Add IIoT to Legacy Automation Assets to Reduce Unscheduled Downtime

Author photo: Craig Resnick
By Craig Resnick
Industry Trends
One of the most common questions that manufacturers have for the ARC Advisory Group regarding IIoT project justification is can it help to address one of their primary challenges, unscheduled downtime, which is often the number one issue for plants today. Often, one of the causes of a portion of this unscheduled downtime is that a significant percentage of today’s global installed base of automation systems are at least 20 years old and becoming increasingly difficult and costly to maintain properly.  The average impact of unscheduled downtime in the process industries alone is $20 billion, or almost five percent of the annual production, making minimizing unscheduled downtime attributable to automation one of the best ways for industrial organizations to improve their return on (automation) assets (ROA). Since industry will not be doing a complete “rip and replace” of all of these legacy automation assets simultaneously, the best way that industry can minimize unscheduled downtime is to deploy IIoT technology to better detect the health of these legacy assets and be able to predict problems in advance so the plants can take evasive actions to avoid downtime.

Image removed.

Business Consequences of Unscheduled Downtime

Unscheduled downtime results in major business consequences. For example, between two and five percent of all lost production in petrochemicals plants is attributable to unscheduled downtime.  Reliability experts estimate that unscheduled downtime costs ten times as much as planned downtime for maintenance in the process industries.  Unscheduled downtime also causes ripple effects throughout the organization, such as an estimated five to ten percent increase in inventories and labor costs and delayed delivery of finished goods, all resulting in reduced profitability.

Unscheduled Downtime Plagues Productivity

Some causes of unexpected stoppages in production include equipment failure, operator error, and nuisance trips. The direct impact of this unscheduled downtime can result in equipment damage, lower key performance indicators (KPIs), environmental harm, and most importantly worker endangerment. Lower KPIs include reduced overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), decreased efficiency, and reduced profitability.  However manufacturers are often not aware of the magnitude of unscheduled downtime in their own plants.

Using IIoT to Minimize the Causes of Unscheduled Downtime

Minimizing the causes of unscheduled downtime requires a focus on both legacy automation assets and equipping those assets with IIoT-enabled solutions, performing functions, such as remote monitoring and predictive maintenance. IIoT-enabled solutions can help improve manufacturing production flexibility and responsiveness to changes in customer demand, plus reduce costs, even when working in conjunction with legacy automation assets. Adding and retrofitting intelligent, connected sensors to legacy automation assets will help to enable functionality, such as remote asset management and analytics-driven performance improvement. Predictive maintenance approaches that minimize unscheduled downtime, improve maintenance productivity and effectiveness, and enable optimal asset performance are central to these initiatives, and justify the addition and retrofitting of legacy automation assets.

Use IIoT to Fill Connectivity Void in Legacy Automation Assets

There is considerable evidence that IIoT connectivity is solving business, as well as technology issues with legacy automation systems. Manufacturers have pursued horizontal and vertical connectivity within their production operations for some time in their continuing efforts to improve performance and achieve operational excellence. IIoT connectivity represents the next step in this evolution due to its ability to serve data from ubiquitous connected devices on the plant floor and in the field, and process sophisticated output from enterprise systems for operational improvement, helping to extend the lifecycle of legacy automation assets.

OT/IT Convergence Helps IIoT Address Unscheduled Downtime

OT/IT convergence continues to accelerate its deployment in industry. This has led to a rapid learning curve for both IT and OT groups.  IT personnel often have to learn what terms such as “real time,” “non-stop,” and “deterministic” mean in the operations context, and OT personnel are rapidly discovering the advantages of leveraging the latest IT-based approaches.  This convergence is helping plants address unscheduled downtime, as legacy automation assets need IIoT technology to be connected to the Cloud or to act as edge devices, often by the addition of smart embedded devices to the asset. Real-time or near real-time data, available 24/7/365, is essential for any business to globally compete.  This OT/IT convergence trend increases the demand for tighter integration and more information and analytics from all manufacturing assets, including legacy automation systems. It also contributes to the adoption of cloud computing and Big Data applications, which in turn drive the need for high-availability systems to help eliminate unscheduled downtime.


Dealing with multiple generations of automation assets is an issue that affects all manufacturers whose plants are not brand new, regardless of revenue, profitability, industry, application or geography. State-of-the art automation assets may be continuously added or used to replace legacy automation assets wherever an appropriate business case can be made. However, wherever an appropriate business case has yet to be made, this creates a big challenge for manufacturers to find a way to not only provide interoperability between plant floor and enterprise, but also to provide a link between multiple generations of legacy automation assets. Adding and retrofitting IIoT technology to those legacy automation assets can be a quick and justifiable way to help reduce unscheduled downtime and leverage the full potential of all the assets on the plant floor.

Engage with ARC Advisory Group

Representative End User Clients
Representative Automation Clients
Representative Software Clients