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Reduce Risk with a Main Automation Contractor

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

Michael Gurney, CEO, Concept Systems Inc.
Michael Gurney, CEO, Concept Systems Inc.

When it comes to improving your manufacturing process, automation is the most important element of creating a reliable system and maximizing its value. The world of technology can be very 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 (MAC). Often the first focus of an automation project is on controls, because integrating them from project initiation adds value to your 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 your risks, but also receive control systems that maximize your plant’s productivity.

A MAC takes the lead by overseeing all aspects of your project, resulting in a smoother and faster start up. In fact, our customers have shared with us that, for every dollar they invest in this model, they saved $10 on the back end because the plant started up properly the first time.

Three factors are key to achieving these results: 1) engaging a lead integrator early, 2) following a well-structured methodology and best practices, and 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 proscribed methodology that addresses: Getting Started—scope, project kick-off, and functional and detail design; Building and testing—acceptance planning, system development, procurement and assembly, panel quality control, factory acceptance testing, and shipment; and Final Acceptance—integration, installation, and training.

* Engage early so that all perspectives and requirements are integrated into the design from the very beginning, including 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.

* 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 from 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.

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.

A MAC 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. 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.

Michael Gurney is CEO of Concept Systems Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). See Concept Systems’ profile on the CSIA's Industrial Automation Exchange.

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