FLEX: A Framework to Help Cut Costs and Increase Speed in Industrial Project Delivery

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FLEX Automation Execution ProgramCraig Resnick, Vice President, ARC Advisory Group is part of the automation consulting team covering PLC/PAC platforms, HMI hardware/software, business visualization, and analytics. He is the primary analyst for ARC’s major automation supplier, HMI software and financial service clients.

Craig’s focus areas also include production management, OEE, multi-disciplined controller platforms, virtualization, M2M, and embedded systems.  He is also a frequent speaker and presenter in the financial community on automation industry trends and forecasts.

During a recent expansion project at the largest refinery complex in India, project managers generated 5,000 instrument loop drawings without a single error. That’s worth repeating: 5,000 drawings, zero errors.

As any engineering project manager knows, generating such drawings is typically a time-consuming endeavor that’s ripe for human error. Unless, of course, you take humans out of the equation by eliminating the need for manual data entry – which is exactly how the feat was achieved.

FLEX Automation project executionThis is one example of the strength of the Schneider Electric Flexible Lean Execution program, or FLEX, a framework that helps automate design specification and testing and accelerate project delivery for automation systems.

ARC Advisory Group recently profiled FLEX in one of our ARC View papers, noting that FLEX addresses a common theme that’s been cropping up at the consulting firm’s ARC Industry Forum events: that capital projects often take too long to execute, cost too much, and involve too much risk.

The paper correctly points out some of the fundamental problems that industrial organizations face, including a shrinking pool of skilled workers with deep knowledge of industrial processes and automation technology.

To combat this trend, FLEX is designed to “mitigate the human influence on project execution and secure automation off the critical path.”  As the paper points out, FLEX also puts a focus on so-called “early data,” meaning validating data as early as possible in a project lifecycle. ARC says the approach provides significant value throughout the project execution phase, noting its own research shows about 80% of plant capital costs are fixed in the early stages of a design. That means front end engineering design (FEED) is an area that’s ripe for reducing costs and providing business benefit across the project lifecycle.

FLEX also makes it possible for automation system suppliers like Schneider Electric to provide project engineering services alongside EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) contractors, rather than simply handing over process control solutions to the EPC firm.

“In this capacity, Schneider Electric can assume responsibility for coordinating the project engineering activities,” the ARC paper says. “Using the FLEX approach can reduce costs and the number of change orders, provide a better-integrated solution, and provide the owner-operator with better control over the final solution.”

FLEX also includes a software-based Engineering Workbench Efficiency Model for project engineering hours based on actual feedback from our project teams. The ARC paper is correct in pointing out that using the models for software engineering can provide savings of about 10% savings. The same goes for using hardware efficiency models.

FLEX includes a library of project templates that encapsulate best practices, based on our years of actual field experience, that can help reduce costs and risk.

It also works with Intergraph’s SmartPlant Enterprise engineering solutions, a suite of tools to design, construct, operate and maintain a plant throughout its entire life cycle. The FLEX SmartPlant Integration (SPI) module enables all parties to work from a common engineering solution and promotes better management from design through decommissioning. It was this tool that enables those 5,000 instrument loop drawings to be generated with zero errors.

ARC concludes its assessment of FLEX with this: “Important solutions such as Schneider Electric’s FLEX project execution program should go a long way toward helping improve engineering efficiencies, reduce costs, increase safety, assure regulatory compliance, quality requirement and shorten project schedules.”

FLEX automation project execution


Click here to read the full ARC View paper on Schneider Electric’s FLEX framework to learn more about how FLEX can help with your next industrial project.

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