Augment Your Staff: Gain Agility and Expertise Through Flexible StaffingDownload Now
For many process plants, there are three distinct tasks with respect to their control, instrumentation and information systems -- otherwise known as the automation system. The first task category is operations. and maintenance. The plant must be kept up and running with minimal downtime, with maintenance, performed as needed.
The second task includes continuous improvements. The existing automation system must be made to increase throughput, reduce downtime, cut energy costs, improve quality and make other enhancements to the production processes. These improvements are necessary to stay competitive in worldwide markets, and firms that neglect this task will fall hopelessly behind.
Third, capital projects must be planned and executed for a variety of reasons, from adding capacity to regulatory compliance to changing the range of products produced. In many process plants, operations and maintenance tasks can consume all the available automation professional man-hours from on-site staff, leaving little or no time for continuous improvements and capital projects. In the worst cases, many plants find it difficult to recruit and maintain even the minimal staffing required for operations and maintenance.
There are two possible approaches to address these staffing issues. The first is to add more permanent staff at the plant level, and the second is to seek assistance from an outside service provider such as a systems integrator -- also known as staff augmentation or outsourcing. Adding permanent staff can be problematic at many process plants for a number of reasons as explained below.
As detailed in a recent Control magazine cover story, demand for experienced automation personnel relative to supply is at an all-time high by many indicators. A quote from the article illustrates the point.
"The demand for process automation professionals is high, and the talent pool is small and shrinking," said Alan Carty, president of recruiting firm Automationtechies in Minneapolis. "Systems integrators, end users and process control product manufacturers are all seeking these people. I've been recruiting for 12 years, and I feel that current demand relative to supply is at an all-time peak."
Exacerbating the situation, many process plant managers have trouble recruiting workers to their. specific locales, which are almost always far from the urban areas favored by many automation, professionals, particularly recent graduates.
Another significant issue primarily affects staffing for plant automation operations and maintenance positions, and that's the requirement for 24/7/365 support. When faced with the choice between working regular hours versus being on-call around the clock -- including weekends and holidays - many automation professionals, opt for the former.
Even if these problems are overcome with sufficient staffing for operations and maintenance, providing sufficient personnel for continuous improvement and capital projects remains an issue.
This task in particular often requires specialized skills that existing plant operations and maintenance staff may not possess. Furthermore, many continuous improvement projects and larger capital projects often require relatively high staffing levels for implementation, then much lower staffing levels for ongoing operations and maintenance.
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