DCS engineering help is just around the world!

Where can you turn when you need design and engineering services and your local DCS technology providers have run out of ideas? Well, expertise today can be outsourced from just about anywhere.

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By Wayne Labs, Contributing Editor

WITH TODAY'S abbreviated staffs, where can manufacturers turn when they need a new plant, a new control system, an upgrade, or help in fine tuning a process, managing assets, or integrating new equipment and software? Thanks to local system integrators, consultants, and automation suppliers with links to expertise wherever it may be—help is just around the corner, or just around the world—in Sydney, Capetown, Lyons, Helsinki, Houston, or Montréal.

When local technology providers run out of ideas, they can connect with other regional providers through organized groups such as the Control and Information System Integrators Association (CSIA), and through collective business groups where multiple system integrators can act as one business, sharing expertise and technologies. With Internet tools in place, any of these outsourcing options can provide distributed design and engineering of your control system—no matter where you’re located.

Where to Find Help
Norman F. O'Leary, CSIA’s executive director, says there are four sources for assistance on system design and integration: the automation suppliers themselves, their distributors, independent control system integrators, and large architect and engineering (A&E) firms. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and will have differing levels of expertise and geographic coverage areas. In many cases, some of these groups may work together on the same project.

Manufacturers need to consider several points before settling on one of these four groups. For example, if a manufacturer is rolling out a system in all its plants around the world, consistency and the contractor’s ability to be in all these locations will be important issues. Some manufacturers will not want to be locked into a particular automation supplier’s solution, and may want to mix process or batch, motion, and programmable controllers from different vendors. In addition, staff size, qualifications and flexibility can be important. Another issue is specialized expertise; if it isn’t available in a certain location, it may be readily available elsewhere. Also, having a large A&E or engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firm design and build a plant may not guarantee control system expertise where it’s required.

Bruce Jensen, systems marketing and sales support for Yokogawa, says the roles of A&E firms and vendors have changed in the past 10 years. He notes that vendors are more involved in the front-end engineering design (FEED) of control [systems], which was once mostly handled by larger EPCs. Likewise, the control staffs of some EPCs also aren’t the same as they were a decade ago, so many automation vendors have been filling in the gaps. This allows users to hold vendors more responsible for equipment and controls following installation.

O’Leary adds that dealing with automation suppliers may lock manufacturers into a particular solution. However, these major automation suppliers also usually have the global resources to assure consistent implementations, and find that “expert” when you need him. Distributors can provide integration for more than one manufacturer, but may have limited expertise, making it necessary for manufacturers to look beyond the distributor for more knowledgeable help. In addition, distributors might not have the staff to develop large, complicated systems.

Integrators and Collaboration
Control system integrators (SIs) vary in size and specialties, and tend to keep employees for a long time. Because integrators can’t claim expertise in every vertical area or technology, some have formed business groups to extend their services beyond those which any individual company can offer.

For example, Total Systems Design (TSD) is an SI specializing in pharmaceuticals, but it also belongs to the Automation Alliance Group (AAG), which consists of more than 10 firms with offices in North America and worldwide, as shown in Figure 1. AAG’s capabilities range from discrete to batch to continuous applications. Jim Cummings, TSD’s president, observes that the Alliance represents about 1,500 employees, including several hundred engineers. Any of the member companies can pull the resources of the total alliance, making it easier to provide manufacturers with ongoing local support after system implementation.


FIGURE 1: ALLIANCES BEAT GEOGRAPHICAL LIMITATIONS

Automation Alliance Group consists of an umbrella corporation with nearly a dozen member offices both in North America and worldwide.


Kevin Tock, advanced applications and alliances VP for Wonderware, notes that the AAG has helped his company with large MES rollouts across state and national boundaries. Tock sees AAG as a model that will become even more significant as manufacturers seek collaborative outsourcing arrangements. With this group’s ability to handle such a varied array of applications, Wonderware has found ways of extending its MES product to several horizontal applications.

Meanwhile, since A&E firms typically do system integration as part of larger contracts, their SI staffs tend to be smaller than their HVAC group, primarily because HVAC usually represents a bigger cost portion of the contract than the controls. Bill Robertson, director of Worldwide Services at Emerson Process Management, observes that with A&E firms, unless some arrangement is made at the outset of the project, customers often find themselves with a lack of ongoing support after a job is finished. This is especially critical in remote regions, where there is a need for continuous engineering support. Robertson’s group can help, not only with technical issues, but also with manufacturers’ work processes to help them be more efficient.

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.

"Vendors have become more involved in the front-end engineering design (FEED) of the control system, a task that was once predominately the province of the larger EPCs."

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.

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 Engineering

Following 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
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