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Retrofits and Cutovers: What to Know Before Modernizing Your Automation System

Ahmed Arif | 10 February 2021

For any companies who has been a part of a retrofit or cutover project, you may be familiar with the challenges of taking on a project during a live operation. At Bastian Solutions, we see a lot of live operation projects every year – enhancements or modernizations of existing operations. These kinds of projects are considerably more difficult than projects that are performed in a greenfield (brand new building) or brownfield (existing building) site that aren’t operational today.

When attempting to implement a retrofit project in an existing operation, company leaders need to contend with keeping the day to day operations functioning with little to no disruption, in order to keep customer service levels up.  Cutovers, where a new system is being brought online in a live operation, similarly must be handled delicately to reduce downtime and general disruptions.

These kinds of projects are largely logistical in nature, where timing and communication are critical to the overall success. There are three key considerations that make a significant impact when upgrading, modernizing or changing your automation system.

3 Retrofit & Cutover Considerations

1. Identify your project manager

Company leaders need to have a plan for who will manage the new project and run the current operation.  Our project teams have identified this as a key attribute to managing a successful project in a live operation. Having different project managers, for example, every day or week tends to result in a weaker implementation. 

Why?  Because these project managers simply run out of time. They cannot spend the necessary time interfacing with suppliers and internal partners on the new project.  For this reason, we recommend strongly to our clients that they consider who they are going to put in charge of the new project; ensuring they will have the time necessary to focus on the project and not just the whirlwind of day to day operations.

Just as important as defining who will lead your project, company leaders should consider how much experience they have implementing an automated warehouse or production system. The success of the project is largely dependent on the project manager’s understanding of the business operation and the details of how the equipment complements the goal of the business. 

The person who will head up the project for your company should have a strong operations background coupled with a firm understanding of the desired equipment functionality.

2. Loop in your software expert

Often, we see projects where a client’s warehouse management system (WMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) communicates to an automated warehouse or production process.  In cases where there might be an interface between your WMS/ERP and the automated solution, it’s important to define a point of contact available on your project team.  This will allow your WMS/ERP expert time to work with your integrator on interface communication testing prior to any cutovers.  This allows streamlining any debugging efforts between software experts on the client side as well as on the integrator’s team.  

3. Vet your integrator

If you haven’t noticed yet, planning is the central theme to any retrofit projects.  In order to be successful, you must have a plan for who will lead the project. Do they have the right experience, and do they have a team available for any specialized areas like software, controls or maintenance? 

Your integrator of choice will have a higher chance of success if you think about the above points, but the integrator must also be prepared and do their homework.  You should expect that the integrator you hire will come prepared with:  

  • PLAN – A defined plan for each project cutover period
  • REVIEW – Review of current operations and system
  • OUTLINE – Outline of how they intend to modify the equipment step by step for the whole transformation of your project

They should also outline the installation sequence with you, to ensure no hiccups to your operation.  A couple good examples might be defining when and where new equipment can be delivered and how much time is needed to make changes to your system during each cutover window.  The most critical element in the planning effort will be defining how the operation will work after each cutover transformation, especially in cases where the transformation spans many cutovers. 

A telling sign that you have picked the right integrator is if they have a solid game plan to make the changes to your system.  If the integrator has drawings of each phase of the transformation and has considered contingencies in case they run into unforeseen issues, you know you are working with true professionals. 

What can you do to qualify you have the right integrator as your partner? 

Ask them to present their plan for implementing the project.  Also, don’t hesitate to ask the integrator for the credentials of the installation subcontractors they intend to use, as you don’t want novice installation companies performing time sensitive work on your system.  Make sure there is enough time allocated to test any changes that are made to your system before it is expected to go back into live operation.    

Planning Makes for a Smoother Operation

Retrofit projects are challenging, and the aforementioned points are just a few of the most important elements to consider. Remember to plan out the key steps, identify your primary points of contact and who may be needed when, and don’t hesitate to ask your team key planning questions.

 If you are looking for an integrator to partner with on projects where it can be a logistical challenge, don’t hesitate to reach out to Bastian Solutions for a reviewal of your project. 

Author: Ahmed Arif

As the Senior Director of Regional Office Solutions for Bastian Solutions, Ahmed and his teams are responsible for helping our customers achieve their goals in manufacturing, distribution, warehouse management and logistics. A graduate of Purdue University, Ahmed has been with Bastian Solutions for more than twelve years in a variety of roles. 


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