Justifying Your Automation Modernization Projects

Emerson's John Dolenc

Emerson’s John Dolenc presented on how to justify your automation project at the 2018 Emerson Exchange conference. He shared justification methods to identify operational improvements and estimate the financial impact. He opened on where to look within operations, what data to analyze and how to estimate financial gains.

The place to start is finding where the “money” is located in a process unit. An automation project includes putting in a modern control system, optimizing the control strategies and finding missing measurements that provide metrics for process performance for enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES),

The money falls in two areas: the profit side and the capital side. On the profit side, you can improve costs or improve revenues through increased production. On the capital side, you can affect fixed capital and working capital. Fixed capital includes fixed assets, project capital, and commissioning costs. Working capital includes product and raw material costs.

There are fundamental beliefs about automation. It’s needed and used to make process equipment operate at expected performance. Typically, equipment has less than optimal measurements to fully optimize the equipment and process. Also, the installed automation technology is rarely used to its full potential. And from a digitalization perspective, it’s important to connect the automation to higher level business systems to optimize workflow and other processes.

Modern automation can improve production performance management, optimize process unit performance, improve safety and environmental performance, improve logistics and improve reliability. Having the measurements in place provide the data for project justifications in these areas where performance is sub-optimal.

John shared ways to overcome objections to justification. New automation equipment provides performance diagnostics to spot problems in advanced when they can be addressed before unplanned shutdowns occur. Control strategy flexibility means the control system can more easily accommodate changes in the process, and connections to higher level systems can remove delays and lags in operational performance.

A methodology to identify opportunity includes finding the plant/process unit business drivers, examine historical operational and financial performance, look for variability, review performance of current measurements & final control elements, and map opportunities to projects to justify.

To claim improvements, you have to understand the causes of problems. The biggest area to look at is excessive variability from poor control, big safety factors, inconsistent batch operations, and lack of information. Other areas include deteriorating conditions and assets, and problems caused by errors in manual operations.

Consider degradations in performance, unplanned downtime and reduced time windows between scheduled maintenance. Modern automation can reduce the pace of degradation, unscheduled shutdowns and through predictive maintenance, increase the time window between scheduled maintenance.

The question is not should I do it or not, it is should I do it now or in the future. Net present value (NPV) calculations will include the investment and the risk of failure which increases over time. This is just one element. Process improvements is the big area to improve the case for justification.

John shared a methodology based on best operator performance and data reduction methods. Start by comparing best performance versus average performance. Retrieve the operational and financial historical data. Normalize the data to a common rate of production and remove any outlying data. Calculate the difference between best and average performance. This is the opportunity for automation to close the gap.

For batch operations, the opportunity is to reduce cycle time to increase production capacity. Collect cycle time data, remove outliers, batches with holds, etc. Find the gap between average and best. Estimate how much the gap can be closed through modern automation. Play close attention to the “waiting on operator” times in the batch that could be reduced or eliminated.

To learn more about justifying your automation modernization projects, visit the Modernization & Migration area on Emerson.com

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