Business Results, not Technology, Drive Process Control System Migrations

Process Control System (PCS)/Distributed Control System (DCS) platform migrations and production system improvements are aimed at satisfying business drivers and are justified by business case results. Most manufacturers cannot justify investment in process control automation by simply replicating obsolete systems with current technology and maintaining the status quo. Furthermore, replacing or upgrading any one system or area, without making other changes required to improve production performance, may have little or no effect on business results, due to ripple effects and other limiting considerations.

Production system migrations require a solid foundation to build upon. It is important to identify vulnerabilities and dependencies and take steps to address them in the migration plan roadmap in order to move successfully from present state to the future state process control system and deliver the expected business value.

Matrix Technologies Fills Vacuum Left by Aging Workforce

Many manufacturers have seen an exodus of subject matter experts due to an aging workforce and early retirement incentives. This trend is driving manufacturers to capture “tribal knowledge” before it “walks out the door.” Highly subjective plant operations that depend on operator judgment, based on experience and personal decision-making, need to be documented and translated to quantitative, rules-based execution to established standards.

Matrix Technologies can step in to offset a shortage of internal resources and close the gaps within a client organization. Matrix leads the program, directing and facilitating the development processes, and working closely with client leadership, engineering and operations teams.

Migration Begins with Onsite Assessment

The first step in the system migration process is an onsite assessment and requirements development phase to identify business drivers, needs and opportunities, from which to develop the plan for meeting the requirements and achieving the business results.

To be effective and highly productive assets, manufacturing plants are best approached holistically, understanding and providing for interdependencies between systems and processes, infrastructure, personnel, equipment and automation. Business performance of the entire plant provides the most meaningful financial targets and strongest justification for investing in platform migrations and process control system improvements.

Driving process improvement involves looking at the whole manufacturing process and all of the components, marrying process design and control, and providing for integration of all aspects of manufacturing operations including operating procedures, not just the physical process.

The key principle of process improvement is looking for sources of variability and systematically removing them. The key principle of process control improvement is looking at controllability in the process and systematically developing closed loop control of all steps and process parameters, based on control by the numbers, not subjective adjustments by operators and other personnel.

Process and Control Narratives are Essential

Writing a process narrative is an essential step for PCS/DCS implementations and migrations. The process narrative provides for knowledge transfer and discussions around process optimization, as well as directing control system design and programming. Everyone understands and agrees on the process.

Writing a control narrative is an essential step as well, paired with the process narrative. Working from the process requirements, the control narrative describes the level of automation required, operational requirements, process data handling, user interaction with the system, what happens when something bad happens and how the system recovers from it, etc.

It’s about the Methodology, Not the Technology

The team also looks to innovate and leverage system capabilities available today that were not available when the original system was designed and implemented. Matrix interviews client subject matter experts, system stakeholders across groups, and approaches things holistically. Matrix documents what the client has, what people are doing and why, and works collaboratively to question things and look for a better way to do them. Simple changes like moving the location of a sensor can result in huge improvements. Existing control loop resolution is often found to be inadequate and easily corrected, again for major improvements.

Matrix looks at efficiencies, material movement, physical design and layout, material flow and bottlenecks. Proper timing is needed for batch prep, mixing, getting product to packaging. People, material, equipment, etc. need to be at the right place at the right time to reduce variability and maximize throughput.

Advanced process control requires basic process control first. A strong foundation is necessary with the primary control loops. Matrix works bottom up to get the foundation right, and then adds supervisory and advanced control to squeeze out the remaining inconsistencies, variability and losses.

We look at everything with an eye toward the most cost-effective way to do it, using the 80/20 rule (or 70/30) to make the highest impact, most obvious improvements first, to produce results that inspire continued buy-in and funding release to go create more good results.

FEL Process is Tailored to Client’s Business Needs

Most global companies use standard Front-End Loading (FEL) methodologies to execute large DCS/PCS migration projects. The FEL structure developed and used by Matrix Technologies aligns with these proven methodologies and is flexibly tailored to fit the specific needs and requirements of the individual client.

Matrix collaborates with the client team to build templates, streamline the execution process, and provide for rollout and scaling of system results across sites. The FEL process addresses the client-specific business needs driving process and process control improvements in the plants. The FEL process has three primary goals:

  • Provide justification and successfully navigate corporate funding gates
  • Offer reliable preliminary engineering and project execution planning (scope, schedule, budget, and technical execution plans including deployment/cutover plans)
  • Reduce implementation risk for cost, schedule and system performance

Each phase of the FEL (FEL1, 2, 3) process has a different focus, builds upon the prior phase, and estimates the capital budget and schedule for the overall implementation project. Every aspect of project implementation is planned and estimated from conceptualization through system operation in production with long-term support. The accuracy of the budget estimates and schedule improve as they are refined through each step of development.

Beyond minimizing risk and production downtime, the FEL process identifies opportunities to deliver additional business value. Development includes identifying process improvements and enhancing the way the process is controlled. To develop the long-term value to the business, operating expenses and total cost of ownership (TCO) are considered, not just the total installed cost (TIC).

The Three Phases of the Typical FEL Process

  • FEL1: Recognition of business need, assessment of current state and opportunities for improvement in future state, conceptual analysis, conceptual design, and development of the +/- 50 percent cost estimate
  • FEL2: Refine plan and determine preferred options, preliminary engineering, and development of the +/- 30 percent cost estimate
  • FEL3: Complete front-end engineering and design (FEED), finalize execution plan (scope, cost, schedule, implementation/cutover plan), and development of the +/- 10 percent cost estimate submitted for capital approval

Approaching PCS/DCS migrations using our proven FEL methodology enables Matrix to help our clients get their arms around what can be a large and daunting effort, providing a systematic way to divide and conquer, to “eat the elephant one bite at a time,” as it were.

Clients often don’t know what they don’t know. Even a modest investment to do an initial system assessment can answer a lot of questions and provide a sound starting point for understanding what the issues are, known and unknown, while providing much needed insight into what it will take to move beyond the current system risks, limitations and obsolescence vulnerabilities.

Pre-engineering work done during an FEL phase is not wasted effort, even if next steps are not funded. The work can be leveraged for a number of useful purposes to support the systems in the near term, and then built upon in the future when it becomes increasingly apparent that postponing the system migration yet another year is no longer an option.

Matrix works as an extension of the client team, helping to drive the necessary steps, planning, and implementation across all engineering disciplines. With turnkey responsibility for complete integration, Matrix provides the program and project management. Matrix also provides the process design expertise along with the advanced process control expertise, leveraging the two to achieve optimum process improvements and business results.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our manufacturing operations management capabilities and manufacturing process control solutions, contact Bryn Williams, Corporate Account Manager.

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