As an integrator we are often brought into new projects later than what would be ideal, which results in the creation of additional work for the integrator and additional cost for the customer. If the OEM or custom equipment has already been spec’ed and ordered before engaging an integrator, there is a strong possibility that there may be compatibility issues you have overlooked that will add significant additional costs to the project. Starting with a project/facility automation strategy is key to successful and smooth integration for all equipment at your facility.
So when should you engage an integrator? In simplest terms, as soon as possible, but definitely during conceptual design, or even project brainstorming sessions if you have someone you trust. Ideally, you want to begin building a relationship with an integrator (or several integrators) long before a project ever starts. One of the best ways to do this is to test out a potential integrator. We suggest that you pick an old project and ask the integrator to quote it for you and present their solution. Make it clear that this isn’t a current project. This isn’t too much to ask! A quality integration partner will be more than willing to earn your business and prove themselves, because they understand that partnering with an integrator is a critical decision. What you will want to look for during this exercise is the kind of questions that they ask. Are they asking questions about things that were issues or pain points with this past project? Also, is their final quote close to what the project actually cost?
Once you have selected one or more integration partners to work with, you will want to engage them at least 6 months before your project is set to begin. Ideally, they will be involved during the conceptual design phase so you can develop an automation strategy for the project. We realize that you likely will need to put the final project out for a competitive bid, but involving one trusted integrator from the beginning can make the process easier and run more smoothly for whoever takes over the final project.
One great way to involve an integrator early is to ask them to put together the Functional Design Spec (FDS) during the the overall Basis of Design or the very beginning of the process engineering Detailed Design phase. This can often be done without having to get capex approval, and can provide a clear roadmap for the process. The FDS is a simple to understand scope for the project and will include asset lists, basic architectures, communication protocols, and a layman’s description of your process including critical events such as phased approaches and duration calendars. Essentially, a quality FDS will create a perfect scope for your project that any integrator can use to quote the project when it is put out to bid. This will shrink the bid variability that is common with vague scope RFPs.
By engaging integration partners early you can avoid some of the more common mistakes that we see companies deal with when upgrading a system or implementing a new process. Even if you do not currently have a project on the horizon, we would love to earn your trust and eventually your business. Contact us to set up a meeting to discuss how Cross Process Solutions can help your facility with your next project.