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Suppliers and users share responsibility for successful control-system migrations

05.01.2012  |  Reynolds, P.,  ARC Advisory Group, 

Keywords: [control systems] [reliability] [automation] [safety]

Owner-operators and suppliers face many complex issues relative to when and how to migrate obsolete control systems and technology. ARC Advisory Group estimates that $65 billion of obsolete technology is still presently in use today, and much of it can be found in hydrocarbon processing plants. While many older systems are still performing well beyond the original life expectancy, this can introduce appreciable risk for owner-operators.

Some issues relate to the lack of availability from automation system components. However, another major concern is the skill shortage needed to support obsolete systems. Owner-operators must decide how to justify and manage risk to their manufacturing business; while suppliers must develop solutions that simplify the process, and enable owner-operators to migrate successfully from the obsolete systems to a better operating platform.

A half-day workshop at the recent ARC World Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida, brought together over 100 end users, suppliers, system integrators, and engineering contractors to discuss issues, needs and wants associated with migrating control systems. Suppliers and end users came away from the workshop with very useful information on planning out migration strategies.

Justifying control-system migrations

Justifying a control-system migration may be one of the biggest challenges owner-operators will face. While plant engineers are most efficient on determining equipment reliability and predicting end of life, this task is more difficult with control systems. It is challenging to convince management of the need and urgency to replace or to migrate to new control-system technology.

In particular, one problem is that assets such as pumps, pipes, conveyer systems and other mechanical devices are designed to be repaired or replaced as components. In contrast, automation assets, in many cases, have to be replaced in their entirety.

Key practices in justifying migrations

The ARC workshop highlighted common practices used to justify migrations. Some reflect internal practices that might be executed during a migration project. Others represent “open season” for many technology suppliers, engineering contractors and system integrators, and include:

• Developing a financial assessment for the cost— NOT the migration
• Improving the rigor of control-systems reliability data to include actual failure events
• Developing a technology maturity model across industry. Some facilities are late adopters, while others are current with technology
• Benchmarking against other companies that are running obsolete systems
• Driving value by creating long-term contracts and user-supplier relationships. Remember: Supplier evaluations are 70% technical and 30% commercial.
• Practicing standardization within the organization; it can help lower total cost of ownership significantly. Do a solid market assessment before beginning your migration.

Migration approach selection

The workshop made it very clear that migration approaches vary not just from industry-to-industry, but from company-to-company. Operating companies must decide whether to do migrations while the plant is operating (via hot cutovers) or while the plant is offline (using a phased or vertical migration). According to some workshop participants, while it’s important to be aware of these general options, they don’t necessarily reduce migration complexity.

In general, owner-operators of refineries and petrochemical plants (which “never sleep”) prefer to use the hot cut over approach, since turnarounds are done at long (typically five-year) intervals. Conversely, most chemical and polymer plants have more frequent turnarounds and other plant outages, making it easier to coordinate and manage an offline cutover.

One leading integrated refiner/petrochemical/specialty-chemical company performs approximately 85% of its migrations using the hot cutover approach and 15% using the offline cutover approach. A leading global SI found that hot cut-overs are more cost-effective. Some users indicated that, regardless of planning, hurricanes and other Acts of God can force unplanned migrations.

Supplier selection considerations

While the migration strategy is a key factor in vendor selection, workshop participants agreed that most migrations are done on a per-site basis. One global chemical company is now minimizing the number of vendors and is standardizing to lower total cost of ownership. Another major integrated energy company looks to the automation supplier to come back and manage the hardware inventory and to also help the company decide when system components should be replaced.

Many end users also believed that it was important to manage a technology roadmap with suppliers on an ongoing basis. Having all plant sites near obsolescence at the same time would be extremely detrimental to operations.

Supplier evaluation techniques that work well in the early stages of a migration project included a weighted scorecard against all criteria using KT or Six-Sigma approaches. Workshop participants noted that a wide range of definition and weighting for each criterion were used based on differences and priorities by the organizations. Developing a functional specification upfront proved to be invaluable for any project.


Develop appropriate risk-management strategies

Owner-operators and control-system end users must develop risk-management strategies for automation technologies that align with their operational philosophy, corporate directives and risk-management guidelines. This will ensure that investment decisions for plant automation are made at the highest level within the organization and that the project team will have appropriate corporate-level support.

Suppliers and end users must also jointly develop long-term strategies. This will ensure that obsolete equipment is sustained until a migration project can be planned. End users, suppliers and any third-party engineering and procurement contractor or system integrator firms must be involved in migration projects. Successful migration projects need the proper mix of resources and involve management experts at an early stage. Ultimately, the owner-operator must balance the risks of failure and lost opportunities against new capabilities and standardization. HP

The author

Peter Reynolds has more than 20 years of professional experience in process control, advanced automation applications, information technology, enterprise and supply chain in the downstream oil refining and petroleum product marketing industry. Prior to joining ARC in 2011, Mr. Reynolds served as the strategic planning manager for automation and IT at Irving Oil in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. Irving Oil operates Canada’s largest refinery.  

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Pierre R Latour

Finally somebody is beginning to see the Light, catch on.

Measureing performance comes first. Licensing it for a fair % must follow. Optimizing risky tradeoffs is key.

This cannot be done properly without CLIFFTENT™ and SR2™, which I have published in HP since 1996. Worth > $1/bbl crude refined, net.

I proposed this to Irving Oil Refinery, New Brunswick, for Biles & Associates in 1975. And the whole HPI for Setpoint, DMCC & AspenTech, 1992-96. And ARC in 2001.

Alas, what might have been.

Pierre R Latour, President, CLIFFTENT Inc

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