Are you currently planning to modernise a plant?

  • Is it a production plant?
  • Or a warehouse?
  • Do only PLCs need to be modernised?
  • Does a WMS have to be replaced?
  • Does a manufacturing or production control system have to be replaced?

Whatever kind of plant you have, the following 5 essential rules for successful plant modernisation will help you to achieve your goals safely.

Rule 1: Choose a supplier that specialises in modernisation during ongoing operation and not in new installations

  • What kind of plant do you have?
  • Do you have to operate the plant 24/7?
  • Can you spare the plant for a few weeks?
  • Does a manufacturing or production control system have to be replaced?
  • Or is it an automated warehouse with warehouse management?

The availability, complexity and nature of the system to be modernised dictate the skills that the supplier must have.

Companies that specialise in the construction of new systems are generally not equipped for modernisation.

Why is this so?

Compare an automobile factory with a car repair shop. The automobile factory can build cars better than anybody else. On the other hand, if you were to drive your car to the factory to have a new engine installed, it would be difficult. The factory is simply not equipped for this.

It is quite true that when a warehouse or production facility is modernised, software, steel, drive technology and cabling are needed just as much as for a new building.

Yet the decisive factor when modernising during ongoing operations is the ability to replace the software for control systems, warehouse management and control during ongoing operations.

Why is the software so crucial?

The software for a manufacturing or production control system or for warehouse management is the key element in your plant. If it fails, the entire plant stands still. Think of your ERP system. If you want to replace it, then replacing a few monitors and computers, or even moving an entire department to another office building is a minor matter. Why? Because the ERP is the key element.

To give you an example:

You want to replace your old warehouse management computer with a new, state-of-the-art warehouse management system. Unfortunately, the fact is that very few customers are given complete documentation of all interfaces and processes by their former suppliers. These old systems have often been running for 20 years or more. The original supplier may not even have anyone left who is still familiar with the old systems, let alone has the nerve to handle them. So modernisation is difficult – yet for retrofit specialists, it's their bread and butter.

A company specialising in new constructions will generally try to replace the software in one go. This is sometimes feasible for smaller and less complex systems. That tends not to be the case with larger systems.

This is why specialists for new constructions tend to reject such requests.

My recommendation

Read my other rules and then evaluate the modernisation concepts of your suppliers to see if and how they fit to your individual situation in your production / manufacturing / warehouse.

Rule 2: 5 reasons why you should insist on a modernisation plan that you can read and understand in writing

A modernisation plan? What else do you expect to find in there?

It's all been talked about and discussed. So why yet another modernisation plan?

For 5 reasons:

  1. The modernisation plan must show what the current situation is and what the desired target situation should be. It must describe all the processes and technical functions that you want to have at the end (specification sheet).
  2. The modernisation plan must explain step-by-step what will happen and when. It must show when and how your business will be affected, when you and your staff will have to help, when your production or warehouse will have to face restrictions. It must show which technical means will be used to achieve what results.
  3. The modernisation plan must contain a complete timetable. The timetable must take into account your production situation as well as holiday and vacation situations.
  4. The modernisation plan must provide for reserves and emergency scenarios if something does not go as planned.
  5. The project affects many people in your company and at the supplier's premises – people who probably were not present at all meetings. They need to be informed about what to do, when to do it and when the hot phase is, during which they cannot go on holiday.

As you can see, a modernisation plan brings structure to the project, it organises all activities on your side and on the supplier's side.

And most importantly:

You can see and understand what will happen and when, and you can judge for yourself whether this approach suits your staff and your business.

My recommendation:

Read the document. You must be able to understand everything yourself!

Even if the project is supposed to last only 8 weeks, never undertake something like this without a modernisation plan. For this, it suffices if all measures, all risks with emergency strategies, all deadlines and all participants are described in a Word document.

The modernisation plan must make the project “transparent”.

Rule 3: The operation always comes first

For you as a producer, it is perfectly normal to expect the supplier to take your situation in production and in the warehouse into account.

For a supplier, however, it is also completely normal for him to be allowed to deliver the ordered goods and not to be prevented from delivery by the customer.

