ICS Engineering Inc.
Electrical Consulting | Communications | Automation

Disaster-Proof Your Control System Design

The biggest threat to your automation and business systems may not come from oversea hackers, but from a potential disaster that could hit your control system. Storms, floods and even prolonged power outages may cause havoc on production systems. The difference between a quick recovery or suffering a debilitating outage may come down to how disaster-proof your control system design is.

Industrial control systems are susceptible to natural and human disasters.

"Engineers must make provisions to protect their company's manufacturing data, production systems and business information", says Greg Lynch, a professional engineer and control systems architect with ICS Engineering Group. "The entire system from the manufacturing floor to the industrial computer network & the production software, needs to be resilient in the event of a catastrophe."

Here are some suggestions a business can put in place to prevent damage to production equipment, data and, as equally important, to a company's reputation.

Have an Alternate Power Source

When the power goes out, you need a secondary power source to keep the essential systems running, especially communication, automation controllers and production servers. Having a dedicated UPS on critical control systems may help prevent a total production shutdown or at least lead to a speedy recovery.

Look for Vulnerabilities Outside of Your Network

When production facilities span offices, interrupts can happen because of an unreliable internet provider. When Shaw Communications network went down in Calgary, Alberta in 2012 due to a fire and an inadequate backup system, customers across the province were affected for over a week. Clients were left without internet and phone service and worse, without financial recourse. Having an unreliable communication link can cut your lifelines between your control systems and production management systems and can mean the difference between life & death for your facility. Industrial IT networks need higher reliability than corporate networks.

Back Up Constantly

It's inevitable that hardware is going to fail, so back up your production data often. Knowing the current state of the production facility, how much material is in pre-production and in-process is important to the financial health of your business. While cloud computing and third-part data storage hasn't been fully accepted by industry, this may make sense for some businesses in disaster-prone locales like coastal British Columbia. Data that is archived remotely can come in handy for insurance purposes and for production mitigation in the event a disaster takes down your facilities and equipment.

A Voluntary Shut-down May Be Better Than A Catastrophic Outage

In a weather-related emergency, like an electrical storm or a spring flood, it may be more prudent to enact an emergency shutdown instead of subjecting production equipment to a dirty power supply. Surge protectors may help prevent harmful transients from entering a control systems but not all manufacturing equipment may operate reliably when hit by voltage sags (brown-outs), noise and momentary interruptions.

It's technically and financially improbable to have a control system design that accounts for all possible disasters. However, engineers must make plans to prevent damage and unsafe operation when disasters do strike.

Contact ICS Engineering for more information.

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ICS Engineering Inc.
Edmonton 587-557-1152