Meeting the SI challenges

Wood Group Mustang, ranked No. 2 among the 2015 SI Giants, looks at the industry and how new projects are evolving in a changing landscape.

By CFE Media December 22, 2015

With challenging markets and evolving technology, it is an interesting time for the system integration industry. Wood Group Mustang Inc., based in Houston, is in the middle of those challenges. With more than $155 million in system integration revenues in 2015, the company ranks second in the 2015 SI Giants list. Larry Perkins, automation vice president of business development for Wood Group Mustang, discussed some of the ways manufacturers and SIs should work together, and just what makes a successful SI project.

CFE Media: What is the one thing plant management should do to help ensure a successful integration process?

Perkins: The key to a successful integration project is to ensure the selected system integrator understands and is sensitive to the facilities’ operational needs and production processes, not just the control systems and technologies that are to be deployed. Ultimately, the control system needs to reflect the operational philosophies and processes used in the facility. Ensuring these are appropriately captured and deployed throughout the project will ensure the overall operation of the facility is enhanced.

CFE Media: What are your customers looking for in automation projects? In turn, what should they be looking for in terms of automation in their plants?

Perkins: As should be expected, our customers expect on-time delivery of reliable, sustainable control solutions that provide smooth and safe long-term plant operation In general, they should be looking for projects that deliver process control and safety solutions that allow for safe and smooth facility start-up, which results in early achievement of beneficial operation. Additionally, the control system should be viewed and delivered as a seamless, transparent layer to the process operations.

CFE Media: Describe the project that provided your team with the most satisfaction in the past year. What was the biggest challenge, and how did your team overcome that challenge?

Perkins: Midyear 2015, we completed a 10-year refinery automation-migration program for a large West Coast refiner. This was the most satisfying due to the overall customer satisfaction and some of the comments the users of the automation system gave us including "… the projects went so smoothly we did not even know when the work was completed …"

This program was successful due to a number of key factors, including a strong project manager from the customer combined with a clear focus on using lessons learned from previous projects, plowed back into the overall program. Maintaining key resources in the execution team also contributed to the overall success.

One of the most challenging projects was the implementation of a highly integrated hybrid control and safety system that controlled a chain-sequenced seven-reactor/regenerator process. A short timeline combined with the overall process dynamics and operating facility presented some key challenges to the project execution. However, our use of commercially available software for development and modeling combined with in-house-developed testing applications allowed the overall system to be designed, engineered, and configured with offline testing that resulted in a very successful project for the customer.

CFE Media: What are the key areas of opportunity for manufacturers to improve their operational efficiency?

Perkins: In general, currently installed systems provide a wealth of information around equipment condition. Improved usage of this information combined with predictive operational-integrity technologies, such as asset management systems, smart instruments, and self-diagnostic reporting of maintenance concerns and condition degradation, can have a major positive impact.

This can be achieved by using the information available from these systems through incorporation of the self-diagnostic information into facility maintenance and reliability-planning work processes.

This allows the facility to move from reactive instrument, control, and equipment maintenance into proactive predictive and preventive maintenance that will help to avoid unplanned downtime, spurious trips, production instability, or interruption.

CFE Media: What are the best attributes of a great manufacturer? What common thread runs through the best clients you have that makes them successful?

Perkins: A great manufacturer views their automation, engineering, and equipment providers as key partners and mutual stakeholders. They closely engage their partner’s personnel with their own operations, maintenance, and engineering staff while investing the time to allow the partner to fully understand the operational requirements, philosophies, and long-term objectives of the facility.

A great manufacturer also understands and looks closely at the long-term cost of ownership and returned value of an automation system beyond the short-term purchase cost. In general, they realize the potential impact to facility operation, quality, and safety that can be provided through a well-designed automation solution that is built around the facility’s operational, maintenance, and production capabilities and needs.

These types of companies typically view their automation systems as value-add to their production process through improved operability, stability, and safety—and not just a cost required to construct and start up a facility.

CFE Media: What is your overall outlook for 2016?

Perkins: The overall automation market for upstream oil and gas will be depressed next year, with some bright spots in chemicals, refining, and petrochemicals.

Wood Group Mustang Inc. is a CSIA member as of 12/2/2015

Author Bio: Since its founding in 2010, CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings, and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency. CFE delivers the right information at the right time around the world through a variety of platforms.