The following technical discussion is part of an occasional series showcasing the ISA Mentor Program, authored by Greg McMillan, industry consultant, author of numerous process control books, 2010 ISA Life Achievement Award recipient and retired Senior Fellow from Solutia Inc. (now Eastman Chemical). Greg will be posting questions and responses from the ISA Mentor Program, with contributions from program participants.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series. To read Part 1, click here

In the ISA Mentor Program, I am providing guidance for extremely talented individuals from countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and the USA. This question comes from Bahtiar Abu Bakar in Malaysia.  

Bahtiar Abu Bakar is a senior automation engineer at Eastman Chemical Company.

Bahtiar Abu Bakar’s Question

What are the important criteria for selecting a system integrator to execute DCS project for a greenfield project (cost, experience, timing)? Assumptions are the DCS has been selected, the process is well-defined, the system integrator is only responsible for the DCS, and the process has both batch and continuous operations.

Tom Stachowski’s Answer

The decision to choose a control system integrator should not be taken lightly. This decision is going to set the tone not only for the execution of the immediate project, but the possibilities of achieving those important variables like greater uptime, greater operational efficiency, future maintenance effectiveness, safety enhancements, greater quality, and operator efficiency to name a few.

Choosing an integrator is like choosing an architect for the house of your dreams – you can get almost any architect to build a dwelling structure, but the house of your dreams will allow you to achieve the desired life style that you have often dreamed about. There are numerous aspects you should review in choosing a system integrator and listed below are some of the common ones to build that “structure” and some are the traits you should find to get your “dream house.”

1. Experience – What is the resume of the integrator? Breadth of experience means much more than the number of years in the field. It is a combination of qualified manpower, strength in project management, and understanding of the customer’s business drivers. A successful project should deliver the greatest value with the least amount of risk. If you are building a batch or continuous plant, I would find out what customers the integrator has had successful projects and if they are capable of following both batch and continuous standards.

2. Project Execution Process – Having a process in place to execute projects is imperative to a successful implementation. Any good integrator that has an established business will have a plan in place. This plan leads to a good up front design based on the customer needs and integrators experience and will allow a thorough design before any code is written. This will reduce the time of the project, a successful Factory Acceptance Test, and an overall lower cost.

3. Standards – The use of standards in programming prevents a rogue programmer from creating a “one off” implementation. Even after the project is over, the client will want someone to maintain or add to the code, and if standards are used by the integrator, it allows anyone from the integration team to troubleshoot and add to the code.

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4. Simulation – Any good integrator will provide a simulation of the code to the I/O for testing purposes. During the Factory Acceptance Test, the integrator should allow the client to simulate their process and check every piece of code before it leaves the office. This prevents a lot of mishaps from not being able to start up to producing expensive off-spec product, or worse yet, a safety problem like an interlock that should have been caught long before the code was delivered to the site. The simulation and Factory Acceptance Test allows the customer to sign off on the project and accept it from a simulated standpoint.

5. Technology – Most of today’s control systems have a fair amount of technology that is embedded in them. Getting this technology from the smart instrumentation into the hands of operations and maintenance, in the correct format, at the right time, is critical in proper decision making. Making the most use of this technology is what differentiates the one integrator from another and adds dollars to the bottom line of the client.

a. Smart instrumentation allows diagnostics to come to the operator or maintenance interface which can either prevent a problem from occurring or can allow for much easier troubleshooting and thus quicker resolution.

b. The final control element, the control valve, is a big source of potential disruption in the process unit and accounts for many control loops to remain untuned. Adding a Digital Valve Controller to the valve allows for better control and can allow for diagnostic information to come to the operator or maintenance interface.

c. An Asset Management Package that looks at smart instrumentation allows operations or maintenance to have the ability to detect a instrument problem as soon as it exists. The packages today can allow not only pinpointing the instrument, but with the addition of wiki’s, it will allow troubleshooting information to be put directly into the instrument database.

The integrator of choice should be aware of these, and many other technologies, and be able to integrate them into the control system. Without the blend of a customer’s business knowledge and drivers coupled with technology, you may be getting an integrator who may or may not understand the ramifications of plant decisions and thus could be increasing the risk of the process or project. In addition, the integrator should not only have the skills to effectively use this technology but also be able to educate the client on best practices of the technology to extract the most value. The best choice of an integrator would be someone who can not only program and use the technology and deliver it to the operator interface but also provide the instrumentation engineering in choosing the overall best technology from the final control element through the control system.

As you read through just some thoughts on choosing the best integrator, note that low cost was not mentioned. The cost of the control system, let alone the integration, in the total scope of any automation project is typically a very small portion of the cost. With the integration of the project being a small portion, the difference between high and low cost is even a small percentage. The benefits that can be enjoyed with an integrator that delivers the best value in the control system is significantly above the cost of the integration. 

Additional Mentor Program Resources

See the ISA book 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career that grew out of this Mentor Program to gain concise and practical advice. See the InTech magazine feature article Enabling new automation engineers for candid comments from some of the original program participants. See the Control Talk column How to effectively get engineering knowledge with the ISA Mentor Program protégée Keneisha Williams on the challenges faced by young engineers today, and the column How to succeed at career and project migration with protégé Bill Thomas on how to make the most out of yourself and your project. Providing discussion and answers besides Greg McMillan and co-founder of the program Hunter Vegas (project engineering manager at Wunderlich-Malec) are resources Mark Darby (principal consultant at CMiD Solutions), Brian Hrankowsky (consultant engineer at a major pharmaceutical company), Michel Ruel (executive director, engineering practice at BBA Inc.), Leah Ruder (director of global project engineering at the Midwest Engineering Center of Emerson Automation Solutions), Nick Sands (ISA Fellow and Manufacturing Technology Fellow at DuPont), Bart Propst (process control leader for the Ascend Performance Materials Chocolate Bayou plant), Angela Valdes (automation manager of the Toronto office for SNC-Lavalin), and Daniel Warren (senior instrumentation/electrical specialist at D.M.W. Instrumentation Consulting Services, Ltd.).

About the Author
Gregory K. McMillan, CAP, is a retired Senior Fellow from Solutia/Monsanto where he worked in engineering technology on process control improvement. Greg was also an affiliate professor for Washington University in Saint Louis. Greg is an ISA Fellow and received the ISA Kermit Fischer Environmental Award for pH control in 1991, the Control magazine Engineer of the Year award for the process industry in 1994, was inducted into the Control magazine Process Automation Hall of Fame in 2001, was honored by InTech magazine in 2003 as one of the most influential innovators in automation, and received the ISA Life Achievement Award in 2010. Greg is the author of numerous books on process control, including Advances in Reactor Measurement and Control and Essentials of Modern Measurements and Final Elements in the Process Industry. Greg has been the monthly "Control Talk" columnist for Control magazine since 2002. Presently, Greg is a part time modeling and control consultant in Technology for Process Simulation for Emerson Automation Solutions specializing in the use of the virtual plant for exploring new opportunities. He spends most of his time writing, teaching and leading the ISA Mentor Program he founded in 2011.

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