How a main automation contractor improves manufacturing

A main automation contractor (MAC) concept enables drastic cost savings and can help companies improve sustainability and operations compared to a traditional approach.

By Kevin Finnan December 5, 2023
Courtesy: Yokogawa

Automation insights 

  • Main automation contractor (MAC) services streamline project management, reducing costs up to 30%, enabling efficient execution in diverse global locations.
  • Yokogawa’s approach integrates diverse services, demonstrating adaptability in sustainable energy projects, envisioning a future of interconnected systems.

For many years, leading control systems integrators and control systems suppliers have been providing main automation contractor (MAC) services. The MAC services include the full scope of project execution capabilities. By assuming responsibility over the entire automation related aspects of the project, the MAC provider better enables the end-user customer to satisfy requirements in terms of budgeting, timing, people resources, delivery and risk management.

The ability to deliver the full scope of project execution in industrial automation projects is more important than ever. Plant managers are under constant pressure to achieve high quality project execution, plant operations and maintenance.

However, companies are constrained by personnel issues, budgets and shrinking timetables. In addition to grassroots construction activity in emerging markets, companies face the task of executing multiple projects simultaneously in disparate geographic regions.

Also, many engineering, procurement and construction contractors (EPC’s) have pared down their automation departments and no longer possess the resources to deal with multiple automation suppliers on a project. An automation supplier with the appropriate capabilities and experience can provide a single point of responsibility for project management and coordinate the work among multiple suppliers and subcontractors.

Compared to a traditional project management approach, the MAC concept enables drastic cost savings to the overall project. Many end users, particularly in the process industries, have applied the MAC approach to entire capital projects. That can result in project cost savings of up to 30% compared to a traditional approach.

Since automation suppliers are encouraged to consolidate industry and application expertise to execute projects in a consistent manner, costs are reduced in almost all phases of the project. This has led to the development of standardized practices and procedures, which can be applied across multiple projects to reduce costs. In addition, MAC suppliers often have introduced innovative project management practices such as decoupling hardware and applications software, removing dependencies to allow multiple aspects of projects to be executed in parallel, reducing the number of project gates and simplifying the commissioning process.

Figure 1: The MAC approach can reduce project costs by up to 30%.

Figure 1: The MAC approach can reduce project costs by up to 30%. Courtesy: Yokogawa

While typical MAC services could comprise all aspects of the automation scope, MAC suppliers have expanded their services in many directions. For example, in recent projects, the extended services, often referred to collectively as “MAC+,” have included the supply of instrumentation, process equipment such as pumps and valves, communications services and IT services. By consolidating additional services, MAC+ providers offer end-users even further savings.

Figure 2: Example of a typical automation project MAC scope. Courtesy: Yokogawa

Figure 2: Example of a typical automation project MAC scope. Courtesy: Yokogawa

Beyond MAC+

In response to increased cost pressures, major end-users in the process industries have devised new cost control measures, which require MAC+ providers to expand the scope of their services even further.

At a large energy company, internal competition placed considerable pressure on new project costs. Although the company had been able to reduce project costs, management called for repeatable solutions that would further reduce costs.

Project management addressed the challenge with a new concept, in which designs would begin with the absolute minimum scope and justify additions upward. Among the results were simplified designs whose construction, integration and installation were within the capabilities of multiple suppliers rather than “one in the world.” Future projects will re-use replicated designs from prior projects.

The energy company selected Yokogawa as the MAC for the first project to use the new design concept. In line with an innovative approach to cost control, the MAC contract encompassed an unconventional scope. A streamlined program created a single-source solution for all measurement and automation products plus related services. The MAC scope included procurement, engineering, fabrication, delivery management, inspection, logistics and warehousing — hence “Beyond MAC+.”

Included in the product scope were the following:

  • The distributed control system (DCS) and safety instrumented system (SIS)

  • Control valves

  • On-off valves

  • Transmitters and gauges

  • Flowmeters

  • Skids.

The service scope included the following:

  • Delivery management and coordination

  • Inspections

  • Logistics

  • Warehousing.

In the procurement scope, 34 suppliers and 60 packages were managed. The value of third-party products was four times the value of the manufactured products. The MAC responsibilities included all contract management, flow-downs, terms and conditions and liquidated damages. With suppliers spread throughout the world, the MAC team literally worked in all time zones.

Inspection management required in-depth knowledge of all products as well as inspection criteria. There were cargo transit Inspections at seven points. The MAC team required a thorough understanding of logistics, import/export, ocean and air freighting and overseas coordination. Warehousing required an understanding of inventory management, preservations, delivery of goods and care.

The automation system project management used an agile execution methodology, which enables global team collaboration. The methodology also decouples the application software environment from such hardware as standard smart junction boxes for input/output (I/O), flowmeters, transmitters and valves. A significant portion of the factory acceptance test (FAT) was automated and conducted collaboratively from multiple, remote locations.

Also expediting the MAC process was a sub-contract to address non-conforming (or non-confirmative) reports (NCRs) on-site.

Although the overall project was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the MAC team demonstrated the agility to maximize its global collaborative program management and secure remote services, which allowed much of the work to be conducted off-site. Significant content such as factory acceptance testing used augmented reality (AR) technology to minimize the number of team members required to be present at any facility.

In light of the progress on the first project, which is now operational, the end-user awarded the company the MAC contract for a follow-on project, which is in process today. With 34 suppliers and 58 packages, the scope is similar to the first project.

Using MAC+ for sustainability

The Beyond MAC+ experience can be transferred from fossil fuel projects to sustainable energy development. For example, Yokogawa recently announced the company has been selected to be the MAC for the construction of a hydrogen production plant in Europe. The plant will produce renewable hydrogen by using electricity from an offshore wind farm. The MAC optimizes operations at the plant by integrating its systems and equipment.

The plant will use a high capacity electrolyzer that will produce green hydrogen. The green hydrogen produced at this plant will be transported via a pipeline to a refinery, where it will replace grey hydrogen, partially decarbonizing the facility’s production of energy products such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Going beyond MAC+ in the future

The MAC concept should progress much further than “Beyond MAC+” to a “system of systems” where many systems are closely integrated. For instance, a hydrogen ecosystem includes individual systems for production, transportation, storage and supply. Unless the ecosystem is organized as a hydrogen hub, those systems are owned and operated by different entities.

According to the system of systems concept, multiple, independently-operating and managed systems coordinate together to achieve a purpose that extends well beyond the capabilities of any single system.

In the system of systems, formerly disparate components will not only benefit from compatibility in terms of data, networking and protocols, they will be autonomous. Using technologies such as artificial intelligence and digital twins, individual systems will be able to learn from each other without human intervention and adapt to market dynamics and disruptions. This allows them to advance continually and makes them sustainable.

Author Bio: Kevin Finnan is a Market Intelligence and Strategy Advisor at Yokogawa. He was previously an independent consultant, Vice President of Marketing for CSE-Semaphore, and Director of Marketing at Bristol Babcock. He has over 30 years of experience in a variety of vertical markets and has launched more than 40 products in automation and measurement technologies.