate far greater visibility into the roadmap and future support requirements of those assets.

Each of Yokogawa’s new Lifecycle Reports is specifically prepared for each user’s system, explained John Gracia, manager of Yokogwa’s Techncial Assistance Center near Atlanta. “With this report, the customer can see where they are in the lifecycle of each system component, including maintenance and support options available as elements move from current release to maintenance and on to ‘best effort’ support and obsolete phases. With this information, they can better plan and understand Yokogawa’s support policies for the related system products.” Kelley particularly appreciates a color-coded Gant-style summary chart that shows where each system component currently stands in its support lifecycle. Red, yellow and green coding clearly indicates how close each element is to requiring attention.

“We’re looking to develop a 20-year vision for the future of the plant’s control system assets,” Kelley concluded. “We are in the middle of the process now and Yokogawa has provided us with a tool that takes much of the work out of defining this path. We believe a well-defined path will save us valuable time in maintaining our control system and it will give us the peace of mind that we have made a great effort to help keep things from slipping past us in the future.”

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