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Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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What Is Your Plan for DCS Migration?

This guest post is authored by Matt Sigmon and Lynn Macey of MAVERICK Technologies.

Do you have a plan for your next distributed control system (DCS)?  Do you know when and how you will migrate your existing DCS? We wish we had a dime for everyone that told us they have a plan for their next DCS.  As soon as we start asking questions about their plan, the holes and gaps begin to avalanche.Plan

There seems to be a split of clients with rigorous internal tollgate processes and those who have no process at all for planning.  Unfortunately, those who have no process at all or a weak process are at risk of choosing the wrong next DCS for their plant, high project overruns, scheduling nightmares, and even worse, extended unplanned process downtime due to poor planning and execution.

So, what’s an end-user without a plan to do, especially when you know it’s only a matter of time before eBay runs out of parts for your current DCS?  The simple answer: start planning now.  A DCS migration, even for a small system, takes a lot of planning, documentation (existing and new), and engineering to be successful.

So where is your plan?  Is it comprehensive and well documented?  If not, you don’t have a plan.  The tracking of tactics and communication between stakeholders can be complex.  Communications for local operations, engineering, and maintenance departments, as well as corporate stakeholders have to be managed, and all will have input into the various plans and solutions, not to mention the vendors.

What if your project is about to begin the detailed engineering phase and the lead engineer or project manager quits.  How hard will it be for you to pass off the project to a new resource?  If you have a well thought out, documented plan for all aspects of the execution and commissioning, it shouldn’t be too hard.  On the other hand, if there’s no plan or the plan is inadequate, it could be a disaster. Or to think about it another way.  If your DCS migration plan is in the head of one or a few individuals and it’s not well documented, you are at risk for project failure and you will likely struggle to justify and receive approval for funds required to move forward.

There are many sub-plans to a project execution plan as well as a commissioning plan and the thought and assembly begins in the business justification phase.  Having all stakeholders on board, in agreement, and moving in the same direction as a unit early on will be key to the success of the migration.  So what if you have a plan, it’s written down, but you find out it’s inadequate with gaps and unresolved risks?  STOP!  Go back and complete the plan.  The time and money spent at the front end of the planning will be miniscule as compared to stopping, resolving, and redirecting during execution or even worse, commissioning.

What if you don’t know how to start or where to go to get help?  What if you think you have a good plan but aren’t sure? Have you struggled to justify your project(s) and receive approval to move forward? If so we would strongly recommend you follow a detailed step-by-step approach like the front end loading (FEL) tollgate process. Following such a process will be critical to help you move you from the business needs and goals phase to the program planning and capital funding phase and then finally to finalizing scope, cost, and schedule for project funding.

Step by step process maps for each phase will guide you through the steps to achieve your goal of a successful DCS migration, and help you make sure your plan isn’t missing anything. This type of rigorous process will help you achieve your goals, receive funding approval and execute your migration project as planned. Furthermore, following a detailed, phased FEL process will help you to not miss critical elements, including commission planning, installation estimation and scope development, control room optimization, and abnormal situation management. For more information on what is commonly missed in a DCS migration, check out this article in Control Engineering.


About the Authors
Matt Sigmon directs MAVERICK Technologies’ DCSNext initiative, which helps manufacturers leverage DCS migration as an opportunity for significant advancement. In this role, Matt manages operations as well as client relationships to ensure that MAVERICK utilizes the full range of operational consulting services to deliver the best possible solutions. Specifically, Matt is responsible for developing the work process, staffing models and client relationships with their business development managers. He also oversees all DCS migration projects and programs. Matt joined MAVERICK in 2005 when the company acquired General Electric Automation Services (GEAS), where he had worked since 1997. At MAVERICK, he has served as regional manager, engineering manager, project manager and engineer. Most recently, Matt was director of sales operations, which required him to manage a geographically and technically diverse team of specialists who delivered estimates and proposals for hundreds of new opportunities each year.

 Lynn MaceyLynn Macey is a consultant for the DCSNext solution at MAVERICK Technologies. In her role, Lynn leads team efforts to provide consulting and other front-end engineering services, particularly for FEL and FEED engagements for control system migrations. She is specifically responsible for client consultation, engineering, and technical coordination during all aspects of FEL/FEED execution, including preparation of status reports or meetings, preparing deliverables, scheduling, cost/labor tracking and providing input concerning potential obstacles that could prevent successful completion of studies and projects. Lynn joined MAVERICK in 2005 when the company acquired General Electric Automation Services (GEAS), where she had worked since 1993. At MAVERICK, she has served as senior control system specialist and proposal and estimating specialist.

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