N THE 1980s, A NEW CONCEPT WAS CREATED to help companies manage projects in the modern age. Several companies coined marketing terms such as Concurrent Engineering (CCE) and Collaborative Engineering in an attempt to redefine project engineering and sell engineers and plant operations managers reports, software, consultancies and other must-have services. But its time on this earth was short lived. By the 1990s CCE was all but dead as lack of interest from users sent it to an early grave. But now it’s back, and the thing is, we may actually need it this time.
Down but Not Out
CCE can mean different things to different people depending on the application. It can be applied to building a process plant, designing a product, achieving better quality control (QC), or developing stronger relationships with customers. In the process control world, CCE means involving multiple people, organizations and/or companies in a control system project. For an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company, CCE goes beyond control systems to include the rest of the plant’s operations and functions, from design and construction to startup.
Walter Driedger, a control engineer for EPC companies, dismissed the CCE trend faster than a pop-up ad for Viagra. “I never heard that concurrent engineering was an âin’ thing. In my 30 years in process control, I have always worked in multi-disciplinary teams—about one-third of the time, it was with a multi-company team,” says Driedger.
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In the 1980s, the vision of electronic concurrent engineering was popularized, but it was the software, hardware and web that were not ready."
For a time, remembers Chris Conklin, a control engineer with Dow Corning, Midland, Mich., CCE was popular. “In the 1980s through the 1990s there was a real push to compress the project scope, engineering, design and construction schedules, as no one could spend money fast enough. The Internet was going to rule the world with lightning speed and everything was e-this and e-that.”
As the new millennium approached, CCE faded from view. It didn’t completely disappear, people just stopped talking about it. After all, many engineers with common sense like Driedger, were able to accomplish the same thing without having to label it with a fancy name.
Driedger explains that project teams have always worked “concurrently” on big projects. “EPC companies, once they become large enough to have more than one significant project, are all organized according to a matrix structure. That means that every one is a member of a department. Once a project is officially released, a project team is created by drawing people from the various departments. Team members on larger projects may come from different companies.” Driedger says for a large refinery project, a team might consist of members drawn from the client's organization, from a major local engineering company, and from an international engineering technology company.
Such CCE project teams are typically used on projects in the $500-million range and up. “This works well, as long as all play nicely,” quips Driedger. “It has been my experience that teams containing DCS vendors often have trouble leaving their previous rivalries aside.”
Jay Kapadia, product manager for the Simulation Business Line, Invensys Process Solutions, Austin, Texas, says it was once possible for all the work to be done in one place. “Normally, in engineering design work, engineering teams from various offices work concurrently and collaboratively on the project,” he explains.
“The task force approach that became popular in the â60s and â70s gathered all the relevant engineering groupsprocess, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, structural, and so ontogether on the same office floor and they worked closely to get the job done. Specialty work was handed off to vendors and managed manually. Today, this is more and more difficult as the members of the team are not co-located for a variety of reasons.”
What’s also happening lately is that the makeup of project teams is changing. “Automation used to be a simple black-and-white trade,” says John Seaver, president of Cascade Controls, a systems integrator in Tinley Park, Ill. “It is now tied inextricably into a business’ overall IT infrastructure. This evolution has necessitated much more up-front thought and consideration into the development, design and implementation of engineering and automation projects.”