Upgrading a QBMS while Enhancing Existing Functionality

Unsupported OSs forced a client to upgrade their automation system to avoid failures. E Tech Group developed and integrated a creative solution that delivered the desired functionality between previously incompatible software and hardware components.

The Project: Update a Building-Wide Control System to Avoid Imminent Issues

A client had a QBMS (Qualified Building Management System) operating on an antiquated version of iFix and was running on an outdated OS (operating system).  At a certain point, they would no longer be able to update either, preventing them from getting the most out of these systems and leaving them with an unsupported OS and HMI system.

The potential of increased downtime in the event of a failure eventually proved more costly than upgrading the entire building management system. Knowing it was only a matter of time before they would start encountering issues that could jeopardize the system’s operation and reliability, they knew it was time to work proactively.   

After evaluating their options, they moved to update and upgrade the QBMS while at the same time enhancing and expanding its capabilities from monitoring building parameters (i.e. temperature, room differential pressures) and independent equipment (i.e. freezers, refrigerators, lab incubators) to monitoring production equipment and centralizing the historical data collection of all equipment at the facility. 

The Challenge: Overcome Compatibility Issues & Add Functionality on a Tight Turnaround  

Our team is always up for a challenge, and this project presented no shortage of them. The client was set on a PlantPAx 5.0 platform for their new QBMS. As a Rockwell Automation Gold System Integrator, our engineers have extensive experience with the Rockwell PlantPAx 5.0 building automation system, which proves a top performer in both turnkey control system builds as well as partial upgrades like this one.

But having to complete a partial upgrade in an existing system still requires a bit more analysis and research than starting from scratch. And try as you might to ensure as few potential hurdles as possible are overlooked and unrecognized once the work is underway, some can be out of your hands and unavoidable.  

Our team encountered two significant challenges during the project:

1. The client selected the PlantPAx 5.0 architecture, however, some of the equipment to be displayed and monitored was not PlantPAx 5.0 based. Certain pieces of equipment didn’t even provide the data from a PLC, but instead from an OPC server which presented its own set of compatibility issues.  

2. The equipment and production areas being monitored by the existing QBMS would only be able to be down for a very short time (preferably less than one working day) to perform the cutover from the old system to the new system.   

It was critical to strategically plan the necessary downtime to implement the updates to their control system so we could minimize disruption to their daily operations. 

The Solution: A Slow & Steady Approach Results in Methodical & Efficient Execution 

To solve the non-PlantPAx 5.0 equipment problem, a PlantPAx 5.0-based PLC was set up to read the data from the equipment and the data from the OPC server was read by an OPC client which was then transmitted to the PlantPAx 5.0 PLC. This PlantPAx 5.0 PLC was then used to display the information on the HMI and from which the Historian gathered its data. 

To migrate the systems from the old QBMS to the new PlantPAx 5.0 QBMS, a combined philosophy of modularity and “you can’t do everything at once” was employed. Trying to disconnect, reconnect, and validate all the I/O points from the control panels would take days.  

Ultimately, the work would be done one panel at a time, one day at a time.  The team converted and tested only one control system panel per day because that made the number of points being converted completed in manageable pieces, reduced the number of issues that needed to be monitored manually at one time, and limited the downtime of systems not being converted.

The Results: Immediate Improvements and Increased Compatibility

This QBMS migration was a labor of love, and the perfect example of how even partial control system upgrades can transform a facility’s operations via better industrial data management and analysis, logistical control, network communications, production quality and throughput, and more. This client now has the resources to continue enhancing their facility’s capabilities without having to face a complete rebuild.

E Tech Group supports clients with a distinct approach to control system integration, including everything from pharmaceutical automation to alternative meat production, chemicals, biologics, and more. Our creative, methodical and communicative strategy to control system design provides clients with advanced, user-friendly automation systems that prove beneficial in the present and future as they continue to grow.

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