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The dos and don'ts of managing a controls project

11 March, 2013

The supplier’s proposed technical solution should stand up to customer scrutiny. There is usually little room for variance here if the machine is to be controlled in a prescribed way. So, the supplier’s understanding of the process will be critical, as will their suggested key equipment manufacturer.

The real differentiator usually boils down to the engineering content, the project structure and management. These, as discussed above, influence the system ownership directly.

Key management activities in industrial automation projects
Regular engineering stage reviews Engineering complex control systems is a skilled process. An engineer must be multi-faceted, with an expert command of electrical engineering, software development, machine and personnel safety, and hazardous area design methods, to name a few. Most of these have serious legal compliance obligations on behalf of the customer. Given the range of expertise required, regular reviews of the various elements is an essential part of the design process. Sticking to plan is also of significant commercial importance because deadlines need to be met.
Progress correspondence and/or progress meetings with clients Projects inevitably produce variations as they progress. No matter how deep an initial machine survey is, something new always comes to light. Some part of a process has not been identified or some product that has not been processed in living memory will need trialling. It is with these on-going developments in mind that regular dialogue is necessary between the project manager and client. Projects such as these rely heavily on a strong customer-supplier relationship. For this reason close dialogue and regular development and progress updates are essential.

Key engineering activities in industrial automation projects 
1. Planning A project plan that details key design stages and review milestones indicates good engineering discipline.
2. Survey The degree of detail needed for a useful machine survey cannot be overstated.
3. Specification This document is arguably the most critical one in a project, laying down the full scope of supply, the control philosophy and functionality.
4. Electrical design (hardware) Electrical design is important for the longevity of any control system. Electrical design engineers must have not only a comprehensive command of high-level electrical engineering methods, but also in-depth knowledge to design legally-compliant safety systems, cabling techniques and component specification.
5. Software design (SCADA, PLC, drives, sensors)  Well-written, structured and well-documented software is one of the most important elements for later system maintenance and support activities. Expediency when diagnosing and resolving the causes of downtime can save significant lost production time and, thus, money.
6. Procurement There is a high skill level required to procure specialist controls equipment. Supply chain relationships that exist between the system integrator and their suppliers can mean longer warranty periods, improved prices and elevated levels of support from product specialists.
7. Panel build Advances in electronic components mean better, faster performance characteristics which, in turn, means more dynamic electromagnetic interference. EMC regulations require that high resistance is a pre-requisite for both emissions and tolerance.
8. Test The testing phase of a control system (before shipment) has a significant impact on the system commissioning time. Testing the control panel thoroughly at this stage will identify most sub-standard components and verify the quality of the control panel construction. More extensive testing should include the energising of high-power controllers and the calibration of motors, transducers and sensors. Communications networks can be set up and tested so that once on-site, the system elements are

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