Do you ever feel that pressure when things just aren’t right? Things like increasing production costs, growing raw material and/or finished product inventories, inconsistent quality and inflexible production to meet changing customer needs. According to John Dolenc, a principal consulting engineer for Emerson’s Advanced Applied Technology team, these are potential business drivers to consider modernizing your process automation.
Other potential drivers include unreliable operations caused by false trips and excessive plant alarms, poor-to-nonexistent production data, time wasting manual data entry and checking, and time consuming regulatory compliance and documentation. Each of these drivers has a cost associated with it that can be used to develop a business case for improvement.
John helps process manufacturers understand and quantify these opportunities for improvement in Process Automation Feasibility studies. The study begins with gathering the background information found in process flow diagrams, P&IDs, operating procedures, operator log sheets, plant history data, production costs and trends, quality reports, and current control strategies.
Usually a team forms with members from plant management, plant engineering, operations, maintenance, quality assurance, and even corporate engineering and management depending on the level of potential improvement. John and other advanced applied technology consultants bring expertise in production processes, plant operations, and the impact control strategies have on the process to help develop an improvement plan. They are experienced in providing a methodology based on past experiences and bring an outside perspective to facilitate discussion and have the freedom to challenge the rational behind past practices to get at the underlying issues.
The methodology examines the process unit performance first from a financial perspective. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are identified and the performance versus these KPIs is analyzed. Base line performance is established, potential improvements are identified, and financial gains are calculated. An automation plan to achieve the financial benefits is developed based on examining the production process; looking at process constraints, process disturbances, and limitations in equipment or other areas of the operation.
The cost to implement the automation plan is estimated and a financial analysis is done to determine if the projected benefits justify an automation project. For smaller units this process can take four weeks to perform the feasibility study, while larger units or plant-wide studies may take several months.
The real fun happens when projects get funded and quantified improvements get made. It goes a long way to relieve that pressure!