Effective process control system migration, Part 1: Planning advice

Examine how to manage DCS migration preparation with front-end loading design goals. A new DCS with high-performance human-machine interface (HMI) can help operators resolve abnormal situations 41% faster.

By Lynn Njaa September 3, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Examine how to manage DCS migration preparation, 3 front-end loading goals.
  • Look at DCS migration of functionality and new capabilities.
  • See examples of DCS migration innovation vs. 41% abnormal situation deficit.

System integrators often assist with effective process control system migrations. In the Control Engineering webcast, “Effective Process Control Migration,” provided needed advice. Many distributed control systems (DCS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems have reached the end of useful life. Process control systems (PCS) need to be secure, reliable, and safe. Unsupported or outdated systems need to be migrated to newer, supported, more capable process control system technologies.

Who should be involved in a DCS migration and why? How should those involved determine preparation, timing and structure for a DCS migration? What advantages of a modern process control system? Before starting a DCS to PCS migration examine these lessons learned.

Planning of industrial control projects and applications

As a platform neutral process automation consultant and account manager, Lynn Njaa, has spent her career covering the design implementation, estimation and planning of industrial control projects and applications. With more than 30 years of experience with instrumentation and control systems and software, she leverages industry expertise to help customers make strategic key technological business decisions and implement solutions that best fit present future operational and business objectives.

Njaa continues below with advice.

DCS migration stakeholders, preparation, timeline, structure

We’re going to review who should be involved in a DCS migration and why. Next, we’re going to determine the preparation, the timing, the structure for a DCS migration. After that, we’ll cover the desirable traits that manages a modern process control system.

DCS migration participation and why

Who should be involved with the DCS migration? Automation systems are critical to business operations. Automation systems are the brain for plant, for process control and output, and ultimately for profitability. There’s also a lot at stake, hence stakeholders. By definition, a stakeholder is a person with an interest or a concern in the business. So, who needs to be there and why?

Let’s start at the corporate level. Depending on the size of the migration, any number of corporate level resources may be involved. Some examples are the capital planning manager, a procurement manager, a program or project manager. It could be anyone at the corporate level.

These resources, usually, not always, but usually, have great influence over the amount of funds to be used and when they can be distributed. An example is a large year-over-year (YOY) migration that may cost upwards of anywhere from $2 to $10 million. To manage business effectively, a maximum year-over-year spend will be set for the duration of the migration, be it two years or 10 years. They will determine the dollars every year that can be expended on that migration. Of course, the bigger the migration, the longer it may take and the more money to spend.

Site level DCS migration involvement: engineering, operations, maintenance

So, let’s move on to the site level. The following representative resources should always be involved in the very beginning: engineering, operations and maintenance. Never underestimate the necessity to have as much positive support as practical from each of these disciplines. Each discipline is critical to the implementation and ongoing support and sustainability of the new control system.

Here’s just an example. Let’s say that engineering and operations disagree on how a unit should run to obtain its full output potential. Engineering insists running everything in automatic is the best way, but they’ve never really fully explained why or gotten operations input or involved, so operations is not heard. So, they don’t have buy-in or agreement. Operations truly believes their solution is better. Until there’s agreement between those two entities, there’s friction. The last thing you want on a migration is friction. You never want to slow things down. Everyone should be agreement, moving forward to a common goal.

Another reason to have involvement from engineering, operations and maintenance disciplines is that, long after the migration project is complete, the site will have total ownership of the control system and will be required to maintain it. Getting them involved upfront will bring great benefits of support, tribal knowledge and personal satisfaction of each of the discipline’s resources. The results of their effort and collaboration will likely be there longer than their careers at that particular site.

I know that in my career, there have been times that we started a migration, and people on the team said, “Hey, I remember when I installed that way back in the day.” And they can tell me particulars about what happened, what was good, what was bad, who worked on the project and what it was like. It’s really a memorable thing when you do a migration.

DCS migration preparation; 3 front-end loading goals

To prepare for a DCS migration, engage in a process called front-end loading (FEL), essentially doing as much as practical as early as possible and document along the way.

Historically, the FEL process begins the project and has three primary goals.

