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Because of the increasing technical complexity of modern automation systems requiring focused expertise a main automation contractor (MAC) can provide access to the best technology and automation specialists available, can give long-term input to product development, aid with project management, and enforce automation standardization to facilitate design consistency and efficiency.
“EPC contractors have not had experienced system engineers.” Chevron’s Jay James on the company’s successful use of main automation contractors (MACs) for project execution.
A MAC approach helps to leverage suppliers’ core competencies during front-end engineering and design (FEED), said Chevron’s Jay James, PE, senior instrument engineer, process automation group. He described his company’s South N’Dola project in the Atlantic, off Angola. The project is a facility that pipes natural gas to the Sanha complex onshore in Angola. Angola is one of Chevron’s bigger business units, he explained.
“A MAC is an automation specialist company with the right qualifications and resources to manage the design, implementation, commissioning and operational support of automation systems and interfaces throughout the life cycle of a project,” said James at the Yokogawa 2008 Technology Fair and Users Conference. “Depending on the project scope, a MAC can consist of an automation contractor, a system vendor, a system integrator or some combination of these in partnership.”
The MAC removes engineering, procurement and construction companies (EPCs) as the middlemen or filters between the owner and the supplier, allowing Chevron to get desired automation, rather than a system that complies with minimum specifications that can influence the final outcome. It also gives Chevron consistency in project execution by eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel, said James.
Before MAC involvement, instrumentation and controls project scope didn’t include I&C contractors until the execution and operation stages, the final two phases of a project. With a MAC, involvement begins at the second phase—selection—and continues through the development phase before execution, explained James.
The shortcomings of the traditional EPC approach prompted James to pursue a MAC approach. “EPC contractors have not had experienced system engineers,” he said. “In Phase 3, the lack of experienced control system engineers has resulted in poor control system scope definition, resulting in change orders and schedule delays in Phase 4, where the EPC contractors have often provided incorrect information late, which has resulted in the shipping system being late, incomplete and untested.”
For the South N’Dola and Sanha projects, James cited many benefits to using a MAC, including experienced control system engineers that understand Chevron’s requirements and can follow the project, integration of platform control systems to the existing complex, reduction of duplicate design efforts and standardization of tools such as INtools, Intergraph’s plant design tool.
“It’s always been a challenge to standardize control systems,” said James. South N’Dola and Sanha use different platforms. “These will be bid out separately, but will be tied to the same control system,” he said.
Under James’ proposal, Yokogawa and Mustang Engineering, an experienced INtools firm, will form one integrated MAC team called MyAutomation, bringing the EPC contractor experience lacking on previous MACs used by Chevron’s Angolan affiliate, Cabinda Gulf Oil Company. “Mustang has participated in executing MACs for some of the largest offshore projects,” he said.
“MyAutomation will be an integrated team, along with Chevron and EPC Technip.”
The FEED scope of the projects also will include development of the control system design basis, architecture diagrams, control and safety system specifications, third-party integration specifications and the control system execution plan; creation of an INtools implementation plan and hosting of the INtools database; and provision of the control system phase 3 cost estimates, said James.