In the process industries, control-system technology is constantly evolving. New solutions for optimization, advanced control* and predictive maintenance provide continuous improvements in production efficiency. However, selecting a new control system as part of a plant modernization, expansion or greenfields project involves more than just a technology decision. Users should also consider factors such as system architecture, enterprise integration, vendor experience, customer support and ease of future system upgrades.
With profits at stake, you must consider all the factors, and then choose
an automation provider with the knowledge, experience, technology and resources
to deliver a total solution
In the process industries, control-system technology is constantly evolving.
New solutions for optimization, advanced control* and predictive maintenance
provide continuous improvements in production efficiency. However, selecting
a new control system as part of a plant modernization, expansion or greenfields
project involves more than just a technology decision. Users should also consider
factors such as system architecture, enterprise integration, vendor experience,
customer support and ease of future system upgrades.
When planning to implement a new control system, manufacturers face a number
of important considerations that will have a major impact on the success of
their project over the long-term. The following is a brief discussion of the
key factors involved, including: initial considerations, vendor selection and
1. Potential suppliers
A level playing field for all? On a typical control-system
project, the user obtains competitive bids from a number of qualified automation
providers. The user, whether working independently or assisted by a systems
integrator, may employ a strategy of feasibility, conceptual and preliminary
engineering to develop project scope, schedules, costs and benefits, as well
as identify, plan and estimate work items.
Because price tends to be an overriding factor in vendor selection, project
specifications should be developed carefully, so as to ensure a level playing
field for all prospective system suppliers. Selection of the low-cost bidder
often comes with an unexpected price tag. A supplier with limited expertise
in the customer’s industry and applications may overlook requirements not covered
in the specifications, resulting in numerous change orders over the course of
the project. These additional, incremental costs can add up quickly and negate
savings provided by the supplier’s bid.
Vendor selection is discussed in considerably more detail below.
2. Alliances with vendors
What are the longterm benefits? Manufacturers can
avoid competitive bidding by establishing an alliance agreement with a single
automation provider. Such alliances frequently tie project results into the
customer’s operating measures, with the automation provider’s compensation varying
according to the outcome. (For example, rather than specify its own solution,
the automation provider may choose third-party technology that is better suited
to a particular application.) Thus, the supplier has an equal stake in the success,
or failure, of the work performed.
Many customers prefer vendor alliances because they allow for development
of "best-in-class" control solutions that optimize total lifecycle
performance and minimize project and lifecycle costs. Together, the customer
and supplier develop best practices to ensure continual improvement from project
A strategic alliance can be structured so that the customer does not actually
purchase the control system, but rather leases it from the automation provider.
Under this scenario, the customer benefits from enhanced, long-term automation
functionality, as opposed to one-time products, projects, hardware and software.
Additionally, a multiyear service contract alleviates the constraints of technology
obsolescence (through accelerated and justified technology upgrades), lack of
skilled personnel (through co-sourcing or outsourcing) and lack of enough capital
(through appropriate and innovative financial structuring).
3. Project methodology
Who’s accountable for results? Depending upon the
size and scope of the control-system project (ranging from automation of a single
process, to construction of a new unit or expansion of an entire plant), the
user may elect to have an engineering and construction firm serve as project
manager and supervise the work through completion. For a step-by-step guide
to the owner-consultant approach, see Part 2 of this report, pp. 6771.
As an option, a main automation contractor can act as the primary source of
supply for the project, providing a single source of accountability. The benefits
of this approach come from the automation contractor’s familiarity with the
integrated control solution, ensuring that the user gets the most out of new
technology. In the role of main automation contractor, the control vendor provides
or obtains all necessary automation equipment and oversees design, engineering,
installation and commissioning of the new system.
4. System integration
How can everything work together? In many companies,
the accountants, schedulers and other non-plant-floor personnel need to access
information from the manufacturing process (with the proper security precautions)
in order to make more informed decisions and analyses. That means systems from
the control room to the business office must be tightly integrated — not only
across the plant architecture, but around the world in many cases.
Companies wanting to unite the process and business worlds, and thus achieve
true enterprise-wide integration, should choose an automation solution that
allows them to establish a single, global database for all manufacturing information.
This database must be available to, and easily accessible by, all interested
users, from the supervisory to the operator level. The solution should also
include applications synchronizing the database for use in the business environment.
1. Technology base
Does the vendor offer a complete solution? When
it comes to selecting a control-system provider, bigger is usually better. That
is to say, the provider should offer a broad, well-supported product portfolio,
or have in place strategic alliances with third-party suppliers, in order to
meet the full scope of the customer’s automation requirements.
The supplier’s control-system platform should be based on a flexible, non-proprietary
architecture that can deliver robust process control, unlimited connectivity,
reliable safety, and seamless encapsulation of installed systems. The supplier
should also offer a suite of applications supporting advanced process control
(APC), optimization, asset management, Six Sigma methodologies and other business-driven
initiatives. In addition, the supplier should provide all of the instrumentation,
control devices, value-added programs, services and training necessary to support
Keep in mind that an automation provider may offer a state-of-the-art computing
platform but fall short when it comes to integrating advanced tools and applications
in its solution. Applications must then be purchased separately and "bolted-on"
to the system.
