Three Keys To Startup Success

Sept. 3, 2012
For ConAgra projects, engineers want carefully planning and documentation, including all training and testing protocols. They also want their operators involved with the system long before the actual startup.

The finale makes or breaks any event. A fireworks display is only spectacular if the final moments are the most awe-filled of the entire show. In the world of system integrators and control system implementations, the big-bang ending, ironically, is startup. But great startup doesn’t only happen in the final hours. It’s a culmination of carefully orchestrated activities throughout the project.

Ask systems integrators what makes a great startup and you’ll hear answers like schedules, collaboration and planning. But nothing matters more than what the client or owner believes makes a good startup. For this reason, a systems integrator must spend time early and often to fully understand what is important to the client.

What we learning about are things like what vendor involvement might be needed, and if there will be flush material onsite for early dry runs of the system. These are critical for project milestones. Early discussions about who will “own” the startup process and exactly how communication and planning meetings will be conducted are imperative.

From an owner’s perspective, Dean Hoerning, director of engineering for ConAgra Foods (Omaha, Neb.) shares three points he believes are essential for a great project startup: planning; a systems integrator that deeply understands the overall process and industry; and onsite support during the actual startup.

Planning, knowledge, support
“Planning is a key aspect of a great startup,” says Hoerning. “For ConAgra projects, we want to know for certain that all aspects of the project are carefully planned and documented, including all training and testing protocols. We want our operators involved with the system long before the actual startup in order for them to learn the workings of the new system. This positions our team for an easy transition.”

Planning for the appropriate startup team is also essential. For example, the checkout team would have a controls programmer stationed at the human-machine interface (HMI) in the control room while a controls programmer, client representative and mechanical contractor representative are at the device. In addition, the team includes a dedicated electrician.

This group moves throughout the plant ensuring that all devices check out properly from HMI animation to the correct device in the field starting, moving or rotating as expected. Successful startups also incorporate a dedicated troubleshooting team comprised of a controls programmer, electrician, client representative and mechanical contractor representative specifically to address repair issues. This allows the checkout team to continue moving forward as the troubleshooting team addresses issues.

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A system integrator’s knowledge of the client’s industry and process is another critical aspect of startup success. Hoerning says, “I appreciate that our system integrator has a deep understanding of the process industry in which they are working. When the integrator understands our process and our business, I don’t have to spend time training them along the way.”

Startup is different for a facility going live for the first time than for a retrofit of an existing facility. Industry knowledge and onsite support has even more advantages for the client when startup is for a retrofit of a new system. “Thorough support for a retrofit project is so important since you never know what undocumented features you may uncover as you change over to a new system,” says Hoerning.

Hoerning believes that onsite support during startup is critical to startup success. “As the system is commissioned and turned over to our plant operators, support from the systems integrator is critical. We expect them to be immediately accessible and to address any issues as they arise. Trust and confidence that the system integrator has you covered makes for a great relationship and ultimately great startup."

>> Reid Vander Veen, [email protected], is a business development representative for Interstates Companies, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) specializing in electrical and automated control systems for industrial and processing facilities. 

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