Updating legacy control systems and software

In this case history, an automated equipment company learns that the ‘It's running fine, don't mess with it' attitude just won't work.

By Dan Hebert

AeroSpec in Chandler, Arizona, designs and builds a variety of custom automated equipment for the medical, semiconductor, automotive and defense industries. David Perkon, vice president, says he's seen many problems with legacy control systems.

"It's not uncommon to have firmware and software driver issues with legacy hardware and software," he says. "Working with a dated operating system or updating the operating system can cause issues with I/O drivers, application software and PC-based operator interfaces. A programmable controller's firmware might not be compatible with rack-mounted motion control cards and other smart modules."

Roadblocks to upgrading are many, he says. "There are the ‘It costs too much money,' or ‘I can't afford the downtime' customers. With many customers, not updating legacy hardware and software is more of a culture than a time-and-money issue. It's the ‘It's running fine, don't mess with it' attitude. All that sounds reasonable until the reality of failures brings production to a halt. Many customers just don't want to spend the money or are afraid to upgrade until they absolutely have to."

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