Distributed engineering

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Similarly, finding good contractors also is a challenge. Ian Verhappen, P.Eng., director of ICE-Pros Inc., says that in today’s large and medium projects, there is a tendency to rely on general automation contractors or system integrators, but the contractors don’t always have the solutions to automation problems. “The difficulty with end users is that many no longer have the skilled staff to provide supervision of these contractors, and are entirely relying on their knowledge to provide the best solution.” The good news, according to Verhappen, is that these contractors are quite capable of providing the services manufacturers require. However, contractors can find it difficult to adjust to new clients because they don’t understand a facility's operations, procedures, history and culture. The solution is obvious: long-term collaborative relationships are what work the best.

Randy Wagner, systems engineer at Norske Canada, a pulp and paper manufacturer, has had a 20-year relationship with its SI, Franzen. “What’s been special about our relationship is that they’ve had guys on site from time to time over the last 20 years,” he says. “They’ve been like relief employees. They’re familiar with our plant and our strategies.”

What Users Want
Stability is the key to outsourcing and developing long-term, collaborative relationships. David Lewis, R.E.T., R.P.T., instrumentation and control specialist, Technical Services, Nova Chemicals, says that, “The key to effective collaboration with outsourced engineering resources is sticking with a company that can supply qualified people who are familiar with your site. This means continued project work with the same people, and a low turnover rate. My pet peeve is working with an engineering company that constantly changes people mid-project or for every new project.”

Fred Pynes, North American Project Operations VP for Invensys, says customers aren’t building big staffs internally to manage projects. “It’s just not their core competency,” he says. “They’re concerned with the efficient generation of electricity or production of oil. This isn’t saying they don’t have input into the project, because they’re buying the system to run their plant. However, customers simply want to know what they’re getting to run the plant, and not all the details of the project.”

Andy Drexler, global marketing leader for Services at Honeywell, warns that traditional project design methodology, in which a customer contracts out the engineering design and installation of a control system to the lowest bidder, is least likely to deliver maximum lifecycle value. A recent study by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) found a negative correlation between the value added to a project and the owner’s emphasis on selecting the lowest bidder. The more a contractor senses that an owner/operator is focused on price, the fewer the options exist for adding value to the customer because the contractor concentrates more on providing minimally compliant offerings. Under this system, a supplier is motivated to get in and out as quickly as possible to maximize his profit margin. This can put the desires of the supplier at odds with the desires of the customer, who wants improvements in bottom-line business measures to occur as a result of the best possible control system installation for the money spent.

Regardless of negotiated contracts, manufacturers look for ethical values in addition to core competencies. Larry Hopp, senior controls engineer at Extrude Hone-Dynetics, lists the characteristics he expects of contractors: “Trust, honesty, capability, thoroughness (especially with documentation), quality, willingness to suggest a better/different way, and experience.” What contractor traits bug Hopp the most? “A contractor overstating abilities and being unwilling to admit that he doesn’t know everything.”

Engineering service providers can increase their offerings by outsourcing engineering services to local contractors, creating a win-win situation for everyone. For example, Bashir Ahmad, service and marketing engineer, ABB Canada, tells of an energy management system project requiring unique worldwide reporting capabilities that had to be added to ABB’s Energy Management and Optimization (EMO) solution, which performs important energy management functions using client/server architecture. One of the client’s subcontractors was very familiar with the client’s needs and was introduced to Ahmad by one of ABB’s channel partners. “We soon realized that it wouldn’t take them long to learn our EMO system. They learned how to develop those specialized reports for different systems located on different sites.” In the end the customer was very impressed with the results, and ABB found first-line support for its newly-installed system from this subcontractor.

Distributed Engineering Support
“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village,” stated Marshall McLuhan in 1962. While the legendary University of Toronto media professor probably wasn’t thinking about the Internet, he still realized that electronic communication would one day make it possible to do things engineers would never have thought possible—without jumping on a train or airplane. Today’s “distributed engineering,” especially the Internet, is really our worldwide communication system. It has shrunk our world, eliminating the need for physical transportation, and allowed design, engineering, and support of control systems from anywhere, often with engineers from several countries. We take it for granted when someone speaks of aluminum smelter projects in Canada that use specialized support from nine worldwide offices, including those in Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, the U.S., Canada, etc.

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