Last month, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the cell phone. It was in April 1973 when a Motorola engineer used the famous DynaTAC brick phone to make the historic call. The phone weighed over 2.5 lbs and the initial cost was about $3500. The battery life of the earlier phones was limited to 30 minutes. It is hard to imagine all the evolutions that cell phones have gone through since then. We take for granted that the cell phones will be lightweight, thin with ample battery life, able to take pictures, record videos, stream music and watch your favorite TV shows on the go. More than likely, you are reading this article on your mobile phone while commuting to work in a train or while sipping margaritas on the beach. It is hard to imagine anyone using the original cell phone now.
And this got me thinking. Did you know that the first programmable automation controller (PLC), the brain of your automation system came to existence in 1968? We are celebrating the 45th anniversary of this marvelous industrial device. PLC’s have undergone many changes though the years similar to cell phones. They have become smaller, lighter and faster. They have more memory and support a large number of I/O points and offer a wider variety of communication options. The programming has evolved with the support of a number of new languages. They can be closely tied to your enterprise wide systems giving you greater visibility and control of your entire operation.
We find that many of the PLC’s and I/O systems developed in the 70’s and 80’s are still working and running many critical operations as well. This clearly is a testament to the durability of these systems. We also find that in many places plant operators do not even know the number of PLC systems installed in their plant and their longevity. A common tendency is to follow the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” saying. Many companies do not have an official automation system lifecycle management policy at the corporate level. The aging industrial infrastructure can pose a significant issue for you. As a business, the consequences of un-planned downtime caused by a system failure poses a much greater risk. As the automation equipment is aging and has been operating for many years, it may be out of production and support. It also becomes increasingly difficult to repair or replace spare parts in case of issues, resulting into unpredictable maintenance costs. According to the ARC advisory group study conducted in 2010, migration of aged automation systems is the biggest issue faced by the end user and the average impact of the unscheduled downtime can be as much as 5% of the production.
Any interruption of the production is an interruption in income. You cannot afford a risk of unplanned and extended shutdown caused by aging apparatus. Have you performed a criticality assessment of your automation equipment lately? Do you have an up to date list obsolete products within your facility? Do you have a precise migration plan that will minimize your downtime and meet your budget constraints?
Share your thoughts on the idea of creating an automation migration plan or simply let me know what year you got your first cell phone?