Automation service strategy: 5 things to consider

5 tips for developing and documenting a life cycle services strategy

07/24/2013


As the automation workforce ages and nears retirement and as the competitive pressure to “do more with less” accelerates, what does this mean for a plant’s automation service strategy? Manufacturers must continue to be flexible and efficient when automating and servicing their plants. A well-developed and documented life cycle services strategy is core to your success. Where to begin? Consider the following five items. 

1. Scheduled and documented preventive and corrective maintenance is proven to improve system reliability. If you are not already doing so then implement measurement and tracking for Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to maintenance and service activities. Identify the important KPIs for your plant and then measure, report and implement improvements based on them. If there are several plant sites, consider standardizing maintenance practices across sites and compare KPIs to drive improvement.

2. Review your plant’s human resource depth and bench strength taking into account not only internal personnel but also what is available from your automation service providers. When you need support, evaluate the responsiveness of your automation vendor and whether they have the depth of technology experts to adequately help implement solutions and solve problems. Test that you can access these experts quickly and efficiently. Make sure that the skills of your staff are up-to-date to support your automation and make sure you have a viable and current personnel succession plan in place.

3. System lifecycle planning, management and total cost of ownership go hand-in-hand. Have plans in place to address obsolescence and review them during each budget cycle. Know what programs and new features are available from your automation service provider to keep your system current. Ask what ROI and risk mitigation you can expect to see from these programs. Be aware of unique vendor programs to extend system hardware life and take advantage of parts repair and refurbishment programs. A careful analysis of system life cycle total cost of ownership may uncover ways to optimize you plant further.

4. Supplement your in-house staff by using qualified outside system and process experts. Experts and expert tools are available to perform high-value tasks such as system health checks, process loop optimization and advanced process control services. These can be performed economically through the use of secure remote connections to efficiently access experts in technical areas. If you do not have a remote connection option for your equipment then it is recommended that you engage your control system vendor and your IT departments to get one implemented for your plant.

5. A cyber security strategy is extremely important to protect the control system from internal and external attacks. In case of a security breach, verify that there is a dependable system backup strategy in place to ensure that your system can be restored quickly. 

The effectiveness of your automation service strategy is an important contributor to your bottom line. A well designed and executed strategy can significantly reduce downtime, off-spec production, costs, and safety issues, while improving overall operational excellence. With forethought, planning and execution, worries about the future can be addressed and minimized.

Andrew Kovach is Regional Director for ABB US Service based in Wickliffe, Ohio. He has been with ABB for 20 years in various roles including project management, engineering operations management and service management.