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3 Essential Considerations When Modernizing the Safety System of Industrial Facilities

Friedhelm Best, VP Asia Pacific, HIMA
As countries in Asia start to ease restrictions and more businesses return to operation in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, industrial plant operators are strategizing a return to normality in the midst of changes. Hygiene is top of mind for all businesses today, to protect the safety of workers and customers. 

However, for businesses such as plant operators, functional safety needs to be assured at all times; even as new hygiene-related safety measures are adhered to. 

As workers re-enter industrial facilities, routine activities such as planning a system modernization – likely placed on hold during the pandemic – re-enter the frame. This task requires careful consideration, especially where mandatory process industry standards, potential downtime, and soliciting service providers are involved.

What are the key considerations for ensuring that the Safety Instrumented System (SIS) of your facilities is always up to the task; can your SIS effectively monitor dangerous conditions in a plant operation unit, and take actions when a dangerous condition occurs?  

1. Conform to Standards
Standards conformity is an ongoing consideration for plant operators, not only when considering SIS modernization or modification. Functional safety norms can provide legal certainty in case of liability cases and serve as guidelines for best practices during the system lifecycle.

IEC 61511 Edition 2 mandates periodical security risk assessments, qualified staff for the entire plant lifecycle, regular assessment and refresh of qualifications and cybersecurity measures to identify any security vulnerabilities. This can reveal discrepancies in systems and highlight where modernization is necessary.  

When planning an SIS modernization or modification, companies must ensure that the upgraded hardware or software will adhere to the relevant standards. If there are discrepancies but the system is installed anyway, a plant’s operating license could be affected, and penalties could be incurred.

When new technologies, such as a programmable safety system is introduced, new risks and measures may come into play. It is important to ascertain whether the risk level has changed because of conversion or replacement.

For a company to prove that the SIS was IEC 61511-compliant through installation and operation, then all relevant safety and maintenance documentation will be provided by the plant operator. This includes materials to record data and document incidents.

HIMA recommends using a SIL 3-certified system for replacing and implementing a system procedure according to IEC 61511. This ensures specifications are as they should be, and functional tests of the changed equipment can be carried out.

2. Avoid Lengthy Downtime
With any modernization process, downtime is a possibility. In large-scale industrial applications, and the greater the technological leap, the longer the downtime. We recommend always planning for the long term, using compatible products, and preparing iterative shutdowns carefully.

To minimize downtime, operators should make sure technology is current, as updated versions may include bug fixes and enhancements which lead to a more fortified safety system.

HIMA engineering tools and new versions of our operating systems can be implemented without halting production. If you use interconnected systems, Our solutions allow you to replace them at any time, and the old system can safely communicate with the new one.

3. Get the Right Assistance
Modernization requires expertise. With so much to think about, support from impartial engineers and consultants presents the best chance of a smooth and efficient process. 

For example, starting with the SIS itself: do your periodical reviews reveal which devices are still in use? Do you know how long they have been in use? What are the critical requirements and initial steps in the process? If you struggle to answer any of the above, seek external support.

Finding experts who can assist a seamless and compatible transition can help keep downtime to a minimum. Some technologies enable online troubleshooting and installation, reducing downtime even further.
Set Course for Future-Proof Production

For years, different industrial sectors have digitally transformed their processes. The coronavirus pandemic has only served to catalyze the move. Always remember that conformity is king in critical industries. Staying current on all standards will put you in good stead for whatever modernization process is decided on. Compile all of the documentation related to your existing systems and develop a concrete, compliant strategy to reach your end goals.