Industrial automation and controls modernization can be a daunting task. Is it time to upgrade? What will this cost me? Are we ready? How will we even do this?
There is a lot to consider with all those questions, and probably more, running through your head. A good starting point for developing a plan is to start by organizing the information that needs to be gathered to scope the project(s). From there, you can start talking to integrators and vendors to get pricing, budgets, timelines, and equipment lists.
To develop a thorough spec, follow these steps.
Step 1: Gather the Internal Experts & Stakeholders
Any project of this type will have a lot of people weighing in. Executives, finance, plant line operators, etc. Gather all the relevant parties and extract expectations, ideas, and concerns up-front. Once you know what this internal team will look like, use them to complete the next step – internal project scoping.
Step 2: Develop a Thorough Internal Specification
To do this, you will need to use your team to answer key questions in each of the following areas:
If you’re looking to improve interconnectivity amongst your plant networks, then it is time to consider a platform modernization. How is your current system configured? Are your networks separated? Do your machines work well in conjunction with one another? Are your production operations systems connected with your enterprise and business systems? These are all important things to consider in the realm of network configuration.
Modern advanced automation systems check off all those boxes. They provide systems that are unified; communicate with one another; and operate with enterprise-level business solutions. By incorporating these features plants will be able to perform at a higher capacity and improve quality.
2. Plant Environment:
Loss of production, quality, or high repair costs are always good places to start upgrading to a new automation platform because the return on your investment is pretty sure to pay off.
What is your plant facility like? Are your machines struggling to run at an optimal rate? Are you needing to cut staff but increase production? Is your hardware becoming harder to find components for? Consider where adding modern industrial automation controls and components will improve machine uptime, increase production efficiencies, lower part replacement costs, or increase safety.
3. Data & Reporting Needs:
Where can you most benefit from adding smart devices to speed up data capture and improve data accuracy? Having smart devices enabled in your plant allow for advanced data capture and reporting capabilities which enables you to determine under-performing areas earlier and act on them faster.
Identify good candidates for smart devices by considering: What data needs to be collected? Is the collection method standardized? Is the process manual or automated? Are there metrics that you cannot capture currently? How long does it take to react to areas that are under-performing? These data and reporting considerations will help provide clarity to the next steps for modernization.
Automated data capture can also allow the ability to audit site machinery, product, and personnel performance remotely. Which areas of your operation could benefit from remote monitoring?
4.Network Security Needs:
Network security in plants should be high priority. Modern automation components not only protect your plant from outside attack but also protect you from internal operations errors. If you are looking to improve network security or access permissions, then adding advanced automation components may be for you.
Are you using two-factor authentication for all users? Are your firewalls and software packages all up-to-date with virus protection? Do you have legacy software open to vulnerabilities? What kind of brute force attach protection do you have? Are you control protocols and critical systems backed up? Attacks on industrial plants are increasingly common, so this is an area to take very seriously.
Step 3: Consider the Future for Industrial Automation & Controls
It is important not only to consider your plant’s current situation and needs but also what you may be needed in the future. By implementing advanced automation components now, you will be better suited to take on advancements in the future. Advancements such as wireless access, virtualization, cloud computing, and remote services are on the rise and may be headed to your plant sooner than you think.
Please take time to consider the situation at your plant, what your goals are, and issues that you are having. There is no wrong time to move forward with modernization. If you wait until your systems fail you could be costing yourself millions in loss, but you can prevent this by being proactive with industrial automation and controls upgrades.
Step 4: Create a Written Project Specification Document
The end result of steps 1-3 should be a written specification document that covers:
- The goals of your automation projects
- Priorities for upgrades – areas most in need of improvements
- Needs vs. wants – what features are critical and what would be nice to have?
- Success criteria – what specific returns are you looking for and in what areas do you want to see it? Also, what metric improvements do you need to see at a production level to call it a success?
- Stakeholder expectations – from purchasing to the plant floor, everyone will have varying ideas on how success is defined for this project. Capture those for when you need to navigate tradeoffs later on
- Technical specifications – you don’t need too many details here, but at least cover what you know from step two in as much detail as possible.
- NOT REQUIRED: preliminary timelines, budgets, equipment lists, or designs. Your integration vendors can help you fill these out and will probably re-work anything you develop internally.
Step 5: Consult Vendors and Integrators for Vetting & Pricing
Using your spec document, it is now time to reach out to equipment vendors and automation integrators. Find partners you can trust to give you a fair quote and vet your automation plan for practical use. These relationships can help you think of things you missed, complete budgets, timelines, and other preliminary designs, etc. It is never too early to involve an integrator in your planning.