I was assisting with a response to an existing system upgrade RFQ last week and got to thinking that these documents really don’t help an enterprise choose an automation system for the right reasons. Granted, hardware and software details like engineering tool languages or the number of bits in A/D convertors have their place in the process, but none of those technical items can help the system owners determine what system will provide benefits to improve Return on Net Assets (RONA) for the company.
Is it possible that the reason RFQs don’t deal with the issues of RONA is that common justifications for upgrades are based on either the fear of a potential system failure, or avoiding the potential of ever increasing maintenance costs as spare parts start to become increasing scarce?
I know I have seen many instances where one or both of these is used and actual benefits to be derived from either of these approaches are extremely hard to quantify because they deal only with possible outcomes, not truly measurable events. So as a result of these far less than perfect justifications, projects are taking the easy and least cost alternatives to replace in kind as fast and inexpensively as possible. Nearly every project done this way fails to deliver on any financial return to the enterprise. Frankly, it surprises me that the business managers within end user companies allow a new technology purchase to be applied in the same manner as previous technology was 10, 15 or more years ago with no discernable benefit to the enterprise other than “maybe avoiding a potential future cost.”
But what if RFQ s sought out information on subjects like:
- How to decrease software maintenance costs by eliminating costly custom interfaces to enterprise software packages using standards based interfaces?
- Reducing costs in maintenance programs by redesigning reactive and scheduled maintenance into predictive programs based on integrated Asset Management applications that leverage the benefits of digital fieldbuses and reach far beyond instrumentation to larger plant assets like heat exchangers or mission critical networking infrastructures?
- Redesigning operator interface environments to create significantly more effective application of operator time and skills to move from what is commonly a manual, alarm-reactive environment to one with a true focus on product production, quality and KPI improvement?
- Gaining control over actual process energy management with integration opportunities created by recent enabling standards like IEC-61850 and hardware and software now available for complete integration of power and process automation?
- Taking advantage of fully integrated process and SIL safety designs to simplify engineering change management and gain synergy with shared resources to reduce hardware and support.
These items represent only a small portion of the opportunities that companies can invest in to turn their automation system replacement into a RONA generator. But “invest” is the key term. The benefits do not come for free and will not be available with inexpensive, low end selections. The key is to understand that the delta in upfront project capital is returned many times over and can deliver on measurable benefits. But to reach these results, the RFQ needs to focus on gaining the right information.