Sometimes it just works out that a project depends on distributed engineering. For example, Jorge Edgar Cano Carmona, process control engineer at MET-MEX PEÑOLES S.A. in Mexico tells of a recent gas turbine control system retrofit. Carmona’s company evaluated three vendors; two seemed to have a good technology solution, but only one had any real experience with gas turbines. Compounding the project’s challenge was that there were only two of these gas turbines working anywhere between Alaska and Argentina. Consequently, though the project had to rely on overseas engineering, Carmona says there were no surprises when the system was finished.
Verhappen adds that distributed design is not new if you’re a software developer. He describes a team of 10 members living in different cities, including Calgary, Toronto and Boston. Each engineer works at home, and the team gets together once or twice a month. While each engineer has clear instructions about his role in the design process, project managers also find it necessary to have an in-depth understanding of what each member is doing.Practical Challenges to Distributed Engineering
As most engineers find out, distributed design teams can work well—so well that, in many cases, engineers may forget about the distances separates them—until quitting time. Verhappen says he just finished a process design with a project manager in Sydney, Australia, for an installation in China. He observes that the end of his work day is the start of the work day in China or Australia, and conversely in Europe. Verhappen’s solution is a 3:00 a.m. meeting to help catch up with the team in the Far East.
Another challenge is the nuances of the English language. Translations between languages can be difficult, but Americans may also have problems grasping differences in English spoken in England, Australia and elsewhere. Also consider the number of different dialects spoken in China.
Technology Center LLC, an industrial systems integrator, has six locations in the U.S. where distributed design teams work on automation projects. When outsourcing engineering designs abroad, Jeff Odell, senior engineer, believes that several more issues need to be considered. These include cultural differences, work ethics, legal issues, and intellectual property (IP) issues. The latter two can pose problems in the U.S. And, they certainly won’t be easy to resolve after the completion of a project, if they haven’t been fixed in writing beforehand, regardless of whether foreign companies or workers are involved. For example, if a manufacturer comes up with a new process using Brand X software, or Brand Y’s company writes customized software, who owns the rights to it?Why Distributed Engineering?
Manufacturers that use distributed design and engineering techniques for their own products expect the same of their suppliers or the companies to whom they outsource their process designs or upgrades or new plants. Pynes classifies customers into two types: regional and global. Both want the same from their automation provider, which is consistency of design from one plant to the next. Ten years ago, Pynes’ customers bought equipment from several suppliers, and managed the pieces themselves. Today, they don’t have the resources. A regional utility wants a one-stop supplier that can provide consistent design in each facility. A global petrochemical company’s managers want their new facility in the Far East to look and behave the same way as the one built in the Middle East. The customer benefits from the vendor’s ability to assemble a team composed of industry experts, while not wasting precious time on travel.
|"Translations between languages can be difficult, but Americans may also have problems grasping differences in English spoken in England, Australia and elsewhere."|
Todd Stauffer, PCS 7 product marketing manager for Siemens, reports that one of its large multinational customers in the chemical industry has created a collaborative environment to allow its staff engineers to support its plant sites worldwide. The customer uses its corporate WAN and NetOP to enable connectivity among locations, and uses a Siemens Internet portal for exchanging new revisions of corporate libraries between Siemens’ engineers and its corporate engineers. Another chemical company with facilities in the U.S. allows its process experts in Germany to view the operational status of its plants. This is particularly common in companies that push for standardization of plant equipment and operational processes.
Emerson’s Robertson adds that the Internet has enabled service suppliers to have a skilled engineer looking at a system anywhere in the world in minutes, and in a non-intrusive manner. In addition, providing information to the right people at the right time about upgrades and technical issues can be done with selective e-mails. With its Pfizer account, Emerson sends the right information to plant and corporate locations worldwide, so key people are always up-to-date on systems and equipment. An important ingredient to making this work, according to Robertson, is to treat your customer as a partner, as an extension of your own organization.Still a Business Arrangement
Despite all the recent communication leaps, long-term relationships still last because they’re built on solid foundations. Whether collaboration takes place with a partner more than 10,000 miles away or with a system integrator down the street, the basics are the same, says Honeywell’s Drexler. “Most importantly, you and your partner must trust each other. This implies that you have done business together for some length of time and are confident that your supplier will be responsive and will provide the level of quality you expect. Once you have trust, you should assure your objectives and those of the supplier are aligned.”
While collaborative relationships offer consistent designs across an owner’s operations globally, they also offer higher productivity during the design phases because the owners’ preferences and standards and practices are well understood. A long-standing collaborative relationship reduces the costs of supplier/integrator selection by eliminating bidding, selection and negotiation processes. Schedules are typically reduced to deliver the project; and, in most cases, the overall installed costs of the process automation systems can be significantly reduced, from 10% to as high as 20%.
Obviously, not every manufacturer can or wants to start a new project without going through a bidding process. But if you must go through a bidding process, keep in mind that you should be looking at the outcome and analyzing how the successful bidder, your future partner, can help you achieve that outcome. Don’t think of the process as merely, “What engineering services should I outsource?”
MICs and MACs Drive Distributed EngineeringFollowing in the footsteps of system integrators, many of the largest manufacturers and suppliers are getting ever more deeply involved in integration and construction projects as they strive to be better partners to their many customers. But what do you call these newly energized organizations? Invent new acronyms, of course. Here are a few of the new favorites:
- MAC Major or main automation contractor
- MIC Major or main instrumentation contractor
- PAS Primary automation supplier