The Value of a Good Control System Integrator
There are several challenges related to any control project involving complexity, preparation, methodology and commissioning. An integrator can help achieve success.
There are many ways to think about value when it comes to control system integration, and ways that a good system integrator can help you through the challenges of a project.
Any control system project could require specialized expertise. But even without some specialized requirement, project size alone can have its own complexity, or schedules can introduce challenges that some project teams might not be able to handle. Then there is the matter of actually getting something delivered that you can support without the author’s continual presence in your plant.
Other things contribute to our understanding of “specialized,” but you probably get the point.
As a system integrator, our focus is to be the best value through startup, which should lead to a lower total cost of ownership as well. To achieve best value through startup, both the integrator and the customer need to invest significantly at the beginning of the project. It’s often said that the devil is in the details; well, so is success! Gather as much information as practical from the groups and individuals that will be affected by the work. This typically includes system operators, engineers, managers, IT personnel and maintenance personnel.
The intentional, upfront communication with all the stakeholders allows the customer’s system to be clearly understood and documented. With this mutual investment, the project needs can be more accurately described and then developed. Depending on the complexity of the project, this exercise can be brief, with just an informal concept of operation. For more complex projects, the exercise will be longer and a functional specification that evolves into a detailed design specification would be more appropriate for describing the work and guiding the process.
A well-designed specification equips the project team with a defined scope of services and a project plan for managing and completing the project successfully. The schedule needs to contain milestones that will identify responsibilities for both the integrator and the customer alike. The project needs to follow a structured project methodology that takes into account the identification of risk areas and how to deal with those in a way that minimizes the potential for schedule impact.
The specification should also deal with abnormal situations that could arise in the customer’s system and then describe how those should be handled. Many abnormal situations can be incorporated into the automation logic, but it might not be practical to address all abnormal scenarios with automation logic. It is OK to deal with some abnormalities through operator intervention, but that should be clearly understood along with a description of what the operator is to do.
The integrator should be able to produce a documented project methodology that shows flow, and a written document describing the methodology. The methodology should contain design reviews to validate that the solution is on track and all the stakeholders are satisfied with the direction and progress of the work. The methodology needs to also have a documented factory acceptance test (FAT) protocol.
Without a written protocol to guide both the integrator and customer through the testing portion of the project, the team simply tries a variety of things until everyone gets tired and quits. With a structured protocol, both the customer and the team can have confidence that the testing portion of the project has been thorough.
On-site work (commissioning)
Once the automation system has been installed, wired and plumbed on site, the system must have an I/O check completed before attempting to run. All the motors, valves, operators, etc., need to move as expected and their feedback signals need to be validated within the automation controller. All network connections must be verified, and an overall network performance evaluation might even be appropriate.
When working through a project in this manner, the typical result will be a system that ramps up to production rates in minimal time, which is where the real value of the work is seen. Extra contractor personnel get to leave the job earlier and the client gets to start making good product sooner. That is best value through startup.