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Easy to purchase, hard to maintain – the true cost of keeping ahead of the technology curve

Terri Reeves Tuesday, January 6, 2015 Blog
Broadbent's Blog


Written by John Broadbent -National Solution Lead –Manufacturing

One thing that I’ve become very well aware of in my long-term involvement with manufacturing is the lack of awareness around whats known as Technology Debt.

Technology Debt is the cost it will take to retire old,  technologically-redundant equipment and replace it with modern stuff.

A recent article from MIT Sloan makes a great point that IT departments are well aware of their own technology debt, however manufacturers are often not: MIT Sloan Blog

During my automation days I remember a manufacturer calling me sometime in late 2009 and asking me to come to site and take a look at a PC that had failed in a control room. It was one of four operator terminals, running Windows 2000 with ISA backplane (the old-style expansion card slots that hadn’t changed much since the invention of the PC!) and a special network card to connect with the manufacturing controllers. The SCADA software hadn’t been kept up-to-date either, so they were running a very old and unsupported version.

The cost to replace the failed PC was minimal compared to all the other issues which went like this:

  • The latest operating system was Win 7 and their old SCADA software did not run on this version, so it would have to be upgraded
  • If they upgraded the one that had failed, it then wouldn’t ‘talk’ to the other three older systems, so they would have to upgrade all PCs PLUS new software license upgrades. As they had four PCs, this was  a substantial cost
  • The actual SCADA application would also have to be migrated  through several versions, with time spent ensuring the new application functioned like the old one
  • The ‘special’ network card with ISA architecture would not work in a modern PCI-slot computer. They could try to locate a hybrid ISA/PCI dual slot architecture PC but these were not readily available
  • The vendor of the network card did not make a PCI version as the network protocols and methodology had been superseded, therefore requiring a new network and cards to be installed throughout the plant.

Starting to get the picture?

The budget to replace ‘the one failed PC’ came in at over $60,000!

Needless to say the client did not have funds, nor were they willing to seek funds as this would have exposed the fact that the systems had not been maintained in the first place.

Their ‘solution’ was to simply not replace the one failed PC and limp along with the remaining three … but for how long until another one failed?  In reality they were simply putting off the inevitable.

Had they kept their software licences and PCs up-to-date through purchasing annual maintenance and keeping their hardware current (and budgets to do so), failure of one system would not have been an issue, other than replacing a PC.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” just doesn’t work when it comes to systems dependent on rapidly-changing technology and in business-critical roles.

How much Technology Debt is hidden in your manufacturing facilities?

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