2. Domain expertise
How well does the vendor know your industry? Domain
expertise is one of the most important criteria when evaluating prospective
control-system providers. Only a supplier with a proven, demonstrated understanding
of your industry, company and business can help you succeed.
For instance, the chosen supplier should have project teams, estimators, sales
staff and consultants that are focused on your market. They should be capable
of deploying a project engineering group familiar with your production strategies,
knowledgeable about your business practices, and able to apply automation technology
to improve your financial results.
A supplier with long-standing customer domain expertise can also uncover implementation
cost savings. This supplier will ensure their project proposal covers all of
the bases, thus minimizing change orders and resulting in a proposed initial
price and finishing price that are relatively similar.
3. Application knowledge
How well does the vendor understand your processes?
Once the supplier’s domain expertise has been established, the next factor to
consider is application knowledge. Specialized processes in, for instance, the
chemical, fine-chemical and pharmaceutical industries require extensive applications-engineering
As your automation partner, the control-system supplier must have a sufficient
knowledge of your manufacturing processes to effectively apply advanced control
strategies, and then put this knowledge to use improving plant efficiency and
4. Joint accountability
Does the vendor believe in shared risks and shared rewards?
Automation providers who believe in joint accountability are so confident of
the benefits of their solution they are willing to join you in sharing risks.
Rewards to the provider come from sharing in financial results attributed to
improved manufacturing performance.
In this type of business relationship, the customer no longer devotes capital
to control-system purchases. Rather, the supplier owns, installs and maintains
all plant automation equipment. This includes updating technology as needed
to capture the largest performance benefits. The supplier also assumes control-related
payroll costs, and is responsible for recruiting, employing and training support
personnel for the automation solution.
Contracts based on joint accountability remove the risks and costs of process
automation from the customer. Furthermore, they eliminate budget constraints
that keep users from modernizing their control-system architecture.
5. System upgrades
Does the vendor provide a secure path to the future?
Pay close attention to whether potential suppliers provide a secure, affordable
migration path to the latest technology. Too often, customers invest in physical
and intellectual assets, only to find out later that their supplier is discontinuing
or no longer supporting a particular control-system architecture. This can require
"bulldozing" your plant’s data highway to make way for an entirely
new and costly platform.
Automation providers are wise to develop investment protection strategies
that help customers leverage the value of their existing assets. Some offer
integration tools that provide operators with a common view of data, applications,
alarms, events and messages across different platforms. Consequently, new and
legacy systems can coexist while the customer migrates — at a pace it determines
— to the latest control technology.
6. Support services
Will the vendor maintain (and enhance) its solution?
In the competitive process-control field, a vendor’s success hinges not only
on the performance of its system solution, but also on the quality of its support
services. Despite rapid changes in automation technology, suppliers must be
willing and able to support legacy equipment dating back 10, 20 or even 30 years
(relatively old analog systems and instrumentation are still the norm in many
Automation vendors should provide service offerings that support and protect
their customer base. A case in point: service contracts allowing customers to
lock-in their automation budget at a fixed rate and over an extended period
of time, and receive guaranteed hardware and software upgrades to keep technology
1. Control architecture
Does the solution provide an integrated automation platform?
Users implementing a modern enterprise-automation system can achieve unprecedented
connectivity through all levels of their plants. But an integrated architecture
is only part of the solution global manufacturers need for business agility,
responsiveness and quality control.
New systems should also manage process knowledge through a combination of
advanced technologies, industrial domain expertise, and Six Sigma methodologies.
Other recommendations: choose an open, scalable control system that is fully
redundant, includes robust control algorithms, and provides on-process upgrades
to minimize plant downtime. (For more on open systems, see box, p. 66.) The
system should be embedded with best-in-class applications for advanced control,
asset management and control monitoring, and include a human interface integrating
plantwide information and delivering real-time process data. Additionally, the
system should comply with open industry standards.
2. Field instrumentation
Does the solution integrate "smart" devices?
Throughout the process industries, users are now seeking control solutions that
support digital integration of field instruments, allowing processes to be linked
with monitoring and control equipment, and providing the platform needed to
operate plants more profitably.
However, users may not be able to justify the increased implementation cost
for installing fieldbus technology in all areas of the plant. Some processes
simply do not warrant the added capabilities of smart field devices. For this
reason, your automation provider should offer a maintenance-management program
incorporating all of your field assets traditional and fieldbus alike and providing
tools for integrating all device information in a single database.
3. User interface
Does the solution support complex HMI requirements? Manufacturers
with an older human-machine interface (HMI) platform may have a limited view
of critical processes, and thus cannot take steps to optimize performance. Nevertheless,
replacing existing operator stations to accommodate a new control system can
be both costly and disruptive to plant operations.
Instead of requiring customers to support an outdated HMI or abandon it entirely,
control-system suppliers should provide the means to leverage existing investments
and intellectual property, and at the same time migrate plant control rooms
and engineering stations to newer, more robust technology. This can include
field upgrade "kits" allowing users to retain their existing hardware
and industrial-class furniture, while expediting the transition to the latest
Does the solution employ open or proprietary protocols?
