ESE employee-owners, Mike Coleman, Tim Steinke and Mike Kelm were featured in the September issue of Food Engineering. They provided insight on legacy platforms and aging control systems.
Remember a control system like this?
- An oven recipe management system for a cookie oven running on Windows XP;
- A PC-DOS (disk operating system) based ERP system, with production data;
- VAX-based client terminals;
- OS/2-based I/O system;
- Legacy PLC/HMI (Siemens S5, A-B SLC500);
- VAX/VMS HMI-based controls;
- IBM AS400 running ERP;
- And a Windows NT supervisory screen.
Maybe you still have a similar system in your facility, and it’s been running just fine, thank you. But one day in the future, it’ll give you a big surprise when the ancient motherboard dies, and you’re left without a system. No software backup, and worse yet, there’s no replacement parts to get it up and running again. The PC connected to your I/O system through its serial port. Try and find an external serial port connection on a modern mother board. And, it’s too late for virtualization, as you can’t find the original OS or application software distribution disks.
System integrators have seen it all. “I see legacy PLC and HMI platforms being supported by Windows 2000 and Windows XP,” says Tim Steinke, senior process controls engineer for ESE, Inc., a Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) Certified Member. “While some of the software for these legacy systems may run on Windows 7 or newer, they are running on the older Windows platforms because that is the latest supported software available.”
For example, Windows CE-based HMIs remain prevalent among food and beverage manufacturers, and that’s largely because there is not a straightforward path to upgrade them, says Aaron Crews, global director, modernization solutions, Emerson Process Systems & Solutions. “New display development is required and also difficult to justify when it is a ‘replacement in kind’ regardless of Windows CE, XP or NT systems.”
“If the system is upgraded ‘like for like’ to a current system, there is no advantage for the business except as steps towards obsolescence management,” says Jonathan Reed, SPX Flow global product manager automation. “There are, of course, other benefits in re-engineering and redesign of the process to embrace new and innovative technologies and process concepts—but this is an expensive option that would only be realistically taken up if the change in processing technique brought with it a significant advantage.”
When old computers fail, the food processor’s internal IT personnel often choose not to support the older OS versions, says Steinke. So the operations technicians do whatever they can to keep the system functional.
Sometimes a system integrator even has to keep old OS software, applications and equipment around to support clients with aging equipment.
“We support companies with PanelViews, SLCs and PLC5s,” says Mike Coleman, ESE Inc. process control engineer. “We do see RSView 32 HMI applications running on Windows 2000. There are a few SLC100s out there still. The programming software only runs on Windows 98. I think we still have a Windows 98 computer floating around. The last time IT tried to throw it away, I told them no.”
Coleman says the most common reason clients keep the old systems around is that they will cost too
much to replace—and clients can’t afford the down time.
This is all too common for Tom Schiller, president of AutomaTech, Inc., a large automation hardware and software supplier.
“Several of our customers are still running Windows 95, and some even Windows NT,” he says. “They are using many versions of older software like batch or HMI/SCADA—they have customized the applications so much by systems integrators, that to upgrade to the latest HMI system would be a large multi-million dollar investment. We have even virtualized a DOS system for one customer.”