As more Tier One manufacturers strive to establish global automation contracts, they are increasingly asking automation suppliers to provide products compliant with numerous standards for different regions around the globe. This endeavor often results in automation suppliers maintaining redundant product lines or relying on a high degree of customization to adapt certain products designed to conform to one region’s standards to be applicable in another region with different standards requirements.
Any time an automation supplier is asked to maintain redundant product lines or customize a product to meet the standards of a different world region, it invariably drives up the cost of the product. It is in the best interest of manufacturers to work together to establish common global technology standards wherever possible to reduce product customization and lower equipment costs.
Historically, standards bodies for each major world area have developed provincial standards for their particular regions, independent of the standards defined for other regions of the world. Until recently, this was not a major issue for users or suppliers because each company would buy products from suppliers in their neck of the woods, which adhere to the standards of that region. However, as more manufacturers strive to establish global contracts with a short list of
suppliers, automation suppliers are increasingly stretching their resources to provide equipment to meet numerous regional standards.
A good example of an unnecessary burden being placed upon automation suppliers is the lack of harmonization for hazardous location protection techniques, which vary considerably across the major world areas. In the United States, the National Electrical Code (NEC) defines protection techniques for hazardous area products as classified by Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 environments. In Europe, however, equipment and protective systems intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres are governed by the European Directive 94/9/EC. Providing equipment for use in hazardous locations to both North America and Europe, therefore, requires significant and continuous product investment on the part of suppliers to ensure their products meet both the NEC code and the European Directive.
Above and beyond the problem of different standards bodies and codes across the different world areas is manufacturers’ adherence to common practice. Even if the standards bodies were to establish true global standards for automation products across all the major world regions, it is human nature for contractors, engineers, technicians, and maintenance personnel to continue specifying the equipment they have personal experience with whenever possible.
Because manufacturers in each world region have a high level of confidence in different equipment they have personal experience with, manufacturers continue specifying different equipment for each world region. What many manufacturers don’t realize is that the burden they are placing on automation suppliers to continue maintaining redundant product lines for use in the different world areas is ultimately raising the cost manufacturers pay for this equipment, and often increasing the lead time for suppliers to deliver this equipment.
By freeing up money previously spent on paying unnecessary premiums, manufacturers can reinvest the money toward improving the processes of designing, operating and maintaining their manufacturing operations.
Wherever possible, global manufacturers should harmonize equipment specification practices for all their global plants, regardless of the country in which the plant is located. This harmonization will allow automation suppliers to lower the cost of producing the equipment, and should ultimately lower the cost to the manufacturer for the equipment.
David Clayton, firstname.lastname@example.org, is Senior Analyst for Automation at ARC Advisory Group, in Dedham, Mass.