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In 2018, one of Alpha’s customers – an organisation in the food and beverage sector – decided to upgrade its industrial automation system in order to eliminate hardware and software obsolescence. Its current system was built around Wonderware System Platform 2012, a real-time operations control platform, and Microsoft Server 2008, however both were now in the mature period of their lifecycles.
In addition to this, the server hardware – which consisted of 14 thick client computers – had been in operation for five years and was approaching the end of its natural life.
The company approached Alpha and asked it to recommend a new industrial automation system that would:
• Minimise the risk of operational downtime
• Increase cyber security
• Deliver high availability, and
• Offer comprehensive vendor system support.
The customer also needed its new system to offer full scalability that would enable it to increase production and expand its entire operation in 2019.
Alpha recommended upgrading to Wonderware System Platform 2017, an all-new operating system for industrial applications that provides configuration, deployment, security and data connectivity, enabling users to build a model of their physical equipment and industrial systems and make the design and maintenance of these systems more efficient and flexible.
Before beginning the upgrade, Alpha first needed to set up a full simulation of the customer’s existing plant at its HQ in Cork, where it was able to carry out the upgrade virtually, before rigorously testing it to ensure it was fully operational and appropriate for the customer’s needs. Once proven to work successfully, back-ups of all the customer’s applications were carried out to keep them protected in the event of any disruption and the upgrade was then carried out at the customer’s site.
Alpha installed cutting-edge DELL VRTX servers and changed all the customer’s PCs from thick clients to thin clients – lightweight terminals with no operating systems and moving parts that are optimised for establishing remote application connections to centralised Remote Desktop Servers.
Alpha then deployed the latest anti-virus software and recommended installing Wonderware Historian 2017, a real-time database for historical information that enables personnel to quickly generate the information they need to make important decisions quickly and accurately as soon as a problem is identified, or an opportunity uncovered. Historian also enables the full scalability of applications of any size, up to two million tags.
In total, the entire changeover took just four hours, ensuring disruption to the plant was kept to a minimum and productivity was able to continue with no downtime whatsoever. By partnering with Wonderware, both the customer and Alpha were also able to benefit from 24/7 technical support throughout the implementation process of the new project
William Fitzgerald, Operations Director at Alpha, said: “Since upgrading to the new industrial automation system, our customer has already enjoyed several benefits, including better system reliability, increased levels of technical support from both Alpha and Wonderware, and increased security patching levels across all its equipment. Going forward, the latest anti-virus, back up and replication software we installed will also allow the customer to keep its equipment future-proof, more secure and more resilient to any cyber-attacks.
“One of the main reasons we recommended upgrading to System Platform 2017 was to ensure our customer could receive mainstream customer support. By installing Historian and working alongside Wonderware, Alpha has full and immediate access to its technical support team, any security updates or patches, and the newest features and enhancements, which can be added to our customer’s operation quickly and securely.
“Historian is invaluable here because it monitors all data and generates reports which give huge amounts of data to the technical teams, enabling them to fault-find and establish an appropriate solution which, in turn, helps our customer improve plant performance.”
Ken Molloy, Technical Manager of Wonderware Ireland, said: “By providing a seamless migration path, Wonderware technology has helped Alpha’s customer upgrade to the most recent version of System Platform with minimal disruption, deploy it on the latest hardware technology and improve its operating system, which is great news for all involved.
“Upgrading to System Platform 2017 and moving to a Thin Client architecture has already reduced security vulnerabilities and the risk of system downtime by enabling all applications to be easily upgraded. Going forward, the customer will also be able to take advantage of the latest improvements in hardware technology and operating systems, as well as being able to quickly modernise all applications as soon as new features and client tools become available.”
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