Penny wise and pound foolish

A few appropriate costs early in a project can create major savings down the road and avoid a whole lot of aggravation in the process.


I’ve just finished helping support a project startup that has gone rather well in spite of some decisions to save cost at the start. I continue to be amazed time and time again that companies underestimate the impact of cutting the wrong costs, simply because they don’t know what the project really should cost before they go for funding. The project in this particular case  is actually the follow-on to the first phase of a system migration from one DCS platform to another. The customer’s old platform had been in service for a very long time and was becoming unsupportable when things failed. Since any migration was going to be a rip-and-replace, they decided to investigate what was now available in the market place and chose not to stay with the original installed platform vendor for technical reasons. Phase one was done by the vendor of the new DCS, but to save cost the configuration was off-shored. This might have worked if the customer had developed a really good scope, but for reasons I do not know, they did not.

This resulted in a lot of issues, including dissatisfaction with some of the code they received, overloaded controllers, and operator workstations that needed frequent rebooting. The next two phases have cleaned up some of the legacy code issues, but progress has been hampered by the system hardware issues and lack of a really complete scope. They planned to have a complete tight scope but the resources weren’t available internally to finish it in time and they chose not to go outside to get it done. There must be a variety of reasons but I’m sure money was on the list.  They could have eliminated the problems we are now dealing with if they had engaged a team experienced with front end loading (FEL) processes at the outset.

In today’s business environment companies are leaner than they have been at almost any time in the last 40 years. That doesn’t leave much bandwidth for staff to take on tasks involved in the migration of an entire facility from a 30+ year old system to the latest technology. Just ferreting out where all the field devices are, what their condition is, and whether or not they are still being used is no small undertaking. Cutting corners there will certainly cost in the long run.

On another recent migration project with a different customer we discovered during the cutover that we were de-terminating and re-terminating wires that didn’t even have instruments connected. We started doing it because the loops were still in the DCS database and wired to the I/O. So much for keeping up-to-date. There were even a few that had been migrated to a fieldbus device and were being monitored by the new system but the old analog wires were still connected to the old system, so they got moved. Field labor is a lot more expensive than office labor so everything that can be done to eliminate it will produce savings, provided it’s done effectively. The people doing your FEL work need to have a robust methodology that is used consistently to produce verifiable results.

Notice I didn’t say anything about aiming for low cost results. Let’s face it, the low cost approach may be perfectly fine if the results are there. It’s like the project outcome triangle: You can have it fast, you can have it good, you can have it cheap--pick any two because you can’t have all three. For this project, taking extra time up front for a really good estimate would have identified that the controllers were most probably going to end up more heavily loaded than is good. Given that the cost of a controller is relatively small in the whole scope of things, buying a couple more would have paid dividends in the long run. It would have also pointed out that not spending a few hundred dollars more for the workstation PCs to get more memory was not really a cost saving if they lock up and the operators are rebooting them several times a day. But the worst cost saving measure was buying cheap chairs for the operators to sit in all day. They probably won’t last six months. At least I know firsthand that it caused the most uproar. Never skimp on operators’ chairs.

This post was written by Bruce Brandt.  Bruce is a Technology Leader at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization and more. 

JEFFREY , CO, United States, 12/04/13 06:48 PM:

I worked at a place where they were developing a device with a temperature control system that was a resistance heater that heated a fixed mass and a thermocouple. Software developer maintained that it must overshoot and PID optimization techniques were of no use. He was wrong.
WILLIAM , KY, United States, 12/05/13 04:46 PM:

After 20+ years in operating plants, I know of very little that is more universally true than the need to buy operators good chairs.
KASH , NY, UNITED STATES, 12/19/13 02:07 PM:

Article addresses the core issues emanating during DCS platform migration.I have repeatedly seen the application of Project outcome triangle. It almost works every time!
WAYNE , WI, United States, 01/08/14 06:26 AM:

We completed a total papermachine control platform replacement from one operating system to another which included alll of the analog and digital I/O. We spent quite a bit of time on the front end identifying every point and wire that was hooked up in the panels for replacement and made sure they were all documented on the elementary diagrams to be hooked back up in there respective new location. We also took pictures of the panels so you could see most of the original wire identification lables. The time spent on the front end really does pay off in the long run. This project was completed in 10 days and involved moving approximately 1800 I/O points.
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Safer human-robot collaboration; 2017 Maintenance Survey; Digital Training; Converting your lighting system
IIoT grows up; Six ways to lower IIoT costs; Six mobile safety strategies; 2017 Salary Survey
2016 Top Plant; 2016 Best Practices on manufacturing progress, efficiency, safety
Future of oil and gas projects; Reservoir models; The importance of SCADA to oil and gas
Big Data and bigger solutions; Tablet technologies; SCADA developments
SCADA at the junction, Managing risk through maintenance, Moving at the speed of data
What controller fits your application; Permanent magnet motors; Chemical manufacturer tames alarm management; Taking steps in a new direction
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Package boilers; Natural gas infrared heating; Thermal treasure; Standby generation; Natural gas supports green efforts

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Motion control advances and solutions can help with machine control, automated control on assembly lines, integration of robotics and automation, and machine safety.
This article collection contains several articles on preventing compressed air leaks and centrifugal air compressor basics and best practices for the "fifth utility" in manufacturing plants.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
click me