5 Steps to Developing a Successful DCS Modernization Strategy

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  • By Chris King
  • September 28, 2021
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Characteristic
  • Sponsored
5 Steps to Developing a Successful DCS Modernization Strategy

If you think your Distributed Control System (DCS) has run its course, you’re not alone. Currently, DCS’s end-of-life global installed base is approximately $ 65 billion. Many of these systems are over 25 years old and in dire need of an update.

Why is there such a backlog of obsolete systems? The simple truth is that many still keep a factory running, but not as well as it could. Often organizations would rather live with the significant pain that an outdated system inflicts rather than be subjected to the perceived risks of migrating to a modern system.

Automation projects can be difficult to manage and financially justify. Yet every day we work with companies that have successfully advocated for a modernization based on the shortcomings of the existing system.

Reasons for replacing a DCS can include increased failure rate, higher incidence of out-of-specification products, accelerated maintenance costs, lack of legacy DCS expertise, capacity limitations, inability to interface with contemporary systems, etc. On the other hand, many companies also come to recognize that a DCS modernization is a rare opportunity to dramatically improve processes and innovate.

What is the plan to modernize the operation of your factory?

Converting a legacy control platform to a modern DCS can be complex, and it is not a “one size fits all” business. To help mitigate risk and spread costs over time, many companies choose a phased approach to migration. In contrast, a “rip and replace” conversion strategy is appropriate for others.

In other words, each modernization project is unique. Based on experiences of working with hundreds of companies, there are five best practices that lead to successful modernization.

1. Early planning. A successful modernization begins long before any detailed engineering, with a comprehensive initial assessment of the existing system. Initial upstream goals include aligning automation results with business goals, determining preferred options, securing capital funding, and finalizing scope, costs and schedule.

This makes it possible to establish the rationale for the project, to define it and to align all the stakeholders. Keep in mind that the most profitable time to define scope is early on. Costs increase dramatically if basic decisions such as which plant areas to include or which interface to apply are later reviewed.

2. Hire experts. Chances are, you already know who to call when you’re faced with a confusing app challenge. This could be a system integrator or an automation vendor. This same support network can also provide critical assistance throughout your conversion process. Bringing in experts when needed saves time and money.

3. Set standards. Setting and following standards is as essential as planning early. If appropriate corporate standards do not exist, they will need to be developed using in-house expertise or by bringing in a system integrator or automation vendor for assistance.

The more you specify and document in detail the network protocol, security requirements, I / O and HMI criteria, interface requirements and controller configuration, the easier it will be to maintain and improve your system. It will also benefit future employees of the company when they eventually lead a similar modernization exercise years from now.

4. Discipline of execution. Like any large-scale business, a DCS conversion is complex and requires good project management. Without the discipline of execution, any large project runs the risk of spiraling out of control.

To keep your conversion on time and on budget, be sure to follow a consistent execution strategy based on accepted industry best practices. If you don’t have the resources on your staff, consider hiring a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) to help guide your project.

5. Expect innovation. Don’t settle for just duplicating content from your old control system. Remember, 25-year-old legacy systems are unlikely to provide the same benefits as a modern, state-of-the-art DCS. Your migration project is an extraordinary opportunity to take advantage of new technologies to optimally control your process. Do not reproduce – innovate.

Find the right DCS for your modernization efforts

When it comes to selecting the right DCS for your operation, choosing a modern system can offer unique advantages. For example, the PlantPAx® DCS version from Rockwell Automation provides real-time data and analysis for informed decision making and is supported throughout its lifecycle. Those working in batch, hybrid and heavy industries can benefit from a DCS specifically designed for plant-wide control and able to safely serve larger and more complex operations.

Planning a DCS conversion soon? It is essential to hire the right experts from the start. Chat with a trusted partner or visit the Rockwell Automation website for more information.

About the Author


Chris King is the Business Development Manager for PlantPAx Migration at Rockwell Automation.


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