A method to avoid the madness: Automation experts add productivity

A sound process and a main automation contractor can relieve stress for an integrator. Reduce risk and maximize plant productivity of large system integration projects in three ways.

By Amanda Geldhof December 19, 2018

How can a system integrator provide greater value by acting as the manufacturer’s main automation contractor (MAC) to reduce project risk and maximize overall productivity?

When it comes to improving your manufacturing process, automation is the most important element of creating a reliable system and maximizing its value. Technology continues to revolutionize how we do business, how we make things, and how we keep up with customer demands.

Daily, new solutions can improve processes, reduce waste, gain quality control, and ultimately increase the bottom line. The world of technology can be intimidating, and many manufacturers find it too costly to maintain internal expertise.

Relying on automation experts offers an efficient way to incorporate technology. A system integrator can provide tremendous value by acting as the manufacturer’s main automation contractor.

Often the first focus of an automation project is on controls, because integrating them from project initiation adds value to a project. Then, you can tap into the creativity a MAC brings to design, its expertise at managing large complex projects, and its understanding of the various options available. By doing this, you not only reduce risks, but also receive control systems that maximize a plant’s productivity.

Three factors are key to achieving these results:

  1. Engaging a lead integrator early
  2. Following a well-structured methodology and best practices
  3. Tapping into deep technical resources.

Together, they create alignment and ensure the plant achieves its integration goals.

To lay the foundation for success, a MAC should use these best practices:

  • Follow a prescribed methodology that addresses getting started by identifying the scope, project kick-off, and functional and detail design. Next comes system building and testing, which includes acceptance planning, system development, procurement and assembly, panel quality control, factory acceptance testing, and shipment. The final acceptance of the system involves integration, installation, and training.
  • Engage early so all employee perspectives and requirements are integrated into the design. These include automation and networking standards, communication protocols and factors unique to the plant.
  • Ask plant personnel about their daily work to ensure the system functions in real time. Plant personnel can help with such items as how screens are laid out. A MAC takes the lead by overseeing all aspects of your project, resulting in a smoother and faster start up.
  • Find the sweet spot for MAC control engineers to collaborate with your in-house process engineers. Process engineers typically line up the sequence of operations, but often don’t ask the “what if” questions that pinpoint variations and unanticipated activities on the line.
  • Act as the project’s control arm to oversee everything including design, OEM specs, supervision, and implementation.
  • Vet process design and control system operation before startup.
  • Perform extensive acceptance testing and training with plant personnel in advance of start-up and commissioning. This minimizes any unanticipated difficulties, because people are already familiar with equipment and have used the control system in a simulated environment.
  • A project methodology is essential to the success of any automation project. Although each project has its own unique challenges, a methodology provides the structure to:
    • Complete the project on time and within budget
    • Outline clear expectations and responsibilities of the integrator and the manufacturer
    • Communicate the project status at all points in time.

From design and implementation to testing and training, the project methodology of an excellent integrator will outline how they will work with you to meet your needs and handle unexpected problems over the entire automation integration process. It is an integrator’s promise that an upgrade will be completed as quickly as possible while minimizing downtime.

A project methodology means peace of mind. The best methodology will fall flat without people who understand how to apply technologies to manufacturing challenges. By accessing a MAC with deep technical resources, project success is ensured. Be sure to learn about the team that will work with you.

MACs can save you time and money because they can help make your plant operational faster so that more product is being manufactured sooner, thereby increasing your return on investment.

Whether you are investing in your first robotic work cell or planning for the coming world of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0, developing an automation strategy, selecting the right technologies, and assembling the right team will bring success every time.

Sounds simple, but it takes a MAC team that knows how to work side-by-side with owners, process engineers, and operators, while taking a systemic approach and collaborating with equipment suppliers.

Amanda Geldhof, marketing coordinator, Concept Systems.

Author Bio: Marketing coordinator, Concept Systems