Automation and manufacturing information technology (IT) systems are characterized by a relatively short life. Often the systems have to be upgraded or replaced long before the process equipment has reached the end of its life cycle. For most companies, it is a challenge to manage upgrading or replacing systems in a running production environment, and often the need for upgrade or replacement is ignored until it appears as an unpleasant surprise. This article shows how it can be done successfully with careful planning and organization.
Two main factors drive the need to upgrade or replace automation and manufacturing IT systems: the technical deterioration of the automation and manufacturing IT systems and changes to the requirements of the business processes such systems support.
The reliability of technical systems will decrease over time if companies ignore migration activities such as upgrading operating systems, database systems, and application software. The operational risk of failure increases accordingly. With careful planning, the operational risk can be kept at an acceptable level, while protecting existing investments and minimizing life-cycle cost. For a typical automation/IT system, only 20 to 40 percent of the investment is actually spent on purchasing the system; the other 60 to 80 percent goes toward maintaining high availability and adjusting the system to changing needs during its life span.
Along with assessing the necessary migration activities to cope with technical deterioration, it is also important to assess new challenges and new opportunities from a business point of view. The business environment is constantly changing, and opportunities for improving existing or exploiting new technologies must be considered. Typical business objectives, which may be important business drivers for migration planning, include speed to market, competitiveness, growth, quality, and compliance.
Long-term migration plan
Creating a long-term migration plan helps companies to keep system operational risk at acceptable levels while meeting changing business requirements. A migration plan addresses risk mitigation and timely support of business goals. It takes into account important constraints such as current Good Manufacturing Practice compliance, technology functionality and performance, system support, and plant downtime.
Drawing the future system landscape by making all these goals and constraints add up with minimum investment is the key to a good migration plan. Together with a phased and robust implementation plan, this ensures a painless transition.
The migration plan takes an organization to where it wants to be in five years by steps that match the needed changes with the resources available to implement the changes. This approach is based on architectural design principles as defined in The Open Group Architecture Framework standard, which is widely accepted for developing enterprise architectures.
We distinguish between the current architecture and the target architecture, which correspond to the description of where the company is now and where it wants to be, respectively. The migration plan goes from the current to the target architecture, maybe via some temporary transition architectures.
Each architecture must be described at a number of layers with appropriate mapping between business and technology. We operate with the following layers:
- Business objectives are part of the overall strategy work. This is valuable for setting the proper direction of the planning process.
- The business model provides context to understand manufacturing and business processes. It normally includes a high-level description of the material/process flow.
- Describing manufacturing and business processes is essential to successfully applying technology and accurately estimating business value.
- Information, data, and documents are essential to linking processes and applications. The main concern is transactions and orchestrating information flows between applications.
- Application descriptions form high-level requirements and define interfaces.
- Define infrastructure, computers, and networks requirements (hardware, availability, and performance).
- Enabling services define how to secure efficient and successful operational control and support of the solutions.