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Act now to avoid disaster

Could Tees businesses be risking their very survival as a result of a naïve failure to update their control systems? Applied Integration think so. Tees Business finds out more…

Companies across the UK, including many in the Tees region, risk a catastrophic failure in their outdated control systems, experts at Applied Integration have warned.

Process plants, manufacturing factories and even hospitals are in real danger of suffering financially disastrous system failures due to running obsolete equipment

Such a failure of equipment no longer supported by the major manufacturers and therefore infeasible to repair quickly could see companies go under as the result of the crippling effects of long-term non-production and damage to their commercial reputation.

And yet the nightmare scenario can be easily and cost-effectively avoid.

Tees firm Applied Integration, one of the UK’s leading independent systems integrators, has extensive experience in migrating a range hardware and software platforms.

The Stokesley-based firm has won a number of contracts across a range of sectors from companies determined not to fall foul of a failure to plan.

Employing more than 30 specialist engineers, the firm is working with big names in the oil and gas, automotive and pharmaceutical sectors to provide “migration paths” from outmoded, unsupported equipment to new state-of-the-art systems designed for 21st Century challenges.

“We’re working with several companies who have had the foresight to upgrade their systems well in advance of any risk of catastrophic failure to their ageing systems,” said Applied Integration director Garry Lofthouse.

“We’ve been able to assess their existing systems, advise them on their priorities and provide migration path to completely upgrade their systems without ever having to go offline.”

And yet others are choosing a head-in-sand approach that runs a severe risk of the worse-case scenario.

“The attitude we hear from some companies and organisations is ‘Why should I spend money changing a system that’s worked perfectly well for the last 30 years?

“But, just like office computers, these control systems are obsolete. That means that when something does go wrong there’s no maintenance support and the manufacturers no longer stock spares for the equipment.

“We’re aware of quite a few who are still running their businesses on the old Windows XP system that Microsoft ceased to support in 2014. Their advice is that it’s important that customers and partners migrate to a modern operating system such as Windows 10. They’ll withdraw support for Windows 2007 in 2020 too, which is another system many surprisingly significant organisations rely on.

“It is really staggering how many plants, factories and other organisations are relying solely on obsolete equipment. They have no disaster recovery plan.

“It’s a dangerous game they are playing.

“It’s just a matter of time before someone calls us to say they’ve had complete system failure and discovers there are no off-the-shelf quick fixes to get their operations back up and running.

“When it does fail there will naturally be a huge impact on production and plant availability, and with no mitigation plans in place the financial implications, not to mention the long-term damage to their credibility and reputation, hardly bears thinking about.

“A complete update could take six months so it will cost them an absolute fortune.”

Garry says the “it won’t happen to me” attitude is prevalent across operators of all sizes, with many reluctant to invest in upgrading systems that have served them well.

“Far too many organisations have no migration plan

“There are some we know with critical applications that they are pushing to the limits,” he reveals. “They haven’t heeded our warnings and recommendations and now the systems are deteriorating, critical faults are creeping in and performance is taking a hit.

“We know we’ll eventually get a call about a fundamental failure that’s put system into a critical condition – and the crisis will be a disaster because they’ve been using obsolete, unsupported equipment that we can’t replace.

“We’re trying to politely warn some operators that when their control system fails they might as well turn off the lights and close the door because they’ll be offline long-term – and potentially permanently.”

Don’t leave it too late to upgrade your control systems

Carrying out upgrades and retrofits of outdated control systems is a major growth area for Applied Integration, as an increasing number of companies realise their plants and factories cannot run forever on outmoded equipment.

The Tees firm is already working with a number of major names across the automotive, pharmaceutical and oil and gas industries – but they say it’s vital that many smaller firms wake up to the risk of leaving their business in the hands of obsolete equipment.

Applied Integration director Garry Lofthouse says: “We do expect system upgrades and migration to be a major growth area for our business because decision-makers are starting to wise up to the fact that it’s got to be done.”

He adds that a timely system migration is far more cost-effective than suffering a catastrophic failure that puts the very future of a business at risk.

Lofthouse explains: “When an organisation gets in touch with us, we initially review their system architecture to gain a full understanding of what they have in place.

“We give the customer our expert view of what piece of equipment is most likely to fail first and then talk them through the mechanisms we can put in place to tackle their obsolescence problems.

“We work with manufacturers to consider and create the best upgrade path, basically delivering the simplest route to a full upgrade, agreeing short-term fixes to keep the operation ticking over and long-term goals to protect the customer’s future by ultimately replacing their entire system with something better suited to the challenges of the 21st Century.

“We’ll migrate the correct control philosophies to the new system, checking and testing them before implementing them in an orderly fashion before the system goes online.

And, he says, it doesn’t have to be costly. “We have some fantastic concepts to bring to the table.

“We can even take a brand new piece of equipment and run it as a virtual machine whilst replacing the old software and allowing the customer time to fund the purchase of a new machine.

“To put it simply, act early and we can make it relatively pain-free. Leave it too late and it will be costly and probably damaging to your business and its long-term reputation.”

• To talk to Applied Integration about system migration and upgrade options, get in touch via appliedintegration.co.uk.

 

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