Keeping Control Systems Current for Secure and Reliable Operation

Emerson's Yoga Gorur

As commercially available off-the-shelf operating systems and hardware came on the scene for control systems, they brought with them rapid performance improvements that translated into increase functionality and ease of use.

Maintenance Technology: Focus on Automation System UpdatesThey also brought with them the need to provide ongoing software and hardware updates to remain secure, reliable and available. In a Maintenance Technology article, Focus on Automation System Updates, Emerson’s Yoga Gorur highlights how critical it is to keep control systems up to date.

Yoga opens describing the importance of:

…keeping critical hardware and software elements up to date. Leaving the system and its operating environment unpatched or out of date means exposing the plant to potential equipment failure and cyber attacks. In addition, it is essential to maintain the hardware and software backbone on which the automation system relies.

Operating systems require regular security patches as does automation system software that requires periodic updates, patches and hotfixes.

Hardware components also have a lifespan to consider.

Eight years ago, Microsoft Windows 7 was released, meaning a 9-yr.-old system today is likely running Windows XP (retired) or Windows Vista (soon to be retired). Hardware failure on a Windows XP or Windows Vista machine will be tremendously difficult to remedy. Because these operating systems are either no longer supported, or soon to be retired, manufacturers have ceased producing computers or parts for these systems. At best, users will be able to find used replacement parts that are unreliable themselves, due to their age. At worst, they could be facing an outage until they can complete an emergency upgrade.

Yoga outlines common concerns manufacturers have when it comes to upgrading parts of the system:

  • What if something breaks?
  • We don’t have time
  • Expensive systems should work
  • Where do we start?

To address these concerns, he highlights the need for lifecycle planning. This includes reviewing the life expectancies of components including control system software, PC-based workstations, controllers, I/O cards, networking components, virtualization infrastructure and power supplies.

Working with the automation supplier, this information combined with a site evaluation and ROI analysis a key in developing a lifecycle plan. Site evaluations include a detailed review of:

…component firmware, lifecycles, cyber-security issues, plant performance and Key Performance Indicators, and value-add opportunities.

Read the article for more on taking the system lifecycle plan and project justification and putting it into action to make sure the control system(s) remain secure, reliable and available.

You can also connect and interact with other lifecycle planning experts in the Operate & Maintain group in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

Posted Thursday, July 20th, 2017 under Support Services.