  1. Provide budgeting justification to successfully navigate the corporate capital expenditure (CapEx) funding tollgates, and the ability to secure stakeholder. (Remember the stakeholders support through the organization.)
  2. Reduce the implementation risk for cost, schedule and system performance.
  3. Provide reliable (“reliable” is key), preliminary engineering and project execution planning. What are FEL phases?

FEL1 is a conceptual level. FEL1 accuracy is approximately +50% or -50% for the estimate and subsequent documents that go with it. And it’s basically a go or no-go for the project. So, it’s very high-level conceptual view. The business wants to know, “Does it even make sense to do this project?” For most DCS migrations today, they’re facing obsolescence’ or there are risk issues.

Sometimes they’ll just skip the FEL1 phase altogether because they already know they have to do the project, in this case, DCS migration. They don’t have a choice.

FEL2 level is the capital planning level. That has accuracy of about +30% or -30%. This is when the year-over-year plan is estimated. Also, during this stage, it’s the appropriate time to select a vendor. If a company thinks it might want to migrate to a different control system platform, this is the phase to select that new format.

FEL3 is to fund individual projects. There may be many smaller projects in a large capital plan because it makes sense to address other things at the same time, and/or to break down various project components. Even without additional parts, every project has an FEL3 portion to refine accuracy to +10% or -10%.

But let’s not get hung up on FEL. Let’s just assume we’re in the FEL2 phase, and we’re looking at capital planning at +30% or -30% accuracy for estimating and planning for year-over-year migration.

Estimating, planning DCS migration in FEL2

So, how do we begin to do all that? First, we begin by defining an overall scope that’s well aligned with business needs and facility requirements. Depending on the size of the migration, scope may need to be parsed out into multiple projects in FEL3. It could be a really big organization or a plant that has a lot of different processes or separate processes that need to be migrated separately. Each might be separate projects or this might be a smaller migration.

Next, very early in the process, define the risks and determine how to mitigate them. This is a critical activity that should get input from the stakeholders at the corporate level and should also have a brainstorming session at the site level with operations, maintenance and engineering. Again, it is really important to keep operations, maintenance and engineering working together, even for examining all the risks. Getting those risks on paper and understanding what they are and how to mitigate them before the beginning will be extraordinarily helpful in the migration.

DCS migration safety, cybersecurity, downtime, resources, networks, data

Consider such things as safety, cybersecurity, downtime, resource availability, network traffic levels and data integrity, while there’s still the greatest flexibility to deal with them. It’s much easier to deal with all those things before starting the project than halfway into it. It’s best that this step be executed prior to developing the migration plan. Again, the earlier that’s identified, the easier it is to deal with, and it’s also less expensive to deal with it from the get-go.

The FEL2 phases are the appropriate time to evaluate and select the best control system platform to be migrated to and evaluate project options. Look at all the options and really take time to see what is going to be the best fit. Subsequently, development of an execution plan for the engineering and the installation of the new system should begin.

DCS migration: No functionality left behind, new capabilities

The execution plan includes the reverse engineering of the functionality of the legacy system to ensure no functionality is left behind as well as how the new system will be cut over. Will it be hot or will it be in an outage?

From the previous steps, the development of an accurate cost estimate to the level appropriate for the FEL phase for the project, that the project is in, should be started. This is called the total installed cost estimate. A front-end loading project often discusses total installed cost estimate or TIC. So, one of the outputs of that TIC or estimate, is the project hours. This information is going to be critical to the development of the migration schedule. A proper migration schedule should be all inclusive, of all of the following, for each parsed-out project.

DCS migration schedule

A DCS migration schedule should include the current and subsequent FELs, design, engineering, testing, installation, startup and commissioning. Additionally, development of the total cost of ownership or TCO for comparisons of different options to select the best alternatives and to maximize return on investment (ROI) should be considered. If the migration is small, the cost of putting in TCO together, may not make sense. Using all these documents I’ve mentioned and doing an assessment using a phased approach to spread out the capital expenditure over years should be analyzed and reviewed with the guidance of corporate stakeholders for expenditures.

Successful DCS migration plan

A successful DCS migration requires an early and strong effort spent on good effective planning. While the outcome of a DCS migration project can be changed throughout the effort (even toward the end), the effort required to make changes and associated costs rise very quickly the farther along the project gets. Don’t undercut the future success of a project by skimping on the planning and budgeting effort during early definition. Effort spent early pays for itself many times over later.

