Start with Improvement Opportunities in Modernization Projects - Emerson Automation Experts

Start with Improvement Opportunities in Modernization Projects

Emerson's John Dolenc

Author: John Dolenc

It is nice to hear from our customers and read in the literature that it has become important to not just replace obsolete control system equipment, but to also provide operational improvement. For the longest time, I have been puzzled by the idea of not taking the opportunity to improve process operations when installing a new control system.

I guess I was indoctrinated as a young engineer to always look for ways to improve operations and plant profitability. I also had the opportunity to design and start-up a few small chemical plants, which instilled in me the important role of process automation and how a well-designed control scheme can improve process operations.

It is important to realize that operational improvements do not just happen by replacing an older control system with a state-of-the-art system. Automation modernization projects need to be planned to get desired results just like any other project. When planning a modernization, we engineers like to jump into the technical problems and engineer the modernization execution plan. Then we might think about where the value will come from.

Instead it is best to start with baselining the existing process and understanding where the improvement opportunities are. That means understanding the operational objectives and determining historical performance. And since capital projects normally need to be financially justified you might as well start with the financial performance cost sheets.

These sheets are normally done on a monthly basis and will document the amount of product produced and the normalized production costs. Look for consistently higher than expected costs or variability in the individual normalized costs. These costs relate to the plant business performance and operational issues and are areas of opportunity.

Once you understand the business issues, dig into the process to understand what activities are associated with the opportunity. Troubleshoot with operations and the production engineers as to the cause of the poor performance or variability. Decide if automation including new measurements, control points and a better control strategy can fix the operational issues.

Next, the financial gain needs to be estimated. Go again to the costs sheets and look again at the monthly financial results that were chosen as opportunities for improvement. Calculate the yearly loses for costs that have budgeted standard dollars and have actuals higher than budgeted. If you do not have budgeted costs to use as a baseline, look at the high variability costs and compare the average monthly costs versus the lowest monthly cost.

This difference may be used as the potential savings. Working with the operations department, estimate the percentage of that potential savings that may be attributed to the improved control strategy that was earlier designed. Obviously, the amount of savings chosen can only be a prediction and many times is a conservative number that is typically based more on the amount need to justify the estimated cost of the solution. That is why at the completion of the project, it is not uncommon for the actual savings to be greater than expected.

From Jim: You can connect and interact with other control system modernization experts in the Improve & Modernize group in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.


  1. jonasberge says:

    When you modernize your system, don’t just do more of the same. Take the opportunity to get the plant started on digital transformation starting with digital transformation of the automation system itself as an enabler for digital transformation of work practices. For instance, plant modernization should include deployment of plant-wide wireless sensor network enabling the plant to deploy additional (wireless) sensors any time a new measurement is required. Plants can automate manual data collection such as field operator clipboard rounds and maintenance inspection with portable testers and so on. Learn more from this essay:

    Take the opportunity to eliminate proprietary protocols for electric actuators / motor operated valves (MOV) by upgrading to FOUNDATION fieldbus (FF) to end the MOV vendor’s strangle hold. Hardwired MOV can be digitally networked to access their diagnostics. Similarly proprietary communication for tank gauging systems and gas chromatographs (GC) can be replaced with FF.

  2. jonasberge says:

    When modernizing your plant take the opportunity to make sure your HART devices work for you.

    All plants have smart devices with 4-20 mA/HART. However, in most plants digital HART is only

    being used with the handheld field communicator. The control system only uses the analog 4-20

    mA signal. HART is usually not used by the control system or from Intelligent Device Management

    (IDM) software part of the Asset Management System (AMS). Many plants were even built with the

    intention to use the HART communication, but for various reasons it did not materialize. There

    are several reasons why HART has not been put to good use in every plant. Learn how to put HART

    to work:

    Some points include:
    -Lack of training
    -DCS AI cards have no HART pass-through
    -The 4-20 mA cable not meeting HART requirements
    -Safety barriers chosen are not HART compliant
    -Signal wires mixed with power cables
    -Shield not continious
    -Device not grounded
    -Shield not grounded
    -Shield grounded in many places
    -DCS AI cards affected by HART
    -DCS AO cards affecting HART
    -Device does not have DD file
    -DD not loaded on system
    -Noise DC power supply
    -Master conflict
    -Burst communication conflict
    -HART version 7 incompatibility
    -Command 48 missing in device
    -Device not HART registered
    -Instrument diagnostic alarm management not engineered
    -DCS AO tight-shutoff set to 0 mA
    -Cable armor not grounded
    -Cable/wire damage
    -Corroded terminals
    -HART integration test not done at FAT
    -HART not tested during loop check
    -IDM software not incorporated in standard operating procedures
    -Network health not monitored

Leave a Reply