Control System Modernization: How Power and Automation Fusion Change Operational Resistance into Operational Resilience

Author photo: Craig Resnick
By Craig Resnick


Automation and control system modernization remains one of the major issues faced by manufacturers. ARC estimates that over $65 billion worth of automation and control systems are nearing the end of their useful life. Control System ModernizationThese estimates are even larger if one includes those installed systems that don’t meet the requirements for cybersecurity protection or the ability to leverage technologies, such as digital twin, cloud computing, advanced process control, predictive and prescriptive analytics, AR/VR, AI/ML, edge computing, and remote and autonomous operations. End users are primarily concerned with preserving their installed plant assets to reduce risk, prevent or minimize any possible unscheduled downtime, and increase organizational efficiency by consolidating automation and electrical systems and personnel.

Organizational and systems convergence, the pressure to reduce risk, expenditures, and carbon footprint, plus other factors are driving end users to seek out partners who can help them modernize their control systems. One of those partners is Schneider Electric. They offer a broad portfolio of solutions and services that helps with the modernization of existing systems, providing unique options and new innovations so end users can get the most out of their control systems with the techniques to overcome budget constraints. Schneider Electric refers to this as “Lean Modernization.”

COVID Accelerates Cloud Adoption and System Modernization

The pandemic has shifted market demand more abruptly than any single event that we have ever witnessed, drastically increasing the need for companies to respond faster and become agile in order to be operationally resilient and thrive in this new world. End users have been forced to deal with this new reality, running their operations and control systems remotely, with employees working from home or socially spaced within plants. Digital transformation has accelerated the ability for physical and organizational boundaries to be broken to engage a real-time workforce, connect teams, and drive collaboration.

End users are under pressure to manage their supply chains to maintain integrity and flexibility to respond to market demand shifts, and they are increasingly doing this from remote locations with tools to monitor uptime with Control System Modernizationreal-time visibility and control. Digital methodologies have accelerated, driven by the need to reduce risk, protect against failures, ensure product fulfillment, and protect personnel, while leveraging enhanced security architectures. This is why cloud technology, previously just considered for certain applications (e.g., historian data) is so essential to enable remote, secure solutions that drive faster business value. Cloud is much more than just a hosting option, as digital transformation and the cloud changes the way people work, simplifies processes, connects teams, adds visibility to data, and boosts business agility. Cloud is now an essential part of any control system, but cloud technology cannot be fully leveraged without control system modernization. Especially in these times, if end users don’t have a cloud strategy yet, they will not have the flexibility and agility to maintain a competitive advantage in today’s new normal.

Control System Modernization Essential for Digital Twin

Cloud infrastructure provides an essential foundation to host the necessary software tools, enabling teams to leverage information and construct digital twins. Digital twin technology allows for the efficient building of digital models of complex assets and processes. It also complements the use of technologies, such as augmented reality for engineering, operations and maintenance, as well as virtual reality for operator training and advanced operations. Adding digital twin technology to production processes reduces product variability, improves Control System Modernizationperformance, and reduces production risks and downtime, but an outdated control system cannot support this functionality. Control system modernization is essential for many end users to realize these benefits.

Digital twins are essential from engineering to operations, are key for asset management, and were rapidly growing before the pandemic. That growth has only further accelerated with the pandemic. Digital twins are used for designing and building simulation applications as well as for operating and maintaining real-time applications. The benefits of digital twins, especially when used in project applications, such as virtual commissioning and training, include shorter project duration, far less rework, and improved uptime, throughput and capacity, quality and yield, and energy utilization. In addition, the benefits to the workforce also include improved operator skills and competency, especially when used in performance applications, such as predictive maintenance, process optimization, and energy management.

Remote Operations Require Control System Modernization

It can be argued that the greatest challenge presented by the pandemic was the confinement of workers with international travel halted and locally mandated lockdowns. Both resulted in the need for a connected workforce with real-time visibility, information and monitoring tools for the continuity of operations, and flexible, agile production. This is where control system modernization is mandatory to enable getting technology into the hands of a connected and remote workforce, helping to facilitate collaboration and reduce paperwork, providing secured access to information from anyone, anywhere, and allowing the inputs of remote experts. This improves efficiency of tasks and working conditions and also helps with knowledge capture management and deployment of new workflow processes. Remote operations tools completely change the way people work by simplifying processes, connecting teams, adding visibility to data, boosting business agility, and guiding connected workers in daily tasks.

