By Aaron Hand
Imagine if you could build the perfect car. Engineers at Bayer MaterialScience (BMS) in Germany did just that, choosing wheels from a Porsche, the grill from a BMW, the rear end of a Volkswagen Beetle and the rest of the body from an Audi.
"It's the perfect car, but can we afford to build it?" asks Ward Beullens, an automation engineer with BMS, responsible for process automation systems worldwide. "And if you have such a car, where do you go for maintenance?" Instead, maybe it makes sense to just drive the car— and leave the design and maintenance to somebody else.
That's what the BMS engineering team decided to do with its distributed control system (DCS), outsourcing non-core activities and letting Emerson take over full responsibility for designing and maintaining the system. That leaves BMS's controls, informatics, process and reliability engineers (no DCS engineers here, Beullens points out) free to focus on delivering value specific to Bayer's production operations.
The team's engineers have become overloaded with strategically important initiatives, Beullens says. These include control performance monitoring and improvement, asset management, alarm management, process information and manufacturing execution systems, and operating training systems, in which BMS is investing heavily. "We introduced all this stuff, and we are expecting the engineers to use them," Beullens says. "We added a lot of expectations. We gave them a lot of tools. But we didn't free up their time to use them."
But now Emerson has taken on system support responsibilities and guarantees greater than 99% availability—leaving the customer to drive the car. BMS has been running a pilot project in Leverkusen, Germany, with Emerson for about 18 months, Beullens says. The plan is to continue with it and transfer it into a more permanent collaboration. The company is doing the localization prep work for its site in Caojing, China, and will begin a pilot program with two systems there in 2012, bringing additional systems on after successful completion of the pilot program. From there, it's on to the site in Baytown, Texas. "I would like to have all the world on this approach, but we will learn a lot [in Caojing and Baytown]," Beullens says. "Then we will think about moving this to other regions."
In the meantime, challenges remain for both companies. Emerson must roll out and support all tools globally. This is not necessarily easy, because the equipment must match the needs and capabilities of the local labor force. At BMS, Beullens wants to have a governance structure that is cohesive, but the challenge is to make it lean, he says. There is still some convincing that has to be done, both of management and employees, and cultural barriers must be crossed.