Miika Forsberg, Vice President, Industry 4.0, Metals and Mining, July 1, 2020
IT systems do not rust or wear when they are well-coded and designed and built with customer's needs in mind. The systems remain up-to-date, and the life cycle of well-designed and implemented industrial software is typically about 10 to 15 years. However, you need to continually update and develop the software to support your business goals. Therefore, you must also be able to identify and anticipate problem situations.
There is a constant desire for more efficiency, supply or higher utilization rate in industrial production processes.That is why the hardware base usually needs to be updated or expanded regularly. And due to investments in equipment, new control systems and integrations are needed.
The integration of just one new programmable control unit (PLC) into an existing Manufacturing Execution System (MES) requires a software update at minimum, not to mention modern digitization programs that collect data and install artificial intelligence apps throughout the process. In these large-scale digitization projects, software integration and data pipeline construction, in particular, require significant IT investments.
There is a danger that the maintenance of outdated IT systems will lead to a haphazard fixing of the system, if applications are not managed properly considering their life-cycle needs.
“The loss of production caused by an unexpected downtime is often measured on a scale of around €100,000/h or €1,000,000/day. Correspondingly, the costs of a skilled maintenance and development team are €1,000–50,000 per month.”
As a real-life example, an employee (in addition to their actual work) had to prepare a monthly production data report for an industrial plant. In another example, the MES system’s maintenance depended on only one outside employee, who was approaching retirement age. In the third case, the same recurring error messages were corrected without touching the root cause, with the same error recurring month after month. Such operating models lead to a waste of essential resources and an inefficient allocation of investments.
Maintaining old industrial software, despite the risks, is often because the software had once served a relevant business need and performed its function well. Although the software has deteriorated over time, you have learned to get along with it. Even if MES is no longer fully suited to today’s operating environment, there are often DIY kind of Excel tunings and integrations crisscross alongside it. Lessons have been learned to correct the same recurring shortcomings with quick-fix solutions. But what if the MES suddenly breaks and production is, therefore, interrupted? That’s when you’ll end up digging deep into your pockets.
The loss of production caused by unexpected downtime is often measured on a scale of around €100,000/h or €1,000,000/day. Correspondingly, the costs of a competent maintenance and development team are 1,000 to 50,000 euros per month. It is evident that investing in experts is worthwhile, and as significant disruptions to critical production systems diminish, also risk management becomes possible.
Today, maintenance alone is no longer enough to make systems work, especially via one-person maintenance. It takes courage to establish new habits.
A company can remain competitive by ensuring that software is both maintained and developed proactively for future business needs. Also, maintenance and development don’t have to cost much when done wisely. By anticipating error situations and addressing their root causes immediately, money waste can be avoided.
Central to Nortal’s software services is the utilization and analysis of data in all stages of the IT system’s life cycle. Therefore, the ideological core of Nortal’s Continuous Services entity is proactivity rather than reactivity. We take care of the maintenance and support of our customers’ systems and of proactive small-scale development. We not only fix detected errors but we also proactively fix those errors that have not even yet occurred. This way our customers will not pay unnecessary maintenance costs. You can also get a maintenance team from us — up to the level of 24/7 service, if necessary — and you can be sure that you have a production plant up and running even when the team is sleeping.