Modernization Enables Technology Convergence and Fusion

Another primary driver of control system modernization projects is to be able to leverage IT by its convergence with OT. IT/OT convergence is progressing rapidly as industrial organizations realize it is key for successful digital transformation and businesses to compete. End users face the increasing demand for tighter integration and more information, needing to deploy Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 technology, cloud and edge computing, advanced analytics, digital twins, AR/VR, AI, ML, and other emerging technologies.

Increasingly, IT/OT convergence includes IT/OT cybersecurity, which helps fill existing security gaps and ensures Control System Modernizationconsistent security levels across the enterprise. Convergence also includes the integration of power and automation, which involves combining information about electrical assets, such as in motor control centers, and the production process and safety systems to help improve sustainability across the entire lifecycle of a processing plant. Convergence between power and automation also provides an integrated, digitalized approach that increases interoperability, safety, and flexibility. Power and automation convergence also reduces TOTEX (CAPEX and OPEX) expenditures, increases production efficiencies, decreases unscheduled downtime, and improves overall profitability. ARC Advisory Group believes that this convergence between IT and OT, IT cybersecurity and OT cybersecurity, and power and automation will become permanent, changing the classification from convergence to fusion. 

Along with IT/OT convergence and IT/OT cybersecurity convergence, Schneider Electric has also fully embraced power and automation convergence with its portfolio of solutions and services that is helping its customers evolve towards a full power and automation fusion. The company provides solutions and services for lean control system modernization, empowering customers with a foundation essential for these technologies to be properly deployed.

Schneider Electric Lean Modernization Solutions and Services

Electrical power management and automation have traditionally been designed and operated independently throughout the lifecycle of a plant. However, pressure to reduce TOTEX (CAPEX and OPEX) costs is driving an initiative to integrate automation and electrical power management, which offers strong benefits. Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Power and Process approach is a key component of its Lean Modernization Solutions and Services, providing its customers with a true power and automation fusion.

Electrical power management and automation have long been designed and operated independently throughout a plant’s lifecycle. Historically this separation made sense, now IoT and digitalization have enabled a level of integrated connectivity to manage these two domains going forward.

Control System ModernizationThe fusion of power and automation is a catalyst for operational resilience and improved sustainability across the lifecycle of the plant. This integrated, digitalized approach can reduce electrical, instrumentation, and control (EI&C) CAPEX reductions by up to 20 percent. OPEX costs, including decreased downtime, can be reduced by up to 15 percent, while bottom line profitability can increase by up to 3 percent. End users can see energy procurement cost reductions of up to 2-5 percent and carbon footprint reductions of up to 7-12 percent when implementing this convergence.

Schneider Electric offers a comprehensive view of asset performance management, energy management, and the value chain from design through construction, commissioning, operations, and maintenance. When undergoing this convergence, implementing this EcoStruxure Power and Process can improve operational resilience for better anticipation, prevention, recovery from, and adaptability to market dynamics and catastrophic events, such as pandemics. The plantwide data collection, increased reliability control, and tighter exchange between systems, operators, remote workers, and the control room will further empower the workforce with clearer and verified decision-making, drastically lowering operator resistance to the changes resulting from power and automation convergence and helping the end users increase their operational resilience.

Why Training Is Critical for Lean Modernization

The combination of the workforce transition from baby boomers to millennials and gen z’ers, along with digital transformation and the introduction of new technology, has completely upended both the need for training and how it is delivered. This requires that end users shift their cultures from being training-centered to a learning-centered, results-driven one that incorporates experiential, simulation-based learning to provide situational awareness. Cloud Control System Modernizationtechnology makes experiential learning accessible and practical for Schneider Electric to provide cloud-based operator training simulators (Cloud OTS) as a key part of its Lean Modernization Solutions and Services.

