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Modernization and Optimization Opportunities

Over the past few years, I am starting to hear from our customers and read in the literature that it has become important to not just replace obsolete control system equipment, but to also provide operational improvement. I am very pleased to see this trend, since I really think automation can play a large role in optimizing process unit performance.  However, I still think quite a few projects are still justified on replacing obsolete equipment or what is sometimes called a sustaining based justification.

One problem with a production sustaining based justification is that a lowest cost to migrate philosophy may be required by management. Many times that means no consideration is given to operational improvements and the control strategy basis is a simple functional replacement of what is already there.  Some words of wisdom:  The key word here is a “functional” replacement, meaning that the operating objectives and control strategies of the old system are captured, but the configuration code is not copied.  Any old code that has been discarded, but not deleted needs to be found and noted to make sure it is not copied into the new system.  Also it would be nice if at least a simple session with plant operations, including the operators takes place to identify loops that are run always in manual and other control strategies that just do not work.

The opportunity for operational performance optimization is not lost just because the new system was installed without consideration to improvements. Once the new system is installed the major infrastructure cost has been removed.  Now it is much easier to justify automation based process improvements based on return on investment means.  One thing that can be done during the system migration process is to develop a plan that allows future expansion of additional control strategies and new I/O in the spirit of continuous improvement.  I recommend to resist the temptation to just maintain the system as is, but to look for improvement opportunities, develop financial improvement estimates and the cost to implement the improvement.  Then an ROI based capital request may be submitted. 

Finding these improvement opportunities and estimating the potential gains is what will be discussed during the Show Me the Money! Need to Justify Your Automation Project? - Let’s Dive into the Methods workshop at Emerson Exchange this fall in Austin, Texas.  Migration and Modernization consultants will also be available during the evening exhibits to discuss your specific plant situation and future plans.

See you in Austin