This guest post is authored by Sami Koskinen, director of global accounts at Beamex.

Editor’s Note: This post was written in conjunction with a two-part ISA co-hosted webinar series on implementing a calibration process change. Learn how one of Arizona’s largest power generation companies, the Salt River Project, successfully implemented and transitioned to an automated calibration system. Click this link to watch Part 1. To watch the second webinar in the series, click here.

The process industry has seen impressive technological advances in past years, with the introduction of smart transmitters, documenting calibrators, communicators and robust calibration software. Plants are able to have a fully automated and integrated calibration system. However, evidence indicates that many companies with an existing enterprise system typically have only established (but not updated) a maintenance management system (MMS). While the system manages calibration tasks like scheduling, and tallying hours and resources, it often lacks the ability to record calibrations or offer in-depth calibration tools. As a result, a company’s calibration process continues to be a highly manual, time consuming, labor-intensive procedure prone

Admitting it can be done better

Change is hard. It is easier to stick with what you know and that is why it is not uncommon to hear, “This is how it’s always been done and this how we will continue to do it.” Sound familiar? This situation can simply be called a calibration rut. How do you know if your company is in a calibration rut? Your system probably looks a bit like this:

  • Field calibration is fully manual and paper based (most common and easily identifiable indicator)
  • Maintenance team manually creates the task list and work orders
  • Maintenance team prints out calibration procedures and certificate templates
  • When a technician performs calibration he or she:
    o   Adjusts calibration points in a sequence manually, based on calibration procedures written on paper
    o   Reads and writes down measured values
    o   Checks measured data against pass/fail criteria on paper
  • A paper form is sent to supervisor for review and approval
  • Calibration results are manually entered into the MMS
  • Signed calibration forms are manually archived in a physical file folder

Remember, the first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is one. After reading this list of key indicators, ask yourself, is your company in a calibration rut? If so, it is time to change your process! Process change is not an overnight implementation. It’s not only the process of implementing new equipment and software, you are changing and automating an entire process. The most successful process changes require time, with no shortage of patience, motivation and commitment from both your company and the solutions provider. Before we discuss how to implement a calibration process change, let’s first talk about the initial steps you must take in order to attack your calibration rut.

First steps

The first steps to implement any type of process change are often the most challenging, but can be the important, since they will lay the foundation for the entire implementation. Here is how to start:

  • Identify the key internal stakeholders involved in the calibration process change. Remember that the more people involved can convolute and delay the decision-making process. It is not your goal to have everyone involved, nor should you attempt to make all the decisions on your own. Each company has its own process for making decisions, but only the right people who have the ability to: 1) implement the system,(2) use the system (not all users though), or 3) manage/monitor the system should really be included. All of these decision-makers and influencers should be involved at different points in the process. Usually, a key group of decision makers includes:
    o   Senior level technicians: who understand the application can present their business case to engineering management.
    o   Information technology (IT): this team owns the software database, understands how it integrates into the MMS, and how it can be made available to the other locations around the world.
    o   Quality assurance (QA): ensures there are no deviations from the company’s quality procedures.
  • Be aware of your organizational limitations and how they are related to implementing a new calibration process (e.g. global engineering, IT).
  • Specify what the new calibration process will look like, including new work instructions and standard operating procedures.
  • Keep in mind how the new calibration process will be implemented internally, including software installations and tests, as well as informing and training all relevant employees.
  • How will the performance of the new calibration process be monitored and evaluated?
  • Set expectations in regards to payback time, increased efficiency and increased production.

Choosing a solutions provider

After you have outlined of your plan of attack, the next step is to research multiple solutions providers (vendors) and identify the company whose solution works best for you. Some important questions to ask when choosing a vendor are as follows:

  • What kind of payback time have previous customers experienced? It is important to consider a company’s references and how their solutions have affected existing customers. Ask potential suppliers for case stories and try to talk to a current customer if at all possible.
  • How have they developed in the past and what does their future look like? Take a look at the history of the company. Inquire about the company’s plans for the future. Are they able to quickly answer how and if they plan to continue to support and develop their existing products and new ones?
  • What level of customer support does the company provide? Know what professional services your vendor offers and ask what kind of resources are required from your company (man hours, internal training, etc.).
  • What kind of support do they offer while your company’ process is in transition and what will their role be once your system is up and running?
  • Can they integrate into your current MMS? If so, what will the work flow be? How will the integration function on a daily basis?

After you have done your due diligence to create a plan for a specific solution and chosen a vendor that meets your needs, ask yourself: what does the process of implementing this plan actually entail?

About the Author
Sami Koskinen is director of global accounts at Beamex. With 18 years of experience, including developing and commissioning calibration solutions, Sami has knowledge of instrumentation and process improvement, and has held positions as a software support manager and product manager. Sami is an expert consultant on both the technical aspects and the business benefits of calibration. Sami attended the University of Applied Science and holds a bachelor of science degree in information technology. Sami travels throughout the world teaching companies how to build and improve their calibration processes to meet company-specific requirements.

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