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How Can a Modern DCS Enable Your Digital Transformation?

Oct. 1, 2021
Learn how upgrading to a modern DCS can help improve productivity and profitability and reduce risk.

Manufacturers and producers from across the production spectrum – from pharmaceutical, consumer packaged goods, and food and beverage to mining and chemical – know how vital it is to stay competitive. Producers must strive to protect the bottom line and optimize production by expanding throughput, decreasing downtime, improving consistency, delivering quality and keeping employees safe while at the same time considering the lifecycle costs associated with engineering, inventory, and system maintenance and support.

Throw a worldwide pandemic into the mix, and it becomes clear just how important it is to be as productive and profitable as possible while reducing operational risk.

With all these hurdles, how can a process industry producer or manufacturer push beyond the status quo and embrace industry and technological trends? How can their operations be elevated to the next level of sophistication and innovation while achieving success and growth in the short and long term?

A one-size-fits-all solution just won’t cut it anymore. It’s time to get surgical about solutions. Enter: Digital transformation as enabled by the modern distributed control system (DCS).

A Digital Transformation Strategy for your DCS

Digital transformation can be described as modernizing, upgrading or improving operations by integrating digital technology into all areas of your business. These transformations are fundamental cultural shifts that impact the very way organizations operate, how plant floors run and how value is delivered to customers. It’s about outcomes and meeting ever-changing customer needs. It’s a systemic change for any producer – and that’s why a modern DCS can be a cornerstone of this transformation.

Developing a strategy for your digital transformation means determining objectives and business goals, assessing system needs to achieve those objectives, and planning the execution of your strategy.

Competitors are constantly investing in technology and transforming their operations, and it’s your time to research and make the big decisions about modernizing your production environment. A good question to start with is, “Do I need an upgrade?”

Traditional DCS have closed-system designs, making it difficult to migrate and modernize and in turn driving up the cost of ownership. The modern DCS is preferable for many reasons, including higher performance, site-wide availability, scalable system capabilities, the open technology stack and the ease of integration. A plant-wide control system using common automation technologies enables seamless integration for process control, discrete control, power control, and safety control with plant-floor and business systems.

If you think your DCS has run its course, you’re not alone. The global DCS installed base nearing end of life totals about US$65 billion, with many of these systems more than 25 years old and in dire need of updating. Many are choosing to replace their DCS because of outdated systems’ increased failure rate, higher incidence of off-spec product, accelerating maintenance costs, lack of legacy DCS expertise, capacity limitations and inability to interface with contemporary systems.

A Modern DCS Addresses Modern Challenges

The latest DCS platforms have kept pace with technological developments. And more DCS users are now considering upgrading and modernizing their systems for optimal performance. A modern DCS can help build a Connected Enterprise as part of a digital transformation strategy.

What does that mean for producers? It makes life simpler. Modernizing a DCS allows producers to achieve plant-wide control and optimization, maximize operations, achieve high availability, reduce costs and increase production.

A modern DCS can help address three major challenges faced universally by producers and manufacturers:

1)     Tackle the challenge of productivity. How can producers best innovate when disparate systems throughout the enterprise create bottlenecks and inefficiencies? The sheer amount of information from supply chains, plant assets, and business systems can overwhelm teams trying to function in real-time or create a new concept. Modernization with rapid improvements in technology enable producers to access more information than ever for decision-making purposes.

2)      Do more with less to help the bottom line. Production teams must do more with less to meet budget expectations throughout their plant’s lifecycle. Operators must find ways to gain the visibility and control needed to reduce unplanned downtime, prevent quality issues, and eliminate waste from production. Producers are looking for plant-wide automation that is easily updated and supported, and technology must help the plant remain in continuous operation.

3)      Reduce operational risk. Risk is everywhere and takes many forms in your network infrastructure, the backbone of your system. Even when contingencies are considered, unforeseen events can impact safe and reliable plant operations. As producers identify factors that contribute to unplanned delays, downtime, product and worker safety, they require systems that can navigate dynamic conditions and enable them to aggressively respond armed with information. As threats shift from operational risks to external actors, control systems need to be strong yet adaptable. Are you implementing a robust infrastructure for your system?

What should a producer look for in a modern DCS?

When it comes to selecting the right DCS for your operation, modern systems offer unique advantages. If you’re searching for new systems, keep these critical features in mind:

  • Data, analytics and insights that facilitate real-time decision-making. This includes visualization and dashboards for operations that provide production and operator KPIs, sight to abnormal situations like alarm logs and unexpected downtime events, and a modern approach to HMI graphics.
  • Product support throughout its lifecycle. You want to know that you can depend on your products to last a long time. Beyond the initial purchase and commissioning, look for solutions that will provide you with customized support for years to come. That includes access to subject matter experts, field services, support contracts and long-term product availability.
  • Workforce solutions. From remote access and mobile devices to training for the shift from specialist to generalist, the modern DCS can help address common workforce issues. It provides an enterprise-wide view so staff isn’t needed on-site, and it encourages the shift from reading and memorizing manuals to being able to access expert help as it’s needed.
  • Cybersecurity for systems. Adhering to cybersecurity standards and certifications for standards such as ISA99/IEC 62443 should be the expectation for any producer.

The PlantPAx® modern DCS from Rockwell Automation can reduce the architectural footprint with fewer servers and more powerful controllers, drive consistency with embedded process instructions in the controller, streamline workflows with an improved development experience of system attributes, provide robust analytics for real-time decision-making, and align with international cybersecurity standards.

When producers are ready to modernize, they turn to PlantPAx for a system with a small footprint and quick deployment. It provides real-time data and analytics for informed decision-making and is supported throughout its entire lifecycle. Those in batch, hybrid and heavy industries can benefit from a DCS that is purpose-built for plant-wide control and able to serve larger and more complex operations securely.

Don’t be left behind

Embracing new technologies will fundamentally change how you do business – for the better. Evaluate your legacy DCS to see if the latest DCS platform can help in your digital transformation journey. With the right solutions in place, you can embrace tomorrow’s challenges with confidence.

To explore how customized DCS solutions can help transform your operation, talk with a trusted partner or visit for more information.

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