Efficient engineering is the key to success for any OEM, system integrator or EPC. Rework is the enemy.
Yet when it comes to process skid integration, backtracking is all too common. In fact, integration challenges are often the primary cause for project delays and budget spikes.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. OEMs can take steps to minimize system development and commissioning time – and play a key role in mitigating skid integration risk for their customers.
How? In my work, I have the privilege and challenge of working on both sides of the equation – as an OEM skid builder and as a supplier of fully integrated process solutions. Here are a few lessons learned.
Lesson 1: Build for integration, not isolation
Not so long ago, process skids were deployed only as isolated systems. And many OEMs still offer tried and true equipment for standalone installations based on outdated control technology. Integrating these skids into a modern plant floor architecture is challenging – and oftentimes, cost-prohibitive.
How can an OEM better position themselves and their customers for success? By making integration capabilities – and control system scalability – a priority in equipment development.
For standard offerings, assume any skid built will be integrated with other equipment. Consider basing your equipment on a scalable, modern DCS platform, which is designed for enterprise-wide integration. In our work, we’ve also found that batch software that includes phase management streamlines development.
Phase management capabilities add equipment phases to a controller. That makes it easier to write, use and manage code for standalone skids – and easier to scale-up and integrate solutions with plant-level batch and reporting systems as needed.
Lesson 2: Prioritize upfront planning
The cornerstone to all successful projects is planning. And when it comes to process skid integration, the more work you do upfront, the easier project execution will be in the end. Of course, project planning begins with defining customer specifications and expectations.
But while planning can never start too early, skid development can. Starting too early – before the process design, control system architecture, software module templates and integration strategy are complete – ultimately causes rework.
Get it right the first time. Have all project parameters documented before you begin.
Lesson 3: Know who to ask
Navigating your customer’s organization chart – and knowing who can make a technical decision – isn’t always easy. To keep communication productive, work with your customer to develop a matrix that clearly defines roles and responsibilities. And share it with the entire project team at the beginning of your engagement.
Depending on project scope, communication may also extend from skid suppliers to other vendors providing equipment for the installation. Easing system integration and communication is the goal of any communication between vendors. Don’t assume other suppliers speak your language. Be sure to clearly define and describe all equipment and control functions to avoid misinterpretation.
Lesson 4: Test early, test often
Insufficient testing can cause a good project to go bad quickly – and can wreak havoc with your commissioning schedule. To mitigate setbacks, define testing with your customer for all stages of the project.
An appropriate testing cadence includes module testing of your skid design internally, by your engineers. Then process and integration testing against functional design specifications with the system integrator. Issues uncovered during these testing phases should be addressed – and systems retested – before moving onto the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) – and ultimately, Site Acceptance Test (SAT) – with the customer.
Lesson 5: Learn from your mistakes
We all hope to learn from our mistakes. But the truth is, there’s generally not much time for reflection. Once a challenging project is completed, the next one is beginning.
To break this cycle, keep a “lessons learned” log throughout the entire project duration – it’s much easier than trying to remember and record issues at the end. Once the project is completed, hold a session with your team and determine what can be improved next time.
And remember – project methodology is an iterative process. The incremental improvements you make from project to project are critical to long-term success.