Modernizing Process Plants A Highly Effective Approach to Modernization and Digitalization of Brownfield Sites

Author / Editor: Stephan Sagebiel / Dr. Jörg Kempf |

State-of-the-art automation systems can revitalize old equipment if they are deployed purposefully and with sound judgment. Read how to rejuvenate your equipment, ranging from simple control system migration to the introduction of digitalization and artificial intelligence.

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Discover new, smart worlds together with the experts from Phoenix Contact and learn what modern automation technology and digitization already make possible today.
Discover new, smart worlds together with the experts from Phoenix Contact and learn what modern automation technology and digitization already make possible today.
(Source: © franz12 -; GötzelHorn)

Plant operators at brownfield sites face competition from manufacturers who make the same product using the newest and latest production systems. This sounds like an impossible situation. The availability performance of aging equipment inevitably declines over time, unless measures can be taken to counteract the downward spiral. The answer to this problem is modernization. Admittedly, bringing a production plant up to a standard where is it just as efficient, transparent and reliable as a Factory 4.0 facility which was just built on a greenfield site is a long and often arduous task. However, that is no reason not to do it. “Aging” and “smart” are not mutually exclusive, especially since the initial steps often yield big benefits.

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The changes must however go beyond mere replacement of old systems. From day one, the retrofit should set the stage for what comes next. The process must start with an in-depth analysis of the status quo and definition of milestones, taking a long-term view and including all of the specific requirements. The outcome of the planning process is an effective, feasible modernization road map. However the situation on the ground often makes it necessary to take action without delay. At the latest when a control system or other control equipment has been discontinued, the time has come for a retrofit.

PLC migration supported by the automation system manufacturer makes particular sense when the aim of the retrofit is to minimize downtime. The manufacturer assists with current state analysis and provides a long-term perspective during selection of features which are most suitable for achieving the user’s objectives. Besides higher reliability and availability, it is generally advisable to design compact control equipment configurations which make optimal use of the available space and leave room for future expansion.

Phoenix Contact provides not only the appropriate equipment, but also on request the necessary engineering services. Phoenix Contact offers an exceptional range of special adapter solutions which reduce the error potential and make the migration easier on all standard control systems. In many cases, the existing cabling can be retained, and modernization can be completed during ongoing operation.

Clear Marking, Paperless Documentation

Just as vital as the replacement of obsolete products is the renewal of labels and markings that have faded and become illegible over the years. Even if the team on site does not need these aids on “their” system, new employees and third-party service engineers will otherwise have difficulty identifying the equipment. Durable, clearly legible signs and tags increase efficiency and enhance operational reliability.

Combined with barcodes or RFID HF/UHF transponders, markings also provide a better basis for advanced maintenance techniques which, for example, use maintenance software installed on tablets. These systems are a much better alternative to paper based control sheets when employees are making their rounds, and documentation can be generated directly online.

Some chemical companies are even looking at the possible use of augmented reality applications which can display maintenance instructions or short videos on the screen or establish a communications link to experts at a remote location who can provide real time support and advice.