The cloud enables accessibility so that anyone can access the training from anywhere, anytime, with an internet connection and a web browser. The cloud enables continuous availability of training, with no limit to concurrent users and no waiting. This technology also makes sure that training is applicable to specific learning styles and different roles in an organization and can be more easily customized. Another benefit of Cloud OTS is affordability, as the cost of training decreases since less equipment is needed on-site, no travel expenses are incurred, and it can be paid by subscription.

Schneider Electric’s Cloud OTS operator training uses several simulation technologies to simulate the plant. They use generic simulators, models of common industry processes or plant designs, to teach fundamental concepts and basic unit operations to new learners. These systems may be used by many people, even ones far removed from plant operation. They also use high-fidelity custom simulators, dynamic simulation models combined with emulated control systems to create a virtual control room specific to a single plant or process. Controls checkout and operating procedure development are included for expert learners.

Augmented reality can be especially useful for remote collaboration with experts, which is more critical today than ever to support the increasing numbers of remote operations caused by the pandemic that may either partially or completely remain as part of the new normal. Schneider Electric also offers AR/VR immersive simulators to connect control room operators, maintenance, and field personnel in a single realistic learning environment used for site familiarization, work policies, field operations training, and maintenance procedures.

Lean Modernization Solutions Must Include Analytics

Improving reliability, performance, and safety are among the top priorities for end users. They are focusing efforts and resources on controlling costs and maximizing value from existing investments. That is why Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Power and Process incorporate Predictive Analytics to help end users achieve the highest possible return on critical assets by supporting predictive maintenance (PdM) programs that reduce unscheduled downtime as much as possible. Predictive Analytics solutions can provide early warning notification and diagnosis Control System Modernizationof equipment issues well before failure, and when combined with historical data, AI can also be leveraged to better understand the relationships between sensors. This helps asset-intensive end users to reduce equipment downtime, increase reliability, and improve performance while reducing operations and maintenance expenditures.

Predictive Analytics can also be hosted in the Cloud by adding AVEVA Insight’s cloud platform software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, designed to be set-up, managed, and used without additional IT infrastructure or staffing. This is critical to take operational data from the control room and make it accessible to a remote workforce that was instigated by the pandemic, and to the portions of that remote workforce that will remain post-pandemic. This enables on site and remote staff to be active participants in real-time workstreams and enhance collaboration between teams. Data in AVEVA Insight can be represented in useful dashboards and accessible on mobile devices for process and asset-centric visualization and alerting. Analytics can be automated and contain condition-based rules or additional capabilities, such as guided or advanced analytics, and are designed to not require complex algorithms to be written so it can be used by non-data scientists.


End users should view control system modernization in the same context as the selection process for a new system. Any modernized system should support business objectives, continuous improvement, risk reduction, operational excellence, and increase operational resilience. End users today seek systems that have evolved to provide a single environment, spanning all realms of control disciplines while also interacting with operations management applications. Information must be provided in the right context, to the right person, at the right time, Control System Modernizationworking from any location, from any point in the system.

Control system modernization also incorporates the convergence of power and automation systems that results in a fusion of these technologies. However, control system modernization is not complete without the implementation of technologies, such as cloud, digital twin, analytics and AI, safety systems, and operator training simulators leveraging technologies, such as AR and VR, to lower the operational resistance barriers to deploying new technology.

Deploying control system modernization effectively often requires a partner that has significant experience in manufacturing and deploying both power and automation systems, as nobody is better qualified to understand the future requirements of end users that are going through this process. Schneider Electric’s Lean Modernization Solutions and Services incorporates converged power, automation, and safety systems, along with cloud, digital twin, analytics, AI, and many other technologies to reduce risk, increase operational resilience, minimize or eliminate unscheduled downtime, and help prevent supply chain disruptions for end users.


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Keywords: Digital Transformation, IT/OT Convergence, Operational Resilience, Safety IIoT, OTS, Digital Twin, Cloud, Predictive & Prescriptive Analytics, AR/VR, AI/ML, Edge, Lean Control System Modernization, Power, Automation, ARC Advisory Group.

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