In developing any process engineering project, there is a hierarchy of steps, and the success and timely delivery of each step depends on those that come before it. If you put your steps in the wrong order, however, your project is likely to miss out on enhancements that ensure it is optimized and efficient.
What is the right order? What is the step that should come first in your list of priorities?
The danger of designing backward
This answer surprises some project managers. In a traditional process engineering project, the first team to dive in is the process design group. That seems logical, since you must know early on not just what your process will accomplish, but how it will do its job.
At the beginning of the project, there seems to be plenty of time to get your process designed and your implementation started. Surely there will be time to put on finishing touches — like automation — at the end of the project.
Unfortunately, most projects — even those that are carefully planned — don’t typically adhere to their timelines. Let’s say you have a year to develop your process before it is scheduled to be implemented, so you give your design team four months to complete their part of the project. Because the implementation is a full year out, the design team takes seven months. What’s the rush, after all?
From that point onward, every subsequent team has a shorter and shorter deadline to complete their part. By the time you are ready to add “nice-to-haves” like automation, everyone is frustrated, and there really isn’t time to program and develop the automation solutions that will truly add value to your project.
Automation isn’t just a “nice-to-have”
The problem with leaving automation as an afterthought in your project is that it’s no longer something that is just nice. Automation solutions such as robotics and guidance systems offer significant added value to your processes, simplify and speed up the process, enhance safety for personnel working in and around the process, and dramatically increase productivity.
However, robotics and guidance systems are probably some of the most complicated automated systems to design and program. The precision, efficiency, and optimization benefits they promise can only be delivered if your automation team has the time to do a great job.
In addition, leaving automation as an afterthought also does a disservice to the teams designing other parts of your process. When you integrate automation planning early in the project, your teams can collaborate to create automation systems that truly enhance to process as a whole.
To those who are outside looking in, automation seems like it should be simple to add into an engineering process after it’s completed. But today’s sophisticated automation systems are incredibly complex. Integrating automation into your project early will ensure you get the greatest value from the most up-to-date technology solutions.