Control systems employing open network protocols provide process plants with
new levels of connectivity. Users have the freedom to select the best control
and instrumentation solutions for a given task. They can mix and match devices
from a variety of manufacturers, and transparently integrate them in a field
network strategy that suits their needs.
Be sure the control system you choose makes full use of recognized open standards,
and is equipped to integrate the industry-leading field network protocols. These
include Foundation fieldbus, Profibus, HART, DeviceNet and ControlNet, among
Does the solution support redesigned work processes?
Increased competition is causing manufacturers to look for ways to squeeze additional
productivity out of their operations. This requires a solution that redesigns
work processes across the enterprise to get the most out of your personnel,
processes and technology.
When selecting a new control system, it is important that the vendor offer
a solution tightly integrating optimization, multivariable control and APC.
Moreover, these tools should be embedded in a system architecture that captures
and leverages process knowledge over time. In this manner, you will have access
to the information needed to involve the right people in the process, at the
right time. You will also have a methodology in place for continuous improvement.
6. Asset management
Does the solution focus on the entire process? Asset-management
systems are designed to support a reliability-centered maintenance program with
automated decision support for identification and repair of equipment problems.
Benefits include increased plant availability and uptime, focused maintenance
efforts, and reduced equipment failure.
Users should determine whether a supplier’s asset-management solution is "field
centric" or "process centric." A field-centric solution relies
on device diagnostics to enable preventative maintenance on valves, transmitters
and other intelligent instruments. Although a good first step, this approach
does not provide an understanding of how device status impacts process performance.
With a process-centric solution, users have an enterprise-wide view of the
relationships between all installed assets, and as such, can make informed decisions
affecting plant availability. This approach allows the user to determine: 1)
the impact of equipment problems on the process; 2) the association between
these problems and the business; and 3) the priority of needed repairs.
1. Commissioning and startup
How long does it take? Proper planning is necessary
to keep commissioning and startup time off the critical path of a control-system
project. Start-ups vary based on whether they are greenfield or revamp projects.
Revamp projects are generally done by "hot cut-over". This means moving
one loop at a time from the existing to the new system, while the unit operates,
thereby eliminating production losses.
During the cut-over, operators will have to operate two systems. Proper training
and preparation for this is important. A comprehensive cut-over plan should
be developed that is aligned to the process units and operational requirements.
Plant operations, maintenance, engineering and project personnel need to be
involved in the plan development. Your supplier should have a long reference
list in planning, supporting and executing hot cut-overs.
On greenfield projects, the entire loop — from transmitter, to control system,
back to the valve — can be checked out beforehand. This provides the opportunity
to verify the operational integrity of the loop before the process begins operating.
Proper planning is needed to keep the control system from creating any operation
difficulties during plant startup. A supplier should have a dedicated team of
engineers and craftsmen with extensive experience in both greenfield startups
and hot cutovers.
2. Outside services
How much engineering assistance is required? Many
chemical companies are concentrating on their core competencies and at the same
time cutting costs. That means fewer internal engineering resources. External
engineering assistance can be critical to a successful project. Does the supplier
have a comprehensive organization in place to provide this assistance? Safe
project execution is of paramount importance. Does the supplier have a documented
safety program in place with a proven track record of safe project implementation?
Also, does it have engineering standards, methods and tools in place to efficiently
provide project engineering assistance?
Many aspects of control-system design may be unfamiliar to in-house engineering
resources. External assistance can fill these gaps. Consider assistance in system
network design, I/O layouts, graphics and human interface designs. The experience
of a knowledgeable supplier can be invaluable here. Much of the mundane work,
such as database configuration and graphics implementation, can also be handled
externally. Make sure your supplier can provide these services in an efficient
and cost-effective manner.
3. Technology refresh
What is the cost of system upgrade? At some point
in the life of a control system, it becomes apparent that migrating to current
technology is necessary. Based on the outcome of the migration activities, the
economic justification is clearly evident.
For example, a chemical plant might use a control system upgrade to simplify
its control scheme and push constraints harder. Even if the plant was running
at capacity prior to the migration, it can increase production afterwards. The
value of the increased production will quickly pay for the system-upgrade costs.
Customers should expect their automation provider to have a defined plan or
road map for control-system upgrades. With guaranteed product support, multiyear
service agreements and an overall plant modernization strategy, this approach
can be a "win-win" proposition for both the supplier and customer.
How much and how often? Plants modernizing their
process controls face a difficult dilemma: how to instruct employees in the
use of new technology while at the same time reducing training-related costs
and minimizing disruptions of day-to-day operations. Scarcity of personnel competent
in process control is a notable problem today; for more see pp. 119, 120.
Your automation provider should tailor a training program to meet the requirements
of your site strategy and the constraints or your work environment. Conducting
courses at the customer’s site, for instance, can minimize employee travel expense
and time away from the job.
In addition, "e-learning" programs provide comprehensive training
via the Internet. They not only save time and money, but allow a larger number
of employees to participate in courses than would have been possible with site-specific
training, see p. 191 for more on e-learning tools. *
Edited by Rebekkah Marsha