Why and How to Upgrade a DCS

June 11, 2013
Learn Why You Should Migrate Distributed Control Systems and How to Do So

In his white paper, "Upgrading Your DCS: Why You May Need to Do It Sooner Than You Think," Chad Harper of system integrator Maverick Technologies lays out some reasons for migrating distributed control systems, and describes how to approach it.

Signs Your DCS Needs Upgrading

  • Staff resources supporting the existing DCS are close to retirement;
  • Vendor plans to end support for the product;
  • Control problems are causing unplanned outages and increased downtime;
  • Latest technologies are not compatible with your DCS;
  • Spare parts and technical support are becoming hard to find.

Why Not to Wait Too Long to Upgrade

  • Present staff don't know your legacy DCS;
  • Waiting until support for DCS ends will make migration harder;
  • Old systems often can't use new technologies;
  • Old DCSs only allow for configuration of certain types of controls;
  • Cost of maintaining an old system will outgrow the cost of migration.

Approaching a DCS Upgrade

Because upgrading a DCS can be a monumental and expensive project, it's important to evaluate whether it makes more sense to migrate all at once or conduct a partial or phased approach, which most DCS suppliers offer. A phased upgrade can be less risky, spread out costs and minimize downtime. Two common phased-migration methods are

  • Upgrade HMIs first. Most newer DCS HMIs can be configured on top of legacy control systems. This can be done on a running plant with little impact to production. By upgrading the HMI first, you ensure that toperators know the new technology before the complete system is installed. Changes in presentation and interaction with new controls are some of the biggest hurdles that operators face. Many new HMI packages also support extra connectivity, such as OPC. HMI software can serve as an interface that allows for development of MES and ERP projects without needing a full DCS revamp.
  • Replace the controllers and HMI, but leave the existing I/O modules. Most of the latest DCSs can connect to I/O devices at the backplane of old DCS controllers.

Most I/O and field wiring can be left in place and upgraded as needed. This allows for easier hot cutovers and the ability to change out I/O as plant shutdown schedules permit. It also reduces labor costs for electrical and wiring work and associated documentation updates, such as wiring diagrams.