Control System Upgrades

August 17, 2021

Upgrading control systems can be the biggest single issue many process and safety automation system end users face today. We, at Drakken, come across several facilities that are still utilizing ‘out-of-date’ control systems and are in dire need of upgrades. A complete software and hardware upgrade can be daunting if you do not have extensive training and experience. In general, most system integrators tend to shy away from getting involved. We are well attuned with upgrade processes and procedures required for OEM’s frequently used in the oil and gas market.




End of life

The most common factor in upgrades is the product’s end of life. This pushes facility operators to stock more operational spares in order to continue using the current system or buy refurbished hardware from the open market. This is not a sustainable solution, however, as the maintenance costs can be exorbitant.


End of support

The OEM stops providing support for old systems, or the level of support is reduced to the bare minimum, and this pushes end users to upgrade.


Performance issues

Performance matters a lot. Obsolete or older hardware cannot perform well to meet today’s needs and requirements.


Lack of openness for expansion or integration with newer systems

It is now very difficult to integrate new systems with older ones due to integration limitations.


Lack of features required for enhancing the control philosophies

Process control techniques are evolving and enhancing the ways of optimizing the process and its efficiency. This requires newer functionalities to be used and implemented in the systems which are either not available in older systems or very complex or difficult to implement.


Maintenance costs

Maintaining older systems is always expensive whether it is the obsolete components, the availability of specialists, or the retention of older employees, and so on.




Upgrading your control system upgrades your process

Thanks to technological advances, we can collect more data today and store it somewhere easily accessible via users.


Reduced maintenance costs over time

Simply put, new technology costs less to maintain. Modern systems leverage the latest technology to maximize throughput and availability and minimize the total cost of ownership.


Mobile and web-based access


Distributed Control System


Upgrades come with a host of remote access and monitoring capabilities. These ensure that users can have real-time access to plant data anywhere and at any time.


Industrial internet of things (IIoT)

With a strong focus on machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, big data, and machine learning, the IIoT enables industries and enterprises to have better efficiency and reliability in their operations. As this is a recent development in technology, only the latest control systems support this capability.


Increased cyber security

OEMs are continually making advancements in hardware and software security features adding layered software and hardware security solutions.




With a little advanced thought and following the steps outlined below, it is possible to minimize downtime during an upgrade and, ultimately, maximize productivity.


Performing a comprehensive system review



A detailed analysis of the system is the first step towards coming up with a list of hardware and software required for the upgrade. Sometimes, just replacing a controller without replacing the entire system is enough to address obsolescence concerns. At other times, however, it is better to do a more thorough control system upgrade.


Mapping your system

A solid understanding of how the system operates from a control-system perspective is essential. We organize group meetings with all stakeholders to go through each line of the cause and effect matrices. This ensures that everyone has some personal understanding which is necessary to go to the next step.


Assessing downtime possibilities

We prefer to have a realistic assessment of how much downtime can be tolerated during the upgrade procedure. There is no satisfactory answer for some systems when considered in their entirety. However, if the system is broken down into its constituent parts, it is almost always the case that individual pieces can withstand some downtime. For example, there might be redundancy in place, such as three chillers when only two are needed. Another example is that there might be a buffer in the system, such as large water tanks, to maintain the outgoing water supply to the process even if the incoming water supply is stopped.

Also, running the plant in local control or hand mode during the control system upgrade might be possible. While running the whole plant manually for the duration of a complete control system startup is rarely an option, running a small sub-system within the plant manually for just long enough to modify a sub-system is typically feasible.


Creating upgrade phases

We create detailed work methods and level three project schedules for the control system conversion. In most cases, this means creating phases that focus on upgrading a specific portion of the control system. Phases can be in the form of replacing one PLC for many in the facility, moving one small sub-system (control of a small portion of the plant) from an aging PLC to a new PLC, or converting just a few graphic screens. We ensure that the OEMs are extensively involved during this step as they can review the system and help determine which pieces of functionality would be best to group together as a phase in the overall conversion plan.




“‘Til death do us part” is not a viable control system strategy. Simply put, if you are not thinking about upgrading your legacy control system right now, you are making a mistake. Preparing for the future is the only option you have if you want to avoid downtime. In addition, being proactive on this issue will increase your plant efficiency and profitability.



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