Automation

Prioritizing next year’s control system integration projects

Get six insights from a system integrator on planning future industrial automation and control system projects.

By Rick Slaugenhaupt October 3, 2020
Use these six insights for control system or industrial automation system integration project planning, according to Rick Slaugenhaupt, consultant, Maverick Technologies. Courtesy: Maverick Technologies

 

Learning Objectives

  • Combine life-extending projects with those that improve operating performance.
  • Simulation is most important for projects that will modify continually running operations and where non-producing time is rarely available.
  • Establish metrics, if not for project justification, then for later use.

Sure, it’s still this year, but it’s time to look ahead to next year’s projects with insights from system integrators to plan and prioritize upcoming projects. A facility walk-through with an outside expert may reveal opportunities you didn’t know about.

1. What insights can you offer to help prioritize 2021 control system integration or other automation integration projects? 

There’s an obvious difference between projects that mitigate end-of-life/obsolete hardware issues and those intended to improve operations. While both are important, avoiding unexpected and/or prolonged downtime due to failure of a hard-to-find obsolete component carries the most risk. Combining these life-extending projects with ones that improve operating performance at the same time should always be considered as the best bang for the buck.

2. What should be included in a return on investment (ROI) calculation? 

The most important aspect to consider in ROI calculation is the benchmark metric upon which the calculation is based. It may be difficult to establish but using something that isn’t precise or not clearly linked to outcomes from the project in question can make the ROI vague or meaningless.

3. How can an organization discern if the next step should be a pilot project or if it should go right to full-scale implementation after proof of concept? 

Risk and opportunity are the biggest drivers for deciding if pilot projects are warranted or can be bypassed.

4. Do simulations/digital twins have a greater role? How?

Simulation is most important for projects that will modify those operations that must run continually and where non-producing time is rarely available. (There’s a small, time window to deploy and make it work.) Using simulation beyond a one-time project implementation can be very beneficial for on-going performance tuning and training, but it requires dedicated effort to maintain the simulation model so it keeps pace with reality. This adds operating expense (OPEX) cost on top of the project’s capital expense (CAPEX) cost and makes financial justification more difficult but can pay long-term dividends – especially if it’s part of a larger effort to establish a true digital twin.

5. What opportunities can a facility walk-through with a system integrator reveal? 

One seldom-obvious problem that can only be revealed by a walkthrough is how much manual or redundant/repeated effort is required by operators in the normal course of operations. This behind-the-scenes inefficiency can be a significant opportunity for automation upgrades, but is often not considered when evaluating the cost/benefit of potential projects even though it can be a big contributor to less-than-ideal performance and unforeseen events due to poor operational awareness.

6. What other factors should be considered?

We know it’s often difficult to financially justify automation improvements due to the lack of clear benchmark metrics. One overlooked outcome to consider for every project should be the establishment of these type of metrics for later use. It will streamline the initial approval process for subsequent projects and produce truly representative ROI numbers afterward that will show the real, bottom-line value of undertaking automation improvements.

Rick Slaugenhaupt is consultant, Maverick Technologies; Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: System integration, control system projects, automation upgrades

Combine life-extending projects with those that improve operating performance.

Simulation is most important for projects that will modify continually running operations and where non-producing time is rarely available.

Establish metrics, if not for project justification, then for later use.

CONSIDER THIS 

Have you prioritized your next three automation integration projects?

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Rick Slaugenhaupt
Author Bio: Rick Slaugenhaupt, Maverick Technologies