Distributed Control / Systems Integration / SCADA

Process Automation: Collaboration at Ergon Refining

Software Technology Makes It Easy to Share Information, Documents and Files During a Project

By Dan Hebert

Ergon Refining is a crude oil refiner in Jackson, Miss. According to Steve Elwart, director of systems engineering at Ergon, the company uses many collaboration tools when developing automation projects with Emerson Process Management. These include email, SharePoint, teleconferencing, Skype, Doodle and WebEx/LiveMeeting.

"Email is an effective tool for typical communications throughout the project," says Elwart. "Since many people are busy, email becomes essential in keeping in contact and sharing information, and it provides individuals the opportunity to respond at any point during the day."

Elwart also likes SharePoint. "SharePoint is a highly effective tool and promotes collaboration in sharing information, documents and files during the project," he explains. "The tool can be configured to provide a user-driven environment which allows users to set up folders and capabilities needed throughout the project."

SharePoint's versioning capability is key to the development of documents and helps ensure people are working on the most current version. "Overall, SharePoint provides a more efficient project execution environment through a faster turnaround time of information and documentation, reduces the need to travel, and saves time in organizing shared information," notes Elwart.

With resources located in different locations, teleconferencing is essential during the execution of a project. "Skype provides an efficient means to not only hear another person's voice, but also to also see video of the person," opines Elwart. "When using only conference calling, many aspects of talking with the person can be missed, such as an expression of concern or confusion."

Ergon also uses Doodle, a web-based Internet scheduling tool that allows groups of people to share their calendars, including Outlook, iCal, Google, Lotus and many other tools. "The biggest benefit of this collaboration tool is the ability to more easily schedule meetings with people who are located in different corporate offices or with vendors outside the company, many of whom don't use the same email application," says Elwart.

Ergon uses WebEx/LiveMeeting tools for conference calls or video conferences with a group of people in different locations. The key benefit is the savings in travel time and cost, and allowing groups to meet when everyone is not in the same location.

Another use of WebEx is the ability to do remote factory acceptance testing for a project. By being able to remotely access the test system, project engineers are allowed the freedom to participate in these tests without the need to travel and live in remote locations for long periods of time.