Machine and Process Management

FLEX: A New Approach to Delivering Top Quality Automation Projects on Time and on Budget

When a company is building any kind of process plant they must respect three aspects: schedule, cost and quality. These elements form a sort of three-legged stool from the customer’s perspective and should any one of them fall short, the whole project is out of balance, perhaps dramatically so.

Yet maintaining that delicate balance is no mean feat given all the various players and moving parts involved. You have engineers that each have their own piece of the puzzle to contend with, be it electrical, process, instrumentation or automation. Each has to follow a plan and a schedule while providing their respective design, devices or configurations that must work well together.

Automation project execution FLEX

What’s more, none of these folks really talk the same language, literally and figuratively. The speeds and feeds that may be of concern to the automation expert are likely quite different from the issues that concern the process engineers, and so on. On top of that, it’s quite likely these days that plant designs are coming from teams around the globe, so there’s also a traditional best practices barrier to contend with.

This is the environment into which Schneider Electric has for years been implementing its control and safety solutions, which function as the brain and nervous system of a plant. To be successful at that job, accurate process data is required. It must be defined which equipment and devices are going into the plant and what they are expected to do. If it’s a valve, we need to know when it’s supposed to be open, for how long and what to do if anything should go wrong. If it’s a safety switch, we need to know what it refers to, what exactly should cause it to trip, and so on.

To accomplish this, we essentially need to get inside the head of the process experts and translate what they tell us into language that can be understood by the process and safety system that will run the plant.

Historically, it’s when it comes to assembling the different process parts that things tend to go awry and get off plan. If the data we need isn’t available on time, it could cause delays and, potentially, cost over-runs. The schedule gets squeezed, as the automation team will be trying to play catch-up at some point down the line. That is sure to have an affect on quality. Now that three-legged stool is starting to get off balance.

To combat this all-too-common occurrence, the key is to turn to a flexible, lean execution program (FLEX) providing a framework to help automate control and safety configuration and testing processes, and ultimately take the automation off the project critical path. With FLEX, you can get started on projects with far less detailed information up front – basically just which equipment and type of devices will be used. You can link the data, even if incomplete, with templates and rules to get started on designing various parts of of the automation system.  Later on, once it’s available, FLEX automatically puts in the detailed parameters of the systems we’ll be controlling.

Once the configuration is complete and validated, data can be returned to the design team, usually an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) firm, to produce the detailed documentation required to commission the plant. This is done automatically, with no need of any human supervision. Using FLEX, during a recent refinery project, we backfilled the data to generate 5,000 instrument loop drawings without a single error.

Reducing Automation Project ExecutionWith that kind of accuracy, and the ability to deal with data that we get late in the game, we think FLEX is something of a game-changer for process projects, one that will help companies deliver them on time, on budget and with expected quality. To learn more about this project execution program, download this available whitepaper today.

 

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