Automation isn’t a desire, it’s a need of the hour. Every plant operations manager is aware of this need and the impact it has on the overall safety, reliability and economic efficiency. Still, companies are sometimes suspicious of adopting such technologies as the risk for failure is significant while the margin of error near to zero. This is especially true in large-scale industries where even a single hour of downtime due to delayed or malfunctioned automation can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of losses.
Connectivity, complexity, testing reliability of hardware/software and staff satisfaction are just few of the many issues that a plant can face if an upcoming automation is pending. Nonetheless, these are not reasons, sufficient for abandoning the automation of a system, irrespective of its size. In retrospect, following a few simple best practices can go a long way and save any automation implementation from being put on the back-burner.
Reality Based Development
One of the major problems developers face is coping with the budget. As soon as they overflow their limitations, a panic arises and the entire team tries to cut corners wherever possible. Doing so only damages the functionality and reliability of the system being developed, which could lead to greater operational and maintenance costs than planned.
Starting off with a realistic budget is the key to success in such matters. Automation managers often try to accomplish more within fewer resources, however if from the very start they work on an optimistic schedule and budget, they would face no issues throughout the development and implementation.
Integration of Manufacturing Execution System (MES)
Adding an MES after installation of the equipment is preferred by some project managers, but all it does is make the system prone to greater errors and loopholes. In comparison, if the MES is shipped and tried out before the installation of plant equipment, the entire team would be able to test it thoroughly. This would save any time that would be wasted clearing up the errors if the scenario was other way around.
The use of best practices for software development, most notably object-oriented techniques, is vital for ensuring maximum performance from the software end. Use of standardized libraries and a formal coding mechanism would help the entire team work coherently, in a more modularized manner. This would mean that the end product would be implemented as a series of connected modules, which would be either independent or centrally controlled.
As industrial software are generally installed for years, if not decades, use of object-oriented programming would allow further development of the software by developers who weren’t part of the initial build, making the investment worthwhile.
Any plant, big or small, should be developed along lines that would allow easy-expansion in the future. Human Machine Interfaces form a core part of any industrial automation system, and in order to ensure smooth operations, all parts should be coherent and in-phase with each other.
This means that the user-interface should be designed in such a manner, that the feel of the HMI remains the same around all corners of the plant, whether it’s a motor-control or a conveyer belt operation. Furthermore, the UI should be such that it sits well with the staff automatically, providing functions which were previously non-existent.
Next, a well-executed asset optimization strategy should be in place to take care of any maintenance requirements in an organized manner. It should be able to track cause of failures, identify root causes and in the end, recommend actions that can bring the asset back on-line. Moreover, the asset management system should be aware of the current state of each machine, and recommend diagnostic actions on its own before the asset is completely unusable. Only such strategies would ensure smooth operation, proving the system’s “smartness” and its worth over the previous one.
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