How to automate: More answers from a system integrator walk-through

Automation rip and replace versus smaller upgrades, control system integration project cadence and integration with higher-level systems were among topics of questions answered by course instructors after the Control Engineering webcast, “What system integrators look for in a plant walk-through.”

By Control Engineering January 8, 2024
Source: Control Engineering

 

Learning Objectives

  • Explore additional audience questions about having a control system integrator do a plant or facility walk-through.
  • Understand how a system integrator looks at project cadence and differences between ripping and replacing automation versus staged upgrades.
  • Learn what the webcast audience is hoping to achieve when considering a system integrator facility or plant walk-through.

Control system integrator plant walk-through insights

  • Control Engineering webcast audience had more questions about having a control system integrator do a plant or facility walk-through.
  • System integrators examine automation and control system integration project cadence and the differences between ripping and replacing automation versus staged upgrades, among other “How to automate” topics.
  • During the Control Engineering webcast, the audience explained what they hope to achieve when considering a system integrator facility or plant walk-through.

When control system integrators seek ways to improve a plant or facility, they may see things those in the plant can miss, including new opportunities to automate, automation upgrades or ways to improve existing automation devices systems with more effective system integration. Course instructors for the Dec. 12, Control Engineering webcast, “What system integrators look for in a plant walk-through,” agreed to answer additional audience questions about control system integration after the webcast and the questions and answers recorded after the presentation. The webcast, in the “How to automate” series, may be viewed for a year after the original air date by clicking on the title above and registering.

Presenters for the Dec. 12 webcast, “Automation Series: What system integrators look for in a plant walk-through” are Jeff W. Buck, PE, CMSE, vice president of engineering, Automation NTH, and Eric Sahakian, senior industrial programmer, Vertech. Courtesy: Control Engineering

Presenters for the Dec. 12 webcast, “Automation Series: What system integrators look for in a plant walk-through” are Jeff W. Buck, PE, CMSE, vice president of engineering, Automation NTH, and Eric Sahakian, senior industrial programmer, Vertech. Courtesy: Control Engineering

Additional answers follow from Jeff W. Buck, PE, CMSE, co-president, Automation NTH, www.automationnth.com, and Eric Sahakian, senior industrial programmer, Vertech, www.vertech.com.

Additional topics include how to decide between removing and replacing (often called rip and replace) existing automation or upgrading what’s there, cadence of control system integration projects and integration of controls and automation with other plant or facility software. Questions and answers were lightly edited.

Rip and replace automation or upgrade automation?

Question: What deliberations go into deciding between rip and replace (more disruption, but faster benefits and more of them) versus smaller upgrades (with less disruption and fewer benefits)?

Buck: For me, key considerations are the available upgrade time and production needs. For scenarios where with a short upgrade window, such as a summer or Christmas shutdown, be sure to develop a plan that allows for production to resume as needed with as much of an upgrade as possible. Note that it is often the cheapest to do all upgrades at once (or as a whole) versus many iterative upgrades to reach the same end point, but production often dictates how much can be completed at a time.

System integration project timing

Q: What does a new control system integration project cadence look like?

Sahakian: New projects should start with defining the objectives and desired outcomes. This looks like visiting the site and talking to the people who need each and every feature to understand what exactly they need. Associated with this conversation is prolific amounts of notes and conversations. A project manager (PM) and lead engineer should establish a relationship with the people who know how the facility operates to ensure all results are as expected. After this initial visit, the teams should begin reviewing all content and establishing a functional specification, so the client and the developer know what needs to be produced to call this project a success.

Gaps to fill on the way to installing automation

Q: What gaps are commonly seen as companies begin transitioning to automated facilities?

Buck: Common gaps are related to staff skill level, component obsolescence or safety issues. The facility needs to have a plan to have trained personnel on the operation, technician, and engineering level to not only operate the automation but to keep it maintained and running well. Failure to do so will lead to frustration and a poor automation experience. A system integrator (SI)can help guide training initiatives to help set the customer up for success. An SI also can help with obsolescence issues and develop a plan for upgrading to hardware that is supported and to keep spare inventory in good shape to mitigate risks. Safety experts among SI staff can help guide risk assessments and methods to mitigate those risks.

Integrating higher level systems with controls and automation

Q: What advice do you have about integration of automation with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems?

