The infrastructure at Scott Bader’s plant was installed in 2002 and centred around a legacy Rockwell SCADA system comprising ProcessLogix PLC equipment and deployed on a single server with three PC clients out in the factory
The SCADA platform has been obsolete for several years and official technical support for this system was withdrawn in December 2012.
All of Scott Bader’s machines were also running a Windows 2000 Server, an obsolete operating system now unsupported by Microsoft.
Critically, replacements and spares for the hardware could no longer be reliably sourced.
The ageing hardware environment was being pushed to its limits daily, maintenance costs for the system were rising and, owing to their age, their reliability was in decline.
Scott Bader was also finding it increasingly hard to find personnel qualified to troubleshoot and repair the older machines. Failures in the night or at the weekend left Scott Bader with no access to technicians or hardware spares, bringing production to a halt.
Excessive failure rates, difficulty in procuring spare parts and lack of qualified maintenance personnel all added up to an increased risk of downtime and exposure to security vulnerabilities — a significant expense for any manufacturing facility, but particularly for a process plant.
Scott Bader recognised the need to conduct a site-wide upgrade of its control systems and infrastructure but knew that a full migration would need a carefully phased approach and that, in the interim, the business would require a solution to extend the life of its existing control system until the upgrade could be safely completed.
Industrial automation expert, Exabyte Solutions, who has worked with the company since 2005, suggested virtualising the system using VMware and turned to its strategic partner, SolutionsPT to deliver the architecture platform.
A key partner to the systems integrator community in delivering OT solutions for industry, SolutionsPT has more than 30 years of experience as a provider of manufacturing IT solutions.
The company works closely with systems integrators to enable them to deliver end user solutions which reduce manufacturing costs and improve operational efficiency.
Paul Rimmer, Technical Director of Exabyte Solutions, said: “We needed to deploy virtualisation in a simple but robust way, striking a balance between enabling the long-term upgrade project, whilst solving today’s problems."
"We knew that, in the long-term, software would still need to be upgraded, but by virtualising the system we’d be removing the headache and expensive overhead of the legacy hardware."
“We needed an architecture that would deliver 24/7 availability, whilst at the same time reducing costs and improving both resilience and security, SolutionsPT has the required expertise and understood the requirements of a specialist industrial IT system. They were able to suggest an architecture that could deliver the right level of availability and would complement VMware.”
SolutionsPT’s System Architecture team identified the resource needed for the optimum operation of the virtual machines and recommended a robust fault tolerant platform – Stratus’ Fault Tolerant Server (ftServer) – to be combined with ThinManager as an availability solution for the deployment of critical industrial applications.
Stratus ftServer — complete with hardware, software and service — is an operationally simple platform designed to keep applications up and running with no downtime or data loss.
Leveraging the latest Intel processor technology and supporting Windows, Linux and virtualisation technology VMware, ftServer’s always-on capabilities are achieved with advanced lockstep technology and real-time management and monitoring. Crucially, for Scott Bader, ftServer is easily installed and is serviced by system generated replacement parts ordering.
ThinManager is management software allowing the simplified delivery of centralised applications to any device, in a format that reduces management and maintenance costs while delivering increased security.
In partnership with SolutionsPT’s architecture team, Exabyte Solutions virtualised Scott Bader’s system using VMWare deployed on the Stratus ftServer, enabling Scott Bader to continue to run its existing software programmes on a virtualised fault tolerant server.
The virtualisation of Scott Bader’s system effectively addressed the hardware obsolescence of its legacy servers and operator client PCs, allowing the company to kick off its long-term migration plans whilst maintaining business as usual.
The Stratus ftServer was an appropriate solution for its business as it provided an always-on platform allowing staff to focus on production. Used in conjunction with ThinManager, which is used to deploy the applications into the environment, it provided a robust, secure solution for managing Scott Bader’s system which required minimal engineering.
Tony Mannion at SolutionsPT, said: “Since the implementation of the virtualisation project 10 months ago, Scott Bader has experienced 100% uptime and the task of managing the environment has been significantly simplified since migrating away from the legacy hardware."
"The operating systems remain the same and the same applications continue to run for now. In the long-term, the project has provided a building block for an overall migration to a fully modernised environment."
"Our solution is allowing the company to reduce the overall cost of managing system operations, whilst simultaneously improving plant reliability and availability due to having a more flexible production platform. The Stratus ftServer has been designed and built to comfortably support all the virtual machines, whilst also allowing scope for expansion and growth as the next stages of the upgrades progress.”
Roger Sage from Scott Bader, said: “Our main concern was the reliability of our hardware, and the time taken to re boot all systems when it did crash. With a virtualised system, one of the key benefits for us is having the security of dual servers."
"We are now far better provisioned to deal with any hardware or software failures. We are also able to complete any required maintenance using one monitor located in the control room."
"Achieving 100% uptime is a fantastic step forward for us as we were crashing on a regular basis. Downtime during a critical stage in our production programme could have caused a gel in a reactor, which would have been extremely costly to rectify.”