By John Rezabek, Contributing Editor
I remember a humorous project timeline from years back that ended something like: "Search for the guilty. Punishment of the innocent. Praise and honor for the non-participants." I always found this cynical take on a project lifecycle a little depressing, especially when in the throes of delivering a project I'd been part of from the early going. Cripes, I worried, was my current project doomed to end up in similar straits, with no one happy and a bunch of money down the drain?
Every project has diverse stakeholders, frequently pulling in opposite directions, from the project leader who wants everything cheaper and quicker, to the owner-operator who keeps finding more deficiencies that he or she insists must be changed. If you plan to employ a process fieldbus, are there unforeseen circumstances that will have you wishing you'd made a different choice? Here are some thoughts on how to avoid the "failed bus blame game."
Get all your stakeholders on board. In my world, the local operations and maintenance people who'll have to deal with the new systems after I'm gone are the most crucial participants. Visibly striving to involve all of these users in the decision process will help them to feel invested in your success. Identify your champions and allies and keep them active, even assigning/delegating some tasks to them. Get to know the pecking order, taking care to have helpers who are credible to their peers in operations and maintenance.
Training is a great venue for not only educating people about what you're doing, but also gaining converts to your cause. Does it sound like you're to become some sort of missionary? That may be not far from reality—certainly people aiming to lead a fieldbus effort need to be walking in two worlds—one foot in your suppliers' world and one in your end users' world. On the user side, whether in training, at the EPC, commissioning or start-up, it will pay dividends to be a consistent, upbeat promoter of the technology. If you allow yourself to be dour, defeated and critical of your selected system, you could be headed for disaster.
In the early going, find a facility with some savvy instructors and diverse systems, for example, Houston's (Baytown) Lee College (www.lee.edu), Calgary, Canada's SAIT (http://sait.ca) and Angola, Indiana's Trine University (www.trine.edu). Such facilities will give you invaluable insights into the strengths and foibles of several systems—enough to populate a respectable bidder's list. They're also a great place to "try and break it." Lee College even has a running pilot plant. You and your operations and maintenance leaders can see in person the effects of various maintenance procedures.
Suppliers need to be as invested in your success as you are, so choose carefully. If your favorite from the last job is weakly represented in the new project's locale, then beware. Limit contenders for your business to those who have in-depth technical resources at their disposal and eliminate those that will likely send novices who'll sit and read the manual with you.
Some have favored the beloved "installed base" in a brownfield site, only to find their fave from days of yore is in last place when it comes to fieldbus technology. Look carefully at the advocates of fieldbus at contending suppliers; it can be a great insight into the depth of their commitment. It should give you great comfort to visit a contender's HQ and be blown away by the certifiably brilliant people showing off the technology. But listen for statements like "you can get most of the value from fieldbus with HART." I would interpret this as "we can do HART pretty well, but we stink at fieldbus." Stick with what your supplier is good at or choose one who excels at what you want.
Process fieldbuses are mature technologies, and users need no longer fear that a "search for the guilty" awaits them at the project's conclusion. Up-front investments such as those described above will pay dividends when you're ready to turn your system over to your customer.