Sahakian: ERP systems are complex and contain many facets. My best advice is to pick the facet of your ERP system with the best return and strongest reason to integrate. Once that happens, ensure the people maintaining and programming the ERP have regular and frequent access to each other. This type of integration takes a lot of effort and needs to happen where both parties are active in its success. I also suggest using determining if the ERP system supports application program interface (API) calls and using that to complete the integration – it is long-term supportable in this way.

Preparing for a manufacturing plant walk-through: Automation, system integration

Q: How do you primarily connect with your customers and progress to the stage of conducting a walkthrough?

Buck: We often use checklist during the visit to be sure we capture as much data as possible and then provide a written summary called an “Optimization Analysis” to share findings and hopefully provide clear line of sight for next steps. The end result of the walk-through is to support customers and provide recommendations to move forward. As such, these recommendations can come in the form of reports, proposals and other improvements.

Standards for automation and control system integration

Q: Is Universal Automation org and IEC 61499 going to be more commonly adopted by manufacturers and integrators?

Sahakian: I predict that these standards will continue to gain popularity, but that most manufacturers and integrators will use their strengths to target easiest wins as they move into each of the most applicable future gains. Fully adopting and restructuring a company to adhere to either standard or ideal inhibits the short-term growth and stability of the company. For companies capable of making these changes, tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours will be required to make this type of shift. What I most commonly see now is that most projects attempt to use current best practices, not always cutting-edge technologies, and bring in one or two new initiatives that their C-suite desire. Organizations like Universal Automation promote and provide excellent resources for companies seeking new automation opportunities, but company initiatives may not include them.

Measuring return on investment (ROI) for predictive systems

Q: What strategies do you recommend for convincing top management, particularly those accustomed to reactive maintenance, about the value of implementing maintenance 4.0 solutions, and how can we effectively measure the ROI to support this transition?

Buck: It is hard to argue with results and data. As much as possible, the first step I would recommend is to find a way to capture and show the results of reactive maintenance. With this in clear sight it is often easier to get buy-in that “there has to be a better way” and take a shot at improving one or two things and show that data to start building momentum on the journey to 4.0 solutions. Reduced downtime should be quantifiable and tangible results. You might even pick up other less tangible results like improved moral with less unexpected shutdowns. Added insights also could improve quality. An SI can help formulate strategies to start this journey.

Requirements testing for automation projects

Q: In your description of the 5D engineering process 5D, perhaps it would be good to add: Test before Demonstrate, though, possibly “Define” contains test requirements?

Sahakian: Yes, this process does have a much more detailed implementation plan. You are right, testing is essential. In our 5D process (Define, Design, Develop, Demonstrate, Deliver), the third and fourth steps, Develop and Demonstrate, are repeated multiple times and cycles until tests have been validated. At that time, the project is delivered. “Define” in our process seeks to clearly define automation project objectives, including client requirements and major goals, as well as a project kickoff meeting and site visit, as well as the development of a project schedule.

Audience provided additional system integration insights

Webcast audience members listening live to the Dec. 12 webcast were asked, “If you were to have an automation and control system integration expert on a plant for facility walk-through, would you be looking for … (check all that apply)” among six options. The leading reply was “automation and workflow optimization opportunities.” Others include better digitalization and networking and independent validation of next projects. See more replies in the pie graph.

Audience members listening live to the Dec. 12 webcast were asked, “If you were to have an automation and control system integration expert on a plant for facility walk-through, would you be looking for (check all that apply)” among six options shown in the pie graph. The leading reply was “automation and workflow optimization opportunities.” Courtesy: Control Engineering

Audience members listening live to the Dec. 12 webcast were asked, “If you were to have an automation and control system integration expert on a plant for facility walk-through, would you be looking for (check all that apply)” among six options shown in the pie graph. The leading reply was “automation and workflow optimization opportunities.” Courtesy: Control Engineering

Jeff W. Buck, PE, CMSE, is co-president, Automation NTH, and Eric Sahakian is senior industrial programmer, Vertech; Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

CONSIDER THIS

What are you seeking to improve with automation system integration that a plant or facility walk-through could help identify?

ONLINE

More information from the instructors for this “How to automation” series webcast:

https://www.controleng.com/articles/how-to-improve-automation-what-system-integrators-find-in-plant-walk-throughs/

Register for the Dec. 12 webcast on what system integrators look for in a plant walk-through, archived for a year, here.

https://www.controleng.com/webcasts/automation-series-what-system-integrators-look-for-in-a-plant-walk-through