When is the right time to upgrade your control system?

In this article we’re going to cover how to identify the right time to invest in a new system, how to research the best new system and the components you need to meet your requirements. There’s quite a lot to cover so in this post we’ll focus on when to upgrade and how to research and choose a new system. In next month’s blog we’ll talk about what to consider before upgrading, including the features of new systems, costs and ease of use.

How do I know if I need a new system?

It can be difficult to give an average lifespan of a control system as a wide range of factors need to be taken into consideration. Although every facility or plant is likely to have their own approach when it comes to deciding whether a new control system is required, other factors need to be taken into consideration.

It’s often the case that control system operators and business owners have very different opinions on whether a control system needs to be replaced or not! The potential lifespan of a system can be reduced by insufficient or poor maintenance, whilst badly carried out installations are likely to have a detrimental effect. On the flip side, systems which have been installed correctly and are well maintained can last for up to 30 years.

No matter how old the system, if it’s solid and in good working order, many owners and users prove to be resourceful in finding ways to keep it going. However, despite the very best care and attention, some parts of a system such as computers, for example, will need to be replaced; usually every five years or so. Nevertheless, there’s no reason why the actual hardware of a decent system that’s looked after correctly can’t last 20 years or more.

Although the software that’s used to interface with a control system is a whole other subject area, it is something which is worth mentioning in brief. The majority of industrial control systems use a human-machine interface (HMI) and a programmable logic controller (PLC).

How to research and choose the right control system for you

A range of factors need to be taken into consideration when selecting a new control system so the best place to start is with your current system. The reason for this is that your current system is likely to be the single most important consideration when looking for a replacement. For example, if you’re satisfied with your current system and its manufacturer, you’re likely to return to the same manufacturer for a replacement product. Alternatively, if you’re dissatisfied with the system you have now, or the technical support you’ve received, you’re likely to look elsewhere.

In addition to brand loyalty (or not, as the case may be), there are other factors which need to be considered when looking for a new control system. These include scalability, ease of use, features, expertise, personal experience, longevity and price. In addition, if you’re happy with your existing system and if your facility uses a number of control systems across different areas, you might want ensure consistency with a fleet of the same systems.

Problems can arise by having a range of different control system manufacturers on one site. The costs associated with sourcing and maintaining the parts required for systems made by multiple manufacturers can be significant, whilst there’s also the issue of keeping track of multiple types of software and cables. Last and by no means least, challenges can also arise in terms of additional training for one type of system, or insufficient training on another. All-in-all, having multiple control systems on one site is a situation best avoided if possible.

When it comes to considering scalability, the size of your exiting control system and your future requirements will be the determining factors when deciding how scaleable your new system needs to be. You’ll find that many PLC manufacturers offer a range of different ‘families’ of systems or controllers. Each ‘family’ is designed to encompass control systems of a particular size, whilst some control systems allow for families to be blended as a way of offering enhanced flexibility. With this in mind, you should aim to choose a control system whose line of products suits both your present growth and potential future growth.

You’re likely to find that your personal experience or the experiences of others, are likely to have an influence upon which is the best control system versus another. If a number of different users are going to be responsible for servicing the new system, it’s important to give equal consideration to everyone’s opinion before proceeding.

Lastly, local support often proves a crucial factor when it comes to supporting and maintaining a control system at PLC control system level. Some manufacturers provide product support region by region, with local representatives available to provide essentials such as training, technical advice, troubleshooting and spare parts inventories. You might also need support from contractors and local specialists in system integration, particularly if your personal expertise or that of your colleagues is lacking.

Next month we’ll be continuing with the theme of upgrading control panels, with a post covering what to consider before upgrading, including system features, price, and ease of use.

For tailored advice for your specific needs, our Dualtec specialists are on hand to chat on 01535 609314.

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