Maintenance Technology June 2017 - 18
It is essential
be kept up to
an automationsystem lifecycle
AS COMPANIES FOCUS more
energy and resources on protecting
mechanical equipment, one key asset
is often overlooked: the plant's automation system.
hardware components are typically
very reliable out-of-the-box, it is easy to
deprioritize monitoring and maintenance activities for the overall control
system. Unfortunately, "set it and forget
it" is not a good strategy with automation systems. To keep such a critical
investment running reliably over its
30-to-40-yr. lifespan, organizations
must focus on proactive maintenance
and upgrades of their automation
Proper automation-system maintenance means 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environment unpatched or out of date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.
Behind the curve
A properly installed system should
start with all software and hardware
completely up to date. When a plant
begins using its new, fully patched and
updated system, it is easy to be lulled
into a false sense of security and let it
operate without further intervention.
Unfortunately, nowhere is it truer
than in the technology field that
"change is the only constant." Though
an automation system may continue to
run under its original configuration for
a long time, the environment in which
it operates is continually evolving.
Every month, Microsoft releases new
security updates. These updates add
or improve essential functionality and
security in the operating system that
supports the automation system.
Along with operating-system
Keeping software updates
current is an oft-neglected
activity, resulting in
exposure to cyber attacks
and reduced reliability.
updates, automation-system manufacturers will also release regular
updates, patches, and hotfixes for their
products. Staying up to date with these
improvements means protecting the
organization from unexpected failures
or unauthorized intrusions, while also
adding opportunities to improve plant
and operator performance.
Furthermore, at some point, the
hardware and software on which the
automation systems run will no longer
be supported by the manufacturer.
Organizations then must move beyond
updates and look toward upgrading
Often, an organization will wait 8 to
10 years before considering an upgrade
to their automation-system hardware or
software, as they don't see the urgency if
they don't witness any active problems.
Yet, there is a serious risk to operating
in this manner.
System hardware has a lifespan. Eight
years ago, Microsoft Windows 7 was