The chart shows that the ability to influence the outcome is the greatest at the far left in the planning FEL1, 2 and 3, when the cost is at its lowest.

Moving across the chevron horizontally, moving into design and development, the ability to influence the outcome falls significantly and the cost increases significantly.

For example, suppose in a DCS migration project, towards the end of the design and development section or phase of the project, there’s a change, or a discovery that you do or don’t need some networking equipment, or someone starts changing tags. Anything like that is going to cause reverse engineering. Anything that requires additional reverse engineering, will cost more money and time.

After planning changes are usually how DCS migration budgets get blown. Not spending enough upfront time planning, getting everybody on board and really thinking through everything and thinking far ahead.

Some people tire of planning details and just try to go ahead and get it migrated. I’ve had a lot of customers in a really big hurry to get the migration done, and it takes twice as long to get it done because they skipped planning phases and went straight into implementation. Unfortunately, it’s a common and costly issue.

DCS migration innovation vs. 41% abnormal situation deficit

DCS migration innovation requires more than bring over prior capabilities. Innovative new capabilities should be incorporated into migration planning because they will pay for themselves. I’ve seen it time and time again.

For example, tests have shown that it takes 41% longer for an operator to handle an abnormal situation using a legacy DCS interface as compared to a high-performance human-machine interface (HMI). In a modern DCS with a high-performance HMI, plant problems are recognized much earlier, giving operators a chance to intervene before production is impacted.

In a real-world example, I was consulting and in a control room with a customer using commonly used black screens with many different colors. The facility had an incident, and it took operators more than 20 minutes to figure out what had gone wrong. All production stopped. My customer excused himself to help address the situation. I just stood back and watched what was kind of happening in the control room, and there was a lot of confusion. There was some finger pointing. There were operators running in and out of the doors trying to figure out what was going on. After more than 20 minutes, the figured it out, began to fix it and get back online. That’s a really long time.

A typical plant loses more than 5% of its total capacity every year due to disruptions caused by poor alarm response. By eliminating unnecessary alarms and properly prioritizing those that remain, it’s much easier for operators to quickly identify root causes and effectively take action.

High-performance HMI graphics, alarm rationalization

So, what I’ve talked about, there are two separate innovations. One is HMI high-performance graphics, and the second is alarm rationalization by reducing the number of alarms coming into the control room. Both of those were part of the real-world instances above.

A lot of facilities that haven’t yet migrated may be in that situation.

For those who have migrated with one-to-one matching capabilities also may not have high-performance HMIs and alarm rationalization available in a new DCS. If that’s the case, it’s not too late to go back and those done; they will still pay for themselves.

But it’s always better to look at that those innovations during a DCS migration by taking advantage of that time, and gracefully getting things incorporated into the migration.

DCS cybersecurity, safety, MES integration

Identifying what new technologies to incorporate based on anticipated benefits for a particular situation will pay dividends. Establishing integration across multiple platforms, including manufacturing execution systems (MES) in business systems, have become crucial to being competitive.

Incorporating the latest control functionality, developing effective HMIs, alarm management, compliance safety systems, the latest cybersecurity defenses and other valuable technology will enhance profitability. The risk of not having proper cybersecurity in place for a control system is extensive.

Overall DCS migration benefits

Imagine if the profitable output of a plant were increased by only 1% per day after migration. That could be substantial depending on the business for the DCS migration.

To summarize, look at and involve all the right resources at corporate and site levels. Thorough planning and early risk mitigation are key to the success of DCS migration. Also, leveraging innovative technologies to increase business output and stay ahead of competition is also crucial.

Lynn Njaa is business development manager, DCSNext process automation consultant with Maverick Technologies. Maverick is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: Process control system migration, DCS migration


Are you planning appropriately for process control system migration? Are your competitors?

ONLINE extra

RCEP/PDH webcast, available until March 23, 2022: Effective process control system migration https://www.controleng.com/webcasts/effective-process-control-system-migration/

Effective process control system migration, Part 1: Planning advice

Effective process control system migration, Part 2: Open standards help

Effective process control system migration, Part 3: Poll results, answers

Effective process control system migration: More answers

Author Bio: Lynn Njaa is business development manager, DCSNext process automation consultant with Maverick Technologies.