This situation illustrates another major difference between companies that specialise in new construction and companies that specialise in modernisation.

When a new plant is built, it is essential for every supplier to carry out all the work exactly according to schedule and as quickly as possible. This is not difficult, as no one has to be taken into consideration.

When it comes to modernisation, everyone would like to do the same, but of course there are the production and warehouse operations to consider.

And they ALWAYS come first!

My recommendation:

Talk to your supplier in plain language! He must understand in no uncertain terms that his modernisation concept must always take your operating situation into account under all conditions.

Even if you unexpectedly have to schedule a production order and the timetable gets mixed up. This is simply par for the course with modernisation projects! You yourself must react just as flexibly. If the timetable is changed, you also have to be flexible enough to be able to wait a few weeks for the modernisation work if necessary.

Rule 4: Proceed step-by-step

How many steps are required and how large they have to be depends exclusively on the specific situation of your plant.

For each step, you will have to plan what to do if that step does not work or does not work in time.

Certainly the easiest way is to go back to the last working step.

Yet in some cases this is not possible, because drives have been replaced, for example. An emergency scenario must always be worked out for such cases and agreed with the operator.

My recommendation:

Let your supplier show you which steps he has planned (in the modernisation plan, in writing).

Have your supplier show you how long each step will take and, above all, how much time will be needed for the retrograde step or the planned emergency measure.

Have it explained to you how the time required was determined and how it can be verified.

Set a deadline for each step. If this deadline is reached, insist that the planned emergency measure is carried out immediately.

Do not become involved in any discussions. The riskiest thing to do is to postpone the start of the emergency measure and try to find the problem in some way.

You risk a massive interference or possibly even a massive breakdown of your production or your warehouse operations.

Rule 5: COMPLETELY test the new system

The most frequent source of problems and disputes is that the customer and the supplier failed to clarify and document in detail what processes and functions need to be delivered during the clarification phase.

The second most frequent source of problems and disputes is that not all processes and functions defined during the clarification phase are checked for their existence, correct implementation and correct function during the modernisation process!

Even a layperson can recognise if a car is missing a front wheel.

But if a software system lacks agreed processes and functions, or if these have not been implemented correctly, the only way to determine this is through complete testing.

Plan the time for all the tests! You have not bought a series-produced car from a car dealership, in which case you can expect everything to work without errors! You have ordered a software solution that had to be integrated perfectly into your operation. As a result, defects and errors can be hidden in many places, which must be discovered.

If you do not do this, it is likely that you will repeatedly encounter a problem over a long period of time – a process that does not work correctly, a function that does not work correctly – and you will have to report this again and again as a warranty problem. Sure, that's what the warranty is for, but this gets in the way of your production and warehouse operations when things simply don't work when you want to use them.

My recommendation:

Since you and your supplier documented all requirements regarding processes and functions at the beginning of the planning phase, you can now easily create a test plan based on this list of requirements.

Carry out all tests with one of your employees and one of your supplier's employees. Document the results in your test plan. If errors have been corrected by the supplier, perform all tests that are affected by the corrected error again.

Also consider measuring and documenting agreed services, e.g. the number of parts to be produced in manufacturing or the number of picks/h in the warehouse.

And especially important:

Test the IT and PLC system itself as well. Delete the PLCs yourself and load them yourself with the data carriers supplied to you. Shut down the servers yourself and reboot them. The controllers and the servers must be capable of restarting themselves without any problems and without the need for a specialist.

Ideally, you should install a new server yourself with the data carriers and installation descriptions provided to you and put it into operation.

This ensures that you really have all the necessary programs and instructions. Bear in mind that your system must run for another 20 years.

Our scope of services

  • Consulting
  • Planning
  • Engineering
  • Commissioning
  • Training
  • Support


Jürgen Kohl, Geschäftsführer von Artschwager + Kohl

Are you currently planning to modernise a plant? Please call me any time. Let's talk about your project free of charge and without obligation. Let's find out how I can help you.

Jürgen Kohl

+49 9132 836660

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