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Partner Early to Optimize Automation Project Strategies

Jan. 26, 2015
While time always seems short, an upfront investment in assessment and planning will more than pay for itself in the course of your next project

Just ask any group of process automation professionals or project managers about the most satisfying capital project of their careers. Each  will cite a particular set of challenges overcome or business benefit achieved, but two common denominators of project execution success quickly emerge: starting up on schedule and finishing within budget.

But across today's global process industry and energy landscape, forces are arrayed to derail such project satisfaction. Indeed, even as the industry experiences a demographic dip in its supply of qualified workers, projects across the globe continue to get larger and more complex. A recent survey of executives responsible for projects of $1 billion or more by the Accenture Center for Energy & Utility Innovation found that only a third of respondents saw projects routinely delivered within 25% of approved budget, while even fewer saw them routinely delivered to the approved schedule. Such delays and overruns could amount to trillions of dollars in added expenses and lost revenue annually, the study concluded.

Make time to save time

Fortunately, an array of proven automation technologies, project services, and business practices is now available to reduce project costs, speed execution as well as mitigate the effects of late design changes. And the time to consider them is as early in the project cycle as is practical, before "the way we've always done things" is deemed, by default, the least risky path forward. Time invested in upfront planning is rarely if ever a poor investment, according to the Construction Industry Institute, which in a recent report attributes as much as 20% cost savings and 39% schedule reduction for overall project design and construction to the practice.

While few industry professionals would argue the value of upfront project planning, sufficient resources and expertise often are lacking among the owner/operator and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) community, especially when it comes to the evaluation and application of new automation technologies and related business processes. Enter Emerson Process Management and its large and growing project services organization. As a leading innovator in the process automation space, Emerson is uniquely qualified to help users develop a strategic vision for their project investment, and to identify opportunities for automation technology to reduce schedule and cost risk during the project itself—as well as enable operations that are safer, more reliable, more efficient and more profitable long after start-up.

See Also: Asset Management: The 25-Year Transformation

Integrated team tackles Canadian bitumen

It pays to establish a transparent, collaborative partnership among all parties involved, whether these services are engaged with on an a la carte basis or under the scope of a larger main automation contractor (MAC) relationship, according to Rusty Barras, control systems engineer for Royal Dutch Shell, and MAC contract manager for the company's Carmon Creek project in northern Alberta, Canada. Initial construction and detailed design began last year on a series of well-pads and central processing facility that will produce 80,000 bpd of bitumen by steam injection.

Shell engaged with Emerson Process Management on the project in September 2012, six months before front-end engineering and design (FEED) began. As a result of this early collaboration, they've taken a number of steps to streamline and modularize project execution, such as leveraging Electronic Marshalling with CHARacterizization Modules (CHARMs) technology and standardized remote I/O cabinets throughout its DeltaV integrated process control and safety system architecture.

[pullquote]Along with the ability to better accommodate late design changes, these efforts are allowing the team to shift a significant amount of planned project work to modules that can be completed offsite. "Everything we can put back in the mod yard is a big savings," Barras says, noting the short summers and high wages at the production site. Virtualization and WiFi enabled Mobile Worker technology, which promise to further streamline project execution, are on the docket to evaluate further as more detailed planning continues, Barras says.

Flexible contracting enables innovation

Of particular benefit to Barras and his team is a flexible contracting strategy that allows engineers from Shell, Emerson, and Emerson local business partner Spartan Controls to "work quickly, focus on quality, and not worry about the commercial side," Barras says. "We established a good, integrated team early on in the define stage of the project, and hit the ground running with a sound and flexible execution plan," Barras says.

The stakeholders also engage in quarterly business performance reviews in which each grades the others on how well they're meeting expectations in terms of safety, schedule, innovation and responsiveness. Any shortfalls are discussed, as are potential solutions, Barras says. "These honest exchanges help promote the integrated team aspects of the project."

The Carmon Creek automation team continues to pursue innovative ways to streamline project execution, and it's seldom business as usual, according to Barras. "Much of what we're doing, we've never done this way," Barras says. "The Emerson folks are an extension of my discipline; we have the ability to make decisions quickly, and to make our ideas reality."

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