Automation projects: Getting buy-in through greater visibility

In this installment of Automation Zone, IT has questions. Maintenance has questions. Do you have answers (and the data to back them up)?

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John Tertin is director of sales and marketing for ESE Inc., a food & beverage plant automation and engineering firm. For this month’s edition of Automation Zone, Tertin and his colleague Erik Winer, facility modernization consultant for ESE Inc., spoke with Plant Services chief editor Thomas Wilk about how to facilitate important group discussions on plant automation.

PS: Tell me about what your term "Growing into Greatness" means in terms of what you do and the kind of customers you serve.

JT: It starts with the notion of continuous improvement. A lot of our customers have aspirations of being able to grow their businesses and product lines, increasing yields, and improving operator safety and quality attributes of their products. Frequently, though, they don’t have a good road map of how to get there.

Control systems and production environments themselves are getting more and more complicated, and customers recognize that there’s value to be had in things such as leveraging the industrial internet of things, or being able to directly link ERP and MES systems with the control layer, but are asking “How do I get there? How do I capitalize on some of that value potential that’s out there?”

Part of the complexity is that, as modern systems start bridging gaps between IT and operations, there’s a lot more user groups and stakeholders involved that are not necessarily accustomed to working together. So, being able to bridge that gap and help our customers really “grow into greatness” is a very valuable resource. For some of these user groups, which are really important to have involved in a conversation when you’re talking about a long-term strategic plan to grow your production system, these people aren’t used to talking to one another.

Within the last five years or so, we’ve really staffed up in the roles that would be able to and can directly identify with the enterprise IT folks, the database folks, so we can approach them to say, “This really isn’t scary; this really isn’t insecure,” or, “from an IT perspective, these are the headaches that could be resolved by breaking down some of these brick walls or at least putting windows in them.”

From a process side, we can have the same conversation with them. “This is what you stand to gain from a recording standpoint,” as far as recording user interactions and CFR 21 Part 11-type things, and traceability, and get information from the system in terms of reporting. That is best done when you’re working in cooperation with IT.

Once you have credibility with both sides, you can have that more holistic conversation with everybody in the room and not have IT sitting at the left side of the table and engineering sitting on the right, with both constantly filtering conversations because they are uncomfortable.

“Growing into greatness” is attainable regardless of the size of company. It’s not a “rip everything out and replace it” process; it’s an iterative process to help customers grow and get there while keeping their facility running.

PS: Erik, tell me more about your new role of Facility Modernization Consultant.

EW: It’s important for ESE as a controls integrator to offer up this service, and to say to the customer: “Let’s make that road map. Let’s review their current infrastructure and production process and see how it all fits together.” Every single plant is unique, and every single customer is unique, and therefore you should have a unique plan for every customer.

PS: How often do you see maintenance and reliability join these teams? Is that something you advocate, or do you bring them in at a certain point in the process?

EW: I think a lot of times, if an integrator’s walking into a facility, they’ll often overlook the people in the facility that have to maintain, or who are going to actually be taking care of this equipment or operating the equipment. When we walk into a facility, it’s critical that we not only talk with people that work on the projects, but then also with people that have to manage the equipment. It’s our goal to basically talk with everyone, because everyone’s got a different perspective and everyone is